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Generating Surprising Art and Music With Scratch

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Explore and create : Creation lab

Dr. Sean Justice  
Erik Nauman  
Michael Tempel  

In this workshop, you will make a generative art and music Scratch project. Begin with examples to be remixed and then expand creative potential by adding video, sound and micro:bit inputs. Participants are also encouraged to explore their own original ideas.

Audience: Library media specialists, Principals/head teachers, Teachers
Skill level: Beginner
Attendee devices: Devices required
Attendee device specification: Laptop: Chromebook, Mac, PC
Participant accounts, software and other materials: Attendees will need to have an account on the Scratch website: https://scratch.mit.edu/. They can sign up at the workshop if they don't already have an account.
Topic: Creativity & curation tools
Grade level: PK-12
Subject area: Music, Performing/visual arts
ISTE Standards: For Educators:
  • Use technology to create, adapt and personalize learning experiences that foster independent learning and accommodate learner differences and needs.

Proposal summary

Purpose & objective

In this workshop, participants will make a generative art and music Scratch project. The workshop begins with examples to be remixed by adding video, sound, and inputs from devices such as Makey Makey and micro:bit . Participants are also encouraged to explore original ideas by starting from "scratch" (i.e., without remixing an existing program).

Generative art is created by a system operating autonomously or with input from various interactive components. The artist creates the system, but the result comes from the relationship between the system and its components. Contemporary generative art frequently includes computer programs, but generative art predates the widespread availability of computing.

The outcome of a generative art system is different each time it acts. This is often accomplished by introducing randomness, or because of unpredictable parameters, such as the number of people viewing the artwork, the temperature of the room, or viewers' answers to questions.

Generative music, like generative art, is rooted in an era before computing became widespread. As with generative art, the system creating the music may include randomness or unpredictable inputs. Or, the system may be deterministic, but with a sufficiently long time frame for repetition, the listener experiences the piece as unpredictable.

Working with generative music and generative art together opens possibilities for new interactions. Visual attributes are designated by numbers. The same is true of musical pitch, duration, and tempo. In a generative art and music project, a random number or sensor input value can have both visual and auditory expressions. The serendipity of unpredictable results stretches participants’ creativity by introducing new programming ideas and generates surprise at the same time.

Participants will
• Understand the concept of generative art and music
• Be exposed to examples of generative art and music that have been created by professional artists and musicians.
• Understand how computer programs are one type of generative system (the primary one that we focus on in the workshop)
• See examples of generative art and music created using Scratch; remix these examples and create their own
• Share their creations with others in the workshop and more broadly with the Scratch community in a studio on the Scratch website
• Begin to develop strategies for implementing a generative art and music unit with their students using Scratch or, if applicable, other programming environments

Specific skills will include
• Writing a computer program in Scratch that produces a visual artifact, whether a stationary drawing or an animation;
• Introducing uncertainty into the result by using the random function, keyboard, motion, and sound inputs;
• Remixing and sharing projects.


The workshop will include presentations, hands-on exploration and project building, and sharing among participants.

• Introduction of process and explanation of objectives. (5 minutes)
• Overview of generative art and music examples. (5 minutes)
• Present examples of generative art and music in Scratch that will be available for participants to explore and remix. (5 minutes)
• Hands-on project development. participants work individually or in pairs, exploring and remixing samples, and creating original programs. During this time the facilitators will circulate to provide technical assistance, offer suggestions, and connect people who are working on similar projects who may want to share ideas. (20 minutes)
• Mid-session pause to briefly comment on process and/or highlight common challenges or opportunities that have been encountered thus far. (10 minutes)
• Hands-on project development resumes. (20 minutes)
• Wrap up, including sharing projects. Participants add their creations to the Scratch studio and demo to the group. (15 minutes)
• Conclusion. Facilitators and participants share thoughts on next steps for development and for implementing generative art and music activities in classrooms. (10 minutes)

Resources for this workshop include:
• http://el.media.mit.edu/logo-foundation/services/genart.html a page with a brief description of a similar workshop along with background references and resources. (Note that this page refers to TurtleArt as well as Scratch, but for the brief workshop we are proposing we will limit the software to just Scratch.)
• https://scratch.mit.edu/studios/5207280/ and https://scratch.mit.edu/studios/2941611/ which are Scratch studios from pervious similar workshops, which include samples and projects created by participants. A similar studio will be established for the proposed workshop.

Supporting research

Articles about Generative Art

What is Generative Art? by Phillip Galanter

Generative Art for All by Michael Tempel

Wikipedia article on Generative Art https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Generative_art

Introduction to Generative Music https://medium.com/@metalex9/introduction-to-generative-music-91e00e4dba11

How Generative Music Works https://teropa.info/loop/

Brian Eno on music that thinks for itself https://www.wired.co.uk/article/brian-eno-peter-chilvers-scape

Resource page for our generative art workshop

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Dr. Sean Justice, Texas State University
Erik Nauman, The Hewitt School

Erik Nauman has been a Middle School and High School Technology Integrator at The Hewitt School for the past 16 years, working with a particular interest in robotics, computer science, hands-on design and making, and virtual world learning experiences. In this and his additional work as a Girls Who Code club instructor, Robo Expo event co-coordinator, and Logo Summer Institute facilitator he strives to inspire teachers and students to explore their creativity and curiosity with technology and making.

Michael Tempel, Logo Foundation

Michael Tempel is founder and President of the Logo Foundation, a nonprofit educational organization devoted to supporting educators, parents, and students in their engagement with creative computing. He holds a MS degree in education from the City College of New York and an MA degree in Computing in Education from Teachers College, Columbia University. He was an elementary and middle school teacher in the New York City Public Schools for 14 years. He has developed STEM education programs and led workshops for students and teachers in the US and more than a dozen countries abroad.

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