Firewall is an interactive media installation created with Mike Allison. A stretched sheet of spandex acts as a membrane interface sensitive to depth that people can push into and create fire-like visuals as well as expressively play music.

The original concept stems from a performance piece I’m currently developing as Purring Tiger (with Kiori Kawai) titled Mizalu, which will premiere in June 2013. During one scene in the performance dancers will press into the spandex with the audience facing the opposite side. Mizalu is about death and experience of reality, so this membrane represents a plane that you can experience but never get through. As hard as you try to understand what’s in between life and death, you can never fully know.

The piece was made using Processing, Max/MSP, Arduino and a Kinect. The Kinect measures the average depth of the spandex from the frame it is mounted on. If the spandex is not being pressed into nothing happens. When someone presses into it the visuals react around where the person presses, and the music is triggered. An algorithm created with Max allows the music to speed up and slow down and get louder and softer, based on the depth. This provides a very expressive musical playing experience, even for people who have never played music before. A switch is built into the frame which toggles between two modes. The second mode is a little more aggressive than the first.

User Testing:

112 thoughts on “Firewall

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  9. How can I get one of these?! I work with autistic children in a public school in Kettering, OH. We have a sensory room in place now with fiber optic light strands, a lighted marble wall, etc. The one thing we are missing is an auditory input device like this.

      • Hello sir, how may I obtain such a nice but still creative device. If it would be fine with you, may you please send me an E-mail on pricing and installation?

      • I would be interested to purchase this amazing tool for our live performances in our stunning CHINA ROUGE club in Macau.

        Do you have any infos on if there is a possibility for it?

        Looking forward for your reply on my email.

        Thank you!

      • Hey, Mr. Sherwood,
        I was wondering if you could point me in the direction on how to get one of these or make it myself. This is one of the most incredible things I’ve seen, and I am fascinated by it.

      • Hello Mr.Sherwood, how may I obtain such a nice but still creative device. If it would be fine with you, may you please send me an E-mail on pricing and installation or ?This is by far one of the most incredible things I’ve seen, and I am fascinated by it.

      • How much would it cost to install of of these wondrous devices in my home? It would be beautiful to play this for my children.

    • Dear Julie, I have not experienced this installation, but I have created a way for people to move and create music – both from imagery they are moving over, or just from their movements themselves. It tracks their movements and triggers music in realtime based on either image pixel brightness and color. The brightness becomes the pitch and the color becomes the instrument. It was developed from a NASA grant to enable the blind to perceive images of the Sun and space. I would love to talk with you more about it being used for autistic children and have many stories to share about children’s and adult’s response to the technology I call MoveMusic. See a demo at I have been told it may have applications in this area as well as physical rehabilitation. Regards, Marty

    • Hi Julie, I hope you found a follow up. I saw the installation in Toronto last weekend and it reminded me of something that was part of a research project in Europe a few years later called active curtain Based on the videos there, and what I know of some of their target group, seems worthwhile to explore this with a broader user group with audio-sensory sensitivities, either via Aaron or people from that SID project ( BTW I don’t have any research projects running with such an installation for autistic children, only intention is to stimulate interactive play :). Nice work Aaron!

  10. I am very excited about your application of spandex and the 3D sensing to music and graphic images. Please keep me posted on more of the same!!!

  11. Hi, Aaron! This is just amazing! Where can we see it? I live in Denmark, so I hope it’s somewhere nearby! I love it, and I guess lots of people, including myself would love to try it! This is just FAB!!!! Have a nice day!
    Tove 🙂

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  15. Thanks everyone! We just had it up at the ITP Winter Show in NYC. The premiere of Mizalu, which will have two Firewalls featured in one scene will be this June in NYC.

  16. Hi,

    love everything about this.

    can you share approximate costs?

    Is the Processing code going to be opensource? can the music samples be swapped out? (orchestra strings? dubstep etc..)

    It seems very “kit” friendly. I’d love to make one and bring it to Burning Man.

  17. Bonjour,

    Are you working your project in France ? i collabore with a team of animation in a small city in the centre of France near Tours and i’d like to get in touch with you to know how we could consider make an evenement like this happen here…


    Mr Woelfflé

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  22. Aaron, this is THE most wonderful thing I’ve ever seen! Well done, I can’t imagine the amount of blood sweat and tears it took to make this a reality, so, congratulations on your success!

    I assume you’ve actually patented this?! 🙂

    Any plans for a kickstarter project to bring it to market? Opensource etc?

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  29. This creation is beyond amazing, I am just wondering if you have any intentions to one day market this item and sell it to people that order them?

  30. Pingback: » A New Concept of a “Firewall” » Blog & News

  31. Hi, this absolutly gorgeous but i really want to know what song is playing. the piano one in the first video. thank you.

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  34. I’m sure others are wondering what I am. Will these ever be for sale? If they are, I would definitely save up and get one!

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  37. This is absolutely stunning, i am not a musician in any manner but to be able to have this in my home; what an unbelievably great idea.

    How can i get one of these in my house? How much do i have to pay?

  38. Are you planing to market this assuming you have copyrighted it if so I know numerous people would benefit from it. For myself I would get one for my autistic daughter but that is just me. Anyways good luck 🙂

  39. So, is the piano track a pre-written track, which the users control the tempo and volume of with their touch, or is it somehow create by the touch?

    • the piano is stored in max as midi notes. when users press into the firewall they trigger the notes. the further they press into it the louder and faster the notes are triggered. we have plans to make it more generative based on where people are touching the firewall in future iterations.

  40. Absolutely brilliant, a perfect harmony of art, technology and craftsmanship. I also work in a school with a number of children with autism and other special needs. Something like this has potential for engaging these children, all children, really. Definitely Superior Art Gallery (DefSup) in Thunder Bay, Ontario, Canada would probably jump at the chance to exhibit this.

  41. I wonder if we could talk about how I could make this in my photo studio at home? I can think of some very neat photography I could do with this, let alone my wife and daughter want one in her room LOL

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  43. hi everyone, thanks so much for all the enthusiasm for the firewall! many of you have been asking if you can purchase one. due to the construction and time involved in making one we’re only selling them to serious art collectors or organizations at this time. in the near future we may have a consumer version that we will market. if and when we do i’ll be sure to let you know. thanks again!

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  45. Dear Mr. Sherwood,

    First and foremost, I would like to congratulate you on this amazing innovation. It seems more and more frequent that today’s society/youth is not as inclined to be interested in music as we used to be. As someone that has an honest appreciation for most all music as a form of expression, I must admit that I love the concept, “Firewall.” Although I hate to sound like a broken record, as you have heard this many times over already and will hear it again I’m sure, is there any way you could share with me the price of obtaining such a device? Or possibly some of the insights on building my own? The only other concept that has merged Kinect with music in a similar fashion, is V Motion Project. If you haven’t seen anything on them, I highly encourage it. Thank you for taking the time to read this. Best of luck in June.

    ~Deuce Payne

    • Hi Deuce,

      We’re not selling them at the moment except to serious art collectors and organizations. At some point we’ll probably open source the design. If you want to build your own all you really need is to build a frame to mount some spandex on and then use the depth values from the kinect to control the music you’d like to generate. Have you done much creative coding before? I recommend checking out as an entry point if not. Good luck!

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  47. love your concept, amazing! great visual, i think a lot of people would love to experience this in person.
    I would like to exhibit this on an upcoming light show, i would like to know if you would be willing to rent one of your systems for one week. please contact me and let me know if you are interested.

    • we’re not selling them at the moment except to serious art collectors and organizations. due to the amount of materials and time involved in creating one firewall a consumer version is not really practical. we may open source the design at somepoint in the future after we’ve finished working with it.

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  53. Hello Aaron, my name is Hernán, I´m from Argentina. First things first…This is awesome!! Is it possible to experience your installation here in Buenos Aires? I´m searching for a creative device to exhibit on a biennial art. I´m looking for a combination of fabrics, light and technology and this would be perfect. I´m fascinated by it. If it would be fine with you, may you please send me an E-mail on pricing and installation?

    Looking forward for your reply on my email.

    Thank you!

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  59. How do I get or make one of these?
    Please let me know the costs. This would be great for an event being produced for M/I/S/C Magazine in San Francisco on April 25, 2013.

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  61. I work with Geriatric Patients most of whom suffer from Alzheimer’s and/or Dementia diseases. You really have something wonderful here and would love to know more about it so we could test it with our residents. My personal opinion is that it would stimulate a lot of them as well as enable them to ‘communicate’ their moods and needs with us better. Please contact me with any actions you are taking in the health care field.
    Thanks so much

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  63. I would love to make this myself! How did you get the Arduino to work with the Kinect and did you make the visuals on Max? Or did you do it from Processing? You should post a detailed idea.

    • The arduino was used so a switch could toggle between modes, thats all. THe sound was in Max and the visuals in Processing, though we’ve got it built into an all in one app in Cinder now.

  64. Hey, this is so neat! Im kind of a music nerd and i was wondering how i could get one of these and how much they go for? I hope to hear back from you!

  65. Hi Aaron, this stuff is amazing really shows the possibilities on expressing yourself in a musical way that goes beyond anything people are familiar with. Besides shows, I hope you get to sell some units to music schools / museums and such so people all around can get to see and try this.

    Also by seeing some of your other stuff on your website, I can tell you’re really talented, keep it up.

    On a final note, btw, the piano song that plays on the device, I must say is pretty awesome, any plans to release it? You could synthesize it to mp3 and make it available to download, I for one would be happy to make a small donation for it.
    Everytime I watch the video and listen to it, I just gotta play again a few times.

    Anyway, thanks for your work, you brought a bit more of art to the world 🙂


  66. Hello,

    I would like to know how can i get one of these or if you have right now a consumer version. Let me know the costs too.


    • Thanks! Not sure if there will ever be a consumer version of this available… There are a lot of different parts to boil down into an easy to package, easy to use item. But you never know! If there is enough interest in that we could consider it more at some point.

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