Rewind: 30 Maker musical masterpieces from 2014

There’s music making and then there’s making music. From gloves that play tunes to modded printers that blare songs, Makers have proven that just about anything — and we mean everything — can be transformed into sound. And well, as you can tell from our #ThrowbackThursday chippy takes on ‘90s hits, we love music.

Not to mention, a number of musicians have even become advocates of the burgeoning Maker Movement as of late, most notably Sir Mix-A-Lot and will.i.am. For one, the technophile founder of The Black Eyed Peas has offered a ringing endorsement of the DIY culture, recently emphasizing that, “Every young person is going to be inspired to be a Maker from now on. It’s like how everyone used to want to be a musician, an actor, an athlete — but a maker is what people are going to want to be.”

With 2014 coming to a close, we’ve decided to list some of our most favorite and quite impressive musical masterpieces from the last 12 months.


A poncho that literally will help you sing in the rain

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Carnegie Mellon student Liana Kong recently designed a DIY musical rain poncho using an Arduino Uno (ATmega328), FM tuner and flexible speaker. The poncho is capable of controlling the radio in a number of ways, including: hood up/down – power, colorful snaps – different station presets and hood strings – volume.


This obsolete typewriter plays some sweet music

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Maker duo Lasse Munk and Søren Andreasen have created a musical typewriter that transforms ordinary sentences into sound. 

Known as D.O.R.T.H.E (short for Danish Orchestra of Radios Talking and Hacked Engines), the platform is constructed out of old, discarded electronics. In essence,the hacked platform can be thought of as an electronic music box — with each word acting as a pin to create a sound or tone. Every letter on the typewriter is essentially a trigger, as these letters are connected to an Arduino Mega (ATmega1280). The data is then analyzed, where the software then processes and translates it into a musical sequence. More specifically, D.O.R.T.H.E. transforms the number of letters in a word to a certain music pitch, although it is also capable of dealing with basic emotional states such as joy, discomfort, fear and happiness.


Turning chicken nuggets and sushi into music

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While dipping a chicken nugget into sauce or touching sushi may not be the most conventional way to create music, if there is one thing that the ATmega32U4 MCU based MaKey MaKey has taught us, is that nearly anything can be transformed into a MIDI trigger. This includes the tops of cats’ heads, plastic mannequin parts, cacti, rubber finger monsters, and old-school Polaroid cameras, as demonstrated by musician Mark Redito (also known as Spazzkid).  While one would assume that jamming away on some raw fish or dunking a piece of chicken into sweet ’n sour sauce may not produce the most desirable sounds, this performance is anything but.


Piano hack adds another dimension

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A modder by the name of Capricorn1 has added a rockin’ visual dimension to his already impressive musical skills by using a piano’s MIDI output to drive Edison bulbs. Capricorn1 hung the bulbs from a rod of electrical conduit pipe, while threading the wires to a DB25 connector. The lights were controlled by an Arduino Mega (ATmega1280), along with a custom shield and optocoupler to handle zero cross detection.


Cathedral-like sounds packed into a toaster-sized device

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Although it may sound like a pipe organ from St. Patrick’s Cathedral, Maker Matthew Steinke has packed all of those tunes into a 4”x13”x14” MIDI-controlled, portable device. Instead of using pipes and a wind chest typically found in cathedral-esque organs, the toaster-sized device utilizes a combination of electromagnets and steel tines. Impressively, the Tine Organ is capable of producing 20 chromatic notes in full polyphony, starting at middle C, and can be attached to a standard keyboard or a synthesizer smartphone app. An [Atmel based] Arduino unit housed inside the device receives the MIDI input that controls 20 polyphonic software oscillators, which is then sent though a trio of Darlington drivers to the magnets.


 A wearable machine turns tattoos into music

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Moscow-based artist Dmitry Morozov — also known by many as ::vtol:: — has created a unique sound controller to read musical scores implanted in tattoos. The scanning instrument is comprised of a metal railing, hand controllers and parallel black line sensors that move along the arm using a stepper motor. In addition, it is equipped with a Nintendo Wii remote control and an Open Sound Control to enhance the sound possibilities. A stepper motor guides the device along the inked lines, while the length of each bar coincides with the duration of an emitted sound. On the hardware side, key features of the musical creation include an Arduino Nano (ATmega328), a Nord Modular G2, a Symbolic Sound Kyma X, and a six-channel PVC pipe sound system.


Obsolete computer parts turned into marvelous music

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A group of Illinois-based Makers hailing from Makerspace Urbana have unveiled a way to take outdated technology and turn them into pieces of musical instruments. The Electric Waste Orchestra project strives to “manipulate the voltage flowing through circuit boards and use those signals to make music” out of components that would’ve otherwise ended up at the dump. The team transformed an old keyboard number pad, six hard-drives, an [Atmel based] Arduino board and some software into a fully-functioning guitar jamming along with a modular synthesizer.


