ben says

Thanks for looking in.

I studied for my master's in Media, Arts and Sciences at the MIT Media Laboratory between 2003 and 2005. Here you'll find an overview of my work, research and play during that time.

My research explored the ways in which machines can determine acoustic context and spatial information from the sounds of our every-day lives, and how this distributed acoustic sensing can support and enrich human interaction. This grew from an investigation into distributed sensing, psycho-acoustic audio analysis and video projection, in the context of developing 'object based' media that can carry meaningful understanding or descriptions of the things and events they represent. Recording, storing and usefully presenting this rich information presents unique research challenges.

I worked with Mike Bove's Object-Based Media group. Email me ( if you would like to know more about any of the work on these pages (the will to document always lags behind the initial energy of the projects and I am more than happy to discuss ideas that arise from my work).

After graduating from MIT, I started work as a Senior Lecturer and Researcher in creative technology at Leeds Met University in the UK - Ben Dalton Leeds Met Reserarch page. See for information on my current activities. Tea anyone?

distributed audio sensing

Ben C. Dalton, Audio-Based Localisation for Ubiquitous Sensor Networks Master's Thesis, MIT, 2005

My masters thesis investigates ways to locate, and learn from, sounds occurring in real-room environments using impromptu networks of microphones and processors. In particular, I am interested in how to tap in to the potential of the underused resources that we carry in portable devices such as mobile phones to determine spatial audio context.

acoustic windows

Amber Frid-Jimenez, Joe Dahmen and I collected binaural field recording from the desert roads and plains of Marfa, Texas and relocated those sounds to the bathrooms of the MIT campus. The installation investigates ways of listening, blurring the perception of distant and local sounds and is intended to cause listeners to question their familiar surroundings. Supported in part by a $2000 project grant awarded by the MIT Council for the Arts.

e-boy mural

As a member of the Media Laboratory student committee, I worked to find donations of design, culture and technology publication subscriptions and art for the Media Lab student lounge. With an offer from the pixel artist collective E-Boy to design a mural for us if we could find a suitable medium to build it from, it was great fun to initiate and organise the construction of the resulting Lego mural (e-boy post).

popcorn sculptures

Inspired by the smooth, life-like motion of the computer-controlled fan inflatables in my Rabbit Field project, I wanted to investigate other modes of inflation and motion. The quantised bursts of steam released as kernels of corn pop when microwaved provided a perfect medium for small scale origami inflatables. Installed in the Collision Collective 8 show at the Art Interactive gallery, I constructed a number of hand crafted popcorn and paper shapes, offsetting the promise of immediate microwave gratification with the careful sewing machine production (installation video).

micro-fashion network

In the Collision Collective 8 exhibition, I had the opportunity to work with designer and information architect Burak Arikan on a series of colour and shape experiments derived from programmatic deconstruction of video shot on the streets across Cambridge and Boston. Written in Java, the colour networks generated were presented in a large scale print and screen based piece installed in the gallery (images)

autumn 04 classes

  • Audio Processing by Humans and Machines under Barry Vercoe's tuition - studied csound, synthesis and control of audio and investigated ways to render music across a distributed network of speakers (presentation.
  • Listener in Tommi Jaakkola's Machine Learning lectures on the concepts, techniques, and algorithms of clustering and unsupervised learning.

Invited Talks and Teaching

  • May 05 Sensor Networks and Amorphous Computing Colloquium.
  • Apr 05 Moderator for 'Subcultural Spaces: Art and Interface' with M. VanKleek and M. Widrich
  • Mar 05 Public Service Design Seminar graphic design workshop with J. Patten.
  • Feb 05 'Site Specific' Grad Arts Forum - along side C. Boodle and K. Dobson.

Art and Artists

Through both the MIT Council for the Arts and good friends I have had the opportunity to interact with other practising artists and their projects, including: helping to fit a building scale audio installation with artist Carrie Boodle; a rammed earth architectural study with Joe Dahmen; working with the Collision Collective and working with the WMBR radio station. It has also included unique discussions with visiting artisits including director Michele Gondry, author Ruth Ozeki, gunpowder artist Cai Guo-Qiang, musician Jewlia Eisenberg of the Charming Hostess and the Tats graffiti crew.

snow flake programming

For a Simplicity Consortium 'simplicity in programming' competition I produced a video camera image manipulator to create ice crystal forms. Written in Processing (version 074), the code is short and makes use of the video libraries to draw on live webcam feed (competition submission). This piece was awarded second prize.

bubble machine

With the bubble machine project our intention was to temporarily transform a public space, for the people who pass through it, with soap bubbles. Noah Passel (ne: Noah Fields), Amber Frid-Jimenez, and I organised an MIT IAP (Independent Activities Period) workshop to design a self-powered machine to produce a bubble flurry when attached to an HVAC air vent in a central MIT campus courtyard. Supported in part by a $2200 MIT Council for the Arts award.


I acted as a student representative in the frequent Simplicity Consortium meetings and events during my time at the lab. Founded and co-directed by John Maeda, the group of researchers and industry partners aim to explore the meanings of "simplicity" in product design, technology and communication. I have enjoyed the sessions of investigation with this group and discussions with the Physical Language Workshop about their work, such as Open Studio - an experiment in art, community and online commerce (my OS page.

object-based media group

Rather than capture a flat canvas of pixels or single audio recording from an environment or scene, how can we recognise and store information about the three dimensional space and the people and objects within it? Complex data visualisation, medical imaging, novel personal projection devices, interfaces for human connectedness, all benefit from this research into the display of metadata-rich media. While distributed sensing, context inference in ubiquitous computing, object recognition and impromptu network formation all use elements of our distributed smart architectural surface, robotics and consumer electronic network prototypes.

play-doh email

With the constraints of an email theme and a play-doh component the 24 hour 'Iron-Chef' prototype-athon was a fun and intense challenge. Our team of Carlos Rocha, Limor Freid and myself created an encryption-secure love letter system which won second prize. The system of email server code, micro-controller programming and physical mechanism allowed personal emails to be delivered to their recipient printed in a strip of play-doh, which could then be kept as a cherished physical object, or immediately squeezed away to secrecy.

interactive inflatables

An electronics and sculptural piece made for the Designing Interactive Systems 2004 research exhibition and the Collision Collective six Senses show. The Rabbit Field piece consisted of an array of digitally interlinked squeezable forms that can sense and actuate their level of inflation. The design is an attempt to amplify personal interactions into socially observable responses, termed a ‘socially transforming interface’ ( DIS flickr pool).

spring 04 classes

personal projector

I have worked on and maintained the Personal Projector project, continuing the work of Wilfrido Sierra on the design for a low power, low cost micro laser projector. It uses an array of vertical cavity surface emitting lasers, and is designed to shrink to fit into a portable device like a phone.

audio ICA

Taking an object-based audio approach I have investigated the viability and limitations of Independent Component Analysis for separating mixed real-world sources. My research benefited from the work and advice of [Paris Smaragdis] and others in the audio ICA community, and included a review of the literature on [kernel ICA].

autumn 03 classes

In my first semester at the lab I studied MAS 863 : How to Make (Almost) Anything with Neil Gershenfeld I made many things, including responsive inflatables. MAS 963 : Designing Sociable Media with Judith Donath I conducted research into online habitat in blogs and proposed apersonal data timeline.