David Ciganko, Vice President for Product Development, Fisher-Price
Tod Machover, Head of the Opera of the Future group, MIT Media Lab
MIT Media Lab (Cambridge, MA); Fisher-Price, Inc. (East Aurora, NY)
Media Lab member Fisher-Price wanted to create a simple “add-on” musical cartridge for Pixter Color, the company’s popular, hand-held, digital drawing toy.
In the fall of 2004, Fisher-Price unveiled Symphony Painter—a music-composition tool that gives children (four years old and up) a whole new way to create music. The toy also demonstrates how close research collaboration between a leading manufacturer and the Media Lab can result in a successful new product. The Symphony Painter music cartridge lets young kids “magically” convert their Pixter Color drawings into music. Different colors and different strokes create musical elements, such as melody, rhythm, and timbre; “hidden” technology smooths out clashing notes to create more harmonic pieces.
Symphony Painter is a direct descendant of Hyperscore, a digital-composition tool created in 2001 for the Toy Symphony, an international music education project developed by Professor Tod Machover and the Lab’s Opera of the Future group. Hyperscore allows a child to “compose” a musical piece by freehand drawing of colored lines on a screen—whether or not the child can actually read music—and then translates the drawings into color-coded musical materials, such as chords, melodies, and other sounds to create a full composition.
David Ciganko, Fisher-Price’s vice president for product development, sees Symphony Painter as the culmination of years of working closely with the Media Lab. “The idea,” says Jeff Miller, director of design at Fisher-Price, “was to keep the essence of Hyperscore, but adapt it to a much simpler chip set. This would allow us to keep the technology invisible so that the kids would never feel intimidated.” To help achieve this, Media Lab researchers worked closely with Fisher-Price to redesign code for Pixter Color and develop a prototype.