 A series of stepper motors belt out some Guns N’ Roses

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Sweet Stepper of Mine! Jeremy Weatherford repurposed two stepper motors to play high-tech versions of some of the classics and you have to hear it to believe it. At the core of the Maker’s device sits an Iteaduino MEGA 2560 (ATmega2560) and a series of percussion linkages.


Coffee cups and Arduino unite to make an instrument

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Bonnie Eisenman needed to produce a final project for her electronic music class. So, as a software engineer by trade, the Maker decided to explore her creative side and just like that, the Illumaphone was born. The Illumaphone is a light-based spatial musical instrument that be played by simply waving your arms. Six coffee cups serve as the inputs (aka “light funnels”), with each one keyed to a different pitch. Light levels determine volume and vibrato; as a result, once a cup measures the amount of light, that data is translated into the sound emitted. By moving your hands over a cup, volume and vibrato of a tone are created in relation to the light present. On the hardware side, an Arduino Uno (ATmega328) powers the electronic instrument and receives information from a set of six photo resistors.


Wearable Knitgadget controls your musical devices

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Royal College of Art student Yen Chen Chang recently debuted the Knitgadget, a wearable glove that allows users to control various devices, musical or otherwise. The glove is comprised of conductive yarn that’s 80% polyester and 20% stainless steel (and 100% pure awesomeness). Chang knit and crocheted a series of objects that control devices by rubbing, pulling and stroking. When manipulated, the overlap of the metal fiber causes the textile to change conductivity which is then measured by an Arduino and communicated to the gadgets.


Drumming up some table tunes

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In one of their latest demonstrations of how the ATmega32U4 based Touch Board can be connected to almost anything, the Bare Conductive crew has transformed ordinary items found throughout the kitchen — oranges, a pan, a toaster, a coffee maker, a tea kettle and even some silverware — into sound. Put them together and well, food won’t be the only thing you’re making on the counter!


Making music with the MaKey MaKey Monome

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In an attempt to create a complex musical instrument with inexpensive parts and a simple process, Maker JDeboi has developed one rockin’ device: the MaKey MaKey Monome! As seen at this year’s World Maker Faire, JDeboi utilized the ATmega32U4 powered platform to create a futuristic instrument that looks like it was transported back from the year 2114! Using Makey Makey as its brains, JDeboi implemented a partnership of copper tape, NeoPixels, and cardboard to bring this monome to life. First using the NeoPixels and cardboard, she established an LED lattice that would serve as the base of the project. The Maker recommends using three different colored wires for GND, 5V, and data.


Turning old floppy drives into tunes

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We said a flip flop the flippie the flippie to the flip flip flop a ya dont stop the makin’ of a floppy disk jukebox! Remember that irritating etching noise that aging floppies emitted when they would boot up? Well, Chris Fry has harnessed the sonic power of these old drives and turned them into some musical masterpieces. The Maker blew the dust off of eight floppy drives that he collected and began researching on Instructables how to repurpose them into a programmable musical machine. With the power of an Arduino Uno (ATmega328) and a hefty ATX power supply, Fry had his drives linked up and ready to jam.


These house plants can play tunes when they’re touched

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Inspired by what they saw at a recent Maker Faire, Fast Company’s Natalia Rodriguez and Jihyun Lee hacked some of their typical houseplants to play various musical notes depending how they are grabbed. For example, when someone touches the stem the note is different than when they touch its outer leaves. When grabbed with two fingers instead of one, the sounds are different; same goes for other hand positions. The Makers reproduced a version of Disney’s “Touche,” the technology former Disney researcher Ivan Poupyrev and his team built to encode the frequencies that conductive materials like water, human bodies, and plants, among other materials carry whenever they are touched by a human — using a tutorial from Mads HoBye, Instructables‘ artist-in-residence, who hacked his own version using a small Arduino. While the team aspired to keep things organic and the plants as far from the computer as possible, the team utilized an Arduino Uno (ATmega328) to allow the plants to speak to the computer wirelessly.


DrumPants puts an entire band in your pocket

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Ever catch yourself drumming on your thighs? Your table? Your desk? Your steering wheel? Now, starting a one-man band is as simple as wearing this musical kit. DrumPants, dubbed by its creators as “the world’s industrial quality wearable musical instrument,” transforms your outfit into a full ensemble with 100+ built-in high-quality sounds. DrumPants consists of two wearable sensor strips and a control box (embedded with an Atmel | SMART ARM Cortex-M3-based MCU) that affixes to your attire, allowing you to play a beat by simply tapping your body. The pair of sensor strips can easily be attached and removed from any item of clothing, making it the ideal portable instrument. In addition, the wearable device’s companion app can adjust the tone and pitch of each sound effect and enables users to upload their own customized effects. Wearers even get the functionality of a looping pedal built right into their shoe. The DrumPants kit is designed to work with any app that accepts MIDI or OSC signals, therefore providing users the ability to record, loop and edit their musical masterpieces.


