Selected Project Urban Thump
Urban Thump. Concept art courtesy of the project team.

Paul Pillitteri
Concept and Product Lead

Damian O’Brien

Mike Coakley
Music and Sampling

Alina Savu
Community Engagement and Reporting


Prototype Sponsor




Collaborative Music Creation, Driven by Gestures and Physical Interaction

The Urban Thump project is a unique interactive installation that will attract people from all cultures, demographics and socioeconomic characteristics to intuitively create rhythmic music together. Each participant, or group of participants, will shape their own compositional output, based upon individualized gestures and physical interaction with the installation and fellow players.

Who doesn’t love to tap, rap, plunk, and thump on things? Creating rhythmic music with our hands, feet and objects has special meaning for humans; ”The powerful psychological pull of music in modern life may derive from its innate ability to connect us to others.”Chris Loersch (University of Colorado)

Human Input:
The Urban Thump project will demonstrate that people from all cultures, demographics and socioeconomic characteristics will be drawn together in the creation of rhythmic music. The simplicity of the installation will entice interaction, encouraging the community to participate in intuitive ways, by drumming and thumping on the installation! The unique musical output will be based upon the participant’s gestures and physical interaction with the installation. The result will be captivating for a single participant, but truly provide the opportunity to rock with multiple participants!

C’mon, you know you want to…Join the “Tribe of Thump” as they perform nightly at the Market Street Prototyping Festival! Dance to the rhythms and join in on the fun. Then create your own tribe or simply enlist the denizens of Market Street to rediscover your ancient roots!

Environmental input:
In addition to the human input, our goal is to incorporate at least one city element that will trigger sound and add to the musical foundation. One good source would be the pole that holds the Muni electric wires. Simply by placing a contact microphone anywhere on the pole, the resulting vibration will trigger a unique sound every time a bus went by.

How Urban Thump works:
The installation’s musical capabilities will be beautiful, current, awe inspiring, tribal, sometimes eerie, always rhythmic and amazingly compelling.

Outwardly, the public will see an artistic sculptural work, constructed of metal, Plexiglas and/or wood. Individual sounds will be “programmed” into specific locations on the installation, discovered by the participant’s taps, hits, scrapes and thuds (gestures). The velocity of each participant’s act, plus the gesture itself, informs the technology to trigger (play) a specific sound. Multiple sounds may be triggered at once, thus encouraging groups of participants to interact in sync, together…tribal collaborative beauty! (We will be launching a sample of Urban Thump music at the following URL:

The project will be accessible for adult, youth and individuals using a wheelchair. The installation will occupy a footprint of twelve square feet (six * six) and approximately seven feet tall. The technology and speakers will not be visible, they will encase and protected from the elements and theft. The installation will incorporate an “attract” mode, set to run continuously during festival hours, if desired. The project will operate well within specified power and decibel limitations.

Installation Goals:

  • The installation shall be friendly, approachable and intuitive for participants to use without written or verbal instructions.

  • The installation shall interactively engage from one to six people for a period ranging from 20 seconds, up to 240 seconds (four minutes). It shall also provide an inquisitive and positive draw for any number of bystanders who watch the activities.

  • The installation shall attract groups of friends, as well as bring complete strangers, to collaborate in a shared and positive experience.

  • The installation shall incorporate vibrations from a key city element that will trigger sound and add to the musical foundation.

  • The installation shall work continuously (within designated hours) without the need for administrative or technical assistance.

  • The installation shall be age friendly and wheelchair accessible, so it is possible for any individual to participate, from youth to adult.

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The Market Street Prototyping Festival is a collaboration between the San Francisco Planning Department and the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts.

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