The Cicada: A tape player with a fear of commitment


The Cicada is an interactive art object. The project consists of found-objects that have been hacked or modified to exhibit new or dormant functionality, in the hopes to create a new narrative context. The object was created as part of Scott Mitchell’s Object Parasite elective at RMIT Industrial Design. The project involved selecting a mass-produced object, exploring it’s properties and relationships to popular culture and then exploiting or rearranging those details to create something new.


The object I happened upon was a General Electric Stereo AM FM Cassette Player.

Using an arduino controlled servo to physically hack the potentiometer that controls the internal motor speed and ultimately the playback speed of the tape


The idea emerged to create an object that has a kind of fear of commitment, in order to comment on the nature of consumer culture, consumer regret and non-possession construed as value – the now obsolete portable Walkman being a great vehicle for this narrative. I aimed to marry the ideas of a common human experience to the compulsions of consumerism in order to reposition people’s views of what, how and why they consume products.


The realisation that the majority of interactions to occur with this object would probably not communicate the above ideas exactly (if at all), meant that the object also needed to be at the very least interesting or alluring (two facets of the new narrative context that I felt I would have control over through design).

How the Cicada works

(A) Ultrasonic sensor (B) Arduino Uno (C) Servo Motor (D) Tape Player (E) Speaker (Input) Distance to object (Output) Audio playback

An ultrasonic proximity sensor feeds data to an Arduino, which interprets the data and uses it to control a small servo motor. The motor is connected physically to a small potentiometer inside the cassette player that regulates the playback speed of the tape. The result is that a correlation between human distance from the object and the playback speed of the music is created.

The Cicada was loaded with a tape that looped the chorus from Celine Dion’s ‘I will always love you’ for 30 mins per side (intended to run for a 6 hour exhibition). With each cycle of approach and abandonment the tape endured more wear and tear, leading to an eventual warping of it’s siren song.