Drawing musical MIDI

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Earlier this year, a team led by Alex Haff of NYU’s Science of Music school debuted a DIY paper circuit project, aptly dubbed “Draw MIDI.” The digital-based platform uses capacitance sensing to collect electrical signals from a pencil-and-paper keyboard. The signals are converted to MIDI with an Arduino Uno (ATmega328) that sends the code to a PC via a Max patch.


A 3D feather touch MIDI keyboard

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The Kyub is a Maker-friendly MIDI keyboard kit that can be easily assembled by just about anyone. Powered by a Teensy 2.0 (ATmega32U4),the open-source device allows users to simply attach one or multiple Kyubs to a computer synthesizer or digital audio workstation for to jam alone, with friends, or even for a full-out composition.


 Drum anything, anywhere and make real music

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Ever catch yourself drumming your pencil or utensil on a tabletop? Thanks to Korg’s ClipHit, you can now bring those rhythmic beats to life. ClipHit’s newly-unveiled concept allows you to take everyday objects and turn them into a portable, electronic percussion instruments by simply attaching the three vibration-sensitive clips to a desk, table or any other nearby surface. Equipped with motion sensors, the clips analyze and monitor how hard you strike an object with a drumstick, pencil or even your fingers, while an embedded sensor in the control unit enables it to be played the same way. A user may also trigger a variety of built-in sound samples — kicks, snare, toms, and cymbals — and select a series of rock, pop or standard drum sets.


 This onesie turns you into a walking MP3 player

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Dutch designer Borre Akkersdijk aspires to usher in a rather unique form of 3D-printed garments: a onesie capable of turning its wearer into a mobile Wi-Fi hotspot. Akkersdijk believes that the current generation of wearable technology — ranging from smartwatches to fitness bands — isn’t so much something you wear as it is something you attach to yourself. His project, named BB.Suit, was created in an effort to turn what calls “carry-able technology” into a much truer wearable form. In doing so, he hopes it would be able to establish a platform where wearers, people around the suit and even those online could all interact with one other in a dynamic, interactive manner. The first version of the suit — which made its debut back at SXSW — featured electrical threads woven into its fabric along with a musical library and GPS system. In collaboration with the online platform 22tracks, musicians around the Austin-based event were able to upload tunes directly onto BB.Suit, giving the term ‘walkman’ an entirely new meaning.


Hacking instruments with nothing but junk

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Maker Yuri Suzuki recently collaborated with South African artists Bogosi Sekhukhuni and Neo Mahlasela, along with creative technologist Nathan Gates, to create a slick musical installation entitled “Warm Leatherette.” Suzuki and Gates devised the set of instruments by using nothing but electronic waste readily found in the streets of downtown Johannesburg — including old cellphones, televisions and cassette tapes. After collecting these obsolete devices, the team went onto upcycle them into a Maker-iffic spread of new musical tools. For instance, Suzuki connected an old TV to an Arduino for an electric drum sound, constructed a keyboard from Nokia phones, and pieced together a cassette tape guitar with variable speeds and sounds.


Move with the music — literally

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A Maker by the name of “BBrodsky” has created an MP3-equipped workout shirt powered by an Arduino LilyPad (ATmega328P), which utilizes the music player and an accelerometer to detect whether or not the wearer is moving. If so, it plays his or her music. According to BBrodsky, the goal of the system is to promote an active lifestyle for wearers.


MIDI drum glove keeps the beat with FLORA



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Designed by Adafruit’s Becky Stern, this MIDI drum glove is powered by the versatile FLORA platform (ATmega32U4). By simply tapping his or her fingers, a wearer can drop a beat like Iggy while looking like Michael.


MIDI dot-matrix printer does the Hackerena (and many more)

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There is no doubt that you remember the inescapable ‘90s hit, The Macarena. The pairing of a catchy beat and a simple dance turned the Los Del Rio smash hit into a national phenomenon. Now, 20 years later, we can reminisce about the tune all thanks to one Maker and his MIDI compatible dot-matrix printer. A hacker by the name of MIDIDesaster has made a habit of turning DMPs into musical devices ranging from an ingenious cover of Eye of the Tiger to Jingle Bells. The modified printer uses an ATmega8 MCU to interpret inbound MIDI data and then feeds the information to an FPGA that essentially tunes the printer.


Play 8-bit chiptunes from your living room sofa

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Ah, chiptune music. Who could forget the iconic synthesized electronic sounds of ’80s gaming? Well now, the Assorted Wires crew is letting your deliver those 8-bit tunes with the Lo-Fi SES, a hