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#686 Banana piano, pencil joystick – the wildly creative world of Jay Silver

Jay Silver; photo clip from TED talk

Jay Silver; photo clip from TED talk

Line up the bananas. Connect them to the computer. Voilà! Instant keyboard. Seriously…or, rather, playfully.

Jay Silver must have one of the most original minds on the planet. He starts his TED talk with the wacky invention he dreamed up years ago – a fork taped to a drill. I can imagine the reaction of other diners at the Olive Garden when he turned it on and dived into a plate of spaghetti.

He traces his sense that we can all give new purpose to the objects around us to a trip to Costa Rica and a stay with Guaymi natives. After watching them create beds, bags and shingles out of leaves and trees, he says, “the materiality of the way the world works, of reality, kind of started to unravel in my mind…” He realized “everything you have is made out of either a tree or a rock or something we dug out of the ground and did some process to…”

He got more inspiration from studying the maker movement at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, getting involved with unschoolers at Vermont’s Not Back to School Camp, and watching his son interact with “nonrectilinear cactus building blocks.”

With the supposedly fixed nature of objects in the material world called into question, he began thinking about how people can participate in creation. In the video, you can see what happens when he attaches a small piano circuit to everyday objects (e.g., a pencil, a kitchen sink, a paintbrush) and creates musical instruments out of running water or ketchup. And you can watch what happens when he gives young people the tools to experiment with.

Silver’s wild and wonderful imagination has led to invention kits, including Drawdio, Singing Fingers, and Scratch. The MaKey MaKey Invention Kit started with a Kickstarter goal of raising $25,000. The one-month campaign netted a total of $568,106.

What I love about the way Jay Silver interacts with the world is that it is so playful. Kids take to this easily, but Silver wants to foster “Lifelong Kindergarten” in adults too and is part of a group at MIT with that same name. Just wandering around the site brought the child inside me out to play. So I downloaded Singing Fingers, painted and sang some patterns and laughed as I remixed the sounds in crazy ways.

Watch the talk below and follow links above to the videos that explain his invention kits. Then have fun re-inventing the world your own way. As Silver told CNN’s Brandon Griggs:

The world you live in is a set of LEGOs. That’s my message. You don’t need a kit, and you don’t need to stick to the pieces that come in the box.

You can follow Jay Silver on Twitter, Google+ and YouTube.



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