The Jess & Mildred Fisher College of Science & Mathematics

School of Emerging Technologies

Permanent Outdoor Kinetic Light Instruments

Jennifer Figg (Department of Art)

Kinetic Light Instruments are drums that light up when played, without the use of batteries or any external power. These sensitive kinetic light instruments merge technology with the material of light and sound, adding the dimension of light to the ancient tradition of drumming. The instruments are user-powered, and when they are played - banged, hit and tapped - the vibrations from the drumhead are converted to electricity by an internal speaker transducer. The generated energy powers ultra bright LEDs, which light up with every hit. To this end, we have been researching materials and devices that transform vibrational energy into electrical power. The drum instruments use loudspeakers in reverse to convert energy, producing bright light through a series of LEDs when played.

Our goal is to develop permanent and semi-permanent sculptural installations of Kinetic Light Instruments for public interaction and performance. These instruments will be designed to withstand the elements and intense human interaction while offering the public beautiful, sensitive light instruments.


These drums and the new light rattles will be featured onstage in

DC: Step Afrika! Home Performance Series 2013: Symphony in Step
Atlas Performing Arts Center
1333 H Street NE Washington, DC 20002
Performances: Wednesday, June 5 - Sunday, June 9, 2013

Impact on Students

Matthew McCormack is a MFA student in the Department of Art + Design, Art History, Art Education and is a principle collaborator in the Kinetic Light Instruments project. This instruments directly relate to his thesis research in human-generated power and immersive art installations.

Towson undergraduate and graduate students are participating in the project in a number of ways. Undergraduate sculpture majors and MFA students in the Department of Art + Design, Art History, Art Education worked with us during the construction of the drum bodies. In collaboration with Professor Pat Roulet, students in the Department of Music have performed with the drums during the Towson Day of Percussion and off-campus in various venues, including the Towson Arts Collective gallery, the Baltimore Public Works Museum, and during the FOX 45 Baltimore morning show. Undergraduates from the Dance Department, including Shannon Batdorf, Thomas Moore, and Kelly Weckesser have choreographed and performed original dances featuring the kinetic light rattles at Towson University and at the American College Dance Festival Association at the University of North Carolina in Greensboro.
Outside of Towson University, the project reaches out to percussion students at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio and Oberlin College in Oberlin, Ohio with the support of Percussion Ensemble Director, Paul Cox. At Oberlin College, senior music student Parker Hall composed an original score for the light drums for his thesis work.

Related Work

Selected exhibitions include: The Print Center, Philadelphia, PA, The Art House at the Jones Center in Austin, TX, MOCA Cleveland, OH, Virginia Museum of Contemporary Art in Virginia Beach, VA, the Toledo Museum of Art in Toledo, OH, the National Museum of Glass in Eskisehir, Turkey and the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council Residency, NY, NY.

Towson students working on the project

Community Beacons, 2010-2012

Mixed media, including polycarbonate, stainless steel, diffusers, Fresnel lenses, LEDs, custom speaker transducers and wiring harnesses

Community Beacons, Kinetic Light Instruments leverage the potentials of music, analog technology, and human-generated power to visualize sound.

MoS2 flake containing monolayer regions suspended over holes in thin Si3N4 substrates.

Perseids, 2012 - 2013

Quartz crystal transducers (piezos), LEDs, stainless ball bearings, rectifiers, custom shells.

When the Perseids Rattles are played - banged, hit, tapped, shaken, and turned over - the vibrations from the metal ball bearings excite the piezo disks and create electricity. The generated energy powers ultra bright LEDs, which light up with every movement.

Thanks to the Choreographer and Performers: Shannon Batdorf, Shaela Davis, Jasmine Rivera, and Michelle Wessel (Towson students).

Thanks to Nicole Martinell, and Rebecca Wolf (Towson professors).



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