LED matrices, custom software, arduino, acrylic casing, pressure sensor, feline vibrations (2018)

Side view

Side-view of piece

By overlaying animal nature on the machine body, this project explores the intimate relationships we share with the small, glowing objects we carry, and that carry us.

What do you see and hear?

Come Back is an interactive light and sound work that embodies neediness, distraction and contentment: in other words, a machine that purrs when pet. The device blinks red, reminiscent of our application notifications, when not being touched. When stroked, it purrs and animates, using cat purr sounds from cats on youtube.


The audience interacts with the piece in a solitary fashion, listening to the soundscape on noise-cancelling headphones and stroking the machine. The sound is familiar and soothing, and brings an experience of a living creature to a very clean, mechanical object.

Reactions ranged from laughter and joy, mild disturbance, and repeated, eyes-closed visits.

Man 1 Two Friends

Eyes Closed Happy Woman

It also had a soothing effect on children:

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Materials and Production

I wanted the object to feel familiar, to traffic in known visual tropes such as clean white surfaces and blinking lights, without being explicitly recognizable as a thing I can buy. I was interested in leaving the machine internals visible as a way of exposing the experience as a manufactured one.

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I was also inspired by Hal in the movie 2001 and wanted to create a simple, glowing light that vibrated in tune with the sounds emanating from the machine. To these ends, I constructed an acrylic case that housed four chained LED matrices which were programmed to “breathe” in sync with the high and low bands of the audio, creating a singular pulsing light whose job is to keep people looking at it.

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I carry and stroke my phone like a small animal, and when I am not paying attention to it it devises ways to pull me back in, such as sending me notifications, gossip, and memories as well as blinking its lights and vibrating its motor. In a very real sense, if I am not interacting with my phone it is unable to do its job, which is to collect my data.

Without data on everyone on the internet, our social media experiences would cease to exist, and the companies that have created these smooth and pleasure-filled user interfaces that serve as data-laundering applications would be out of business. So it is a very co-dependent relationship. I derive both comfort and anxiety from this relationship: when I am bored or feeling disconnected, I will pull out and stroke / read / tap my phone.

I wanted to take this two-way experience and blow it up a bit, to find the minimal elements necessary to evoke a sensory combination of comfort, intimacy and anxiety with a machine. To create a moment that is only complete when both parties are engaged, but that creates, rather than true intimacy, a kind of Uncanny Solace.

Mid-view of participant petting

Mid-view of participant petting

participant approaching piece

participant approaching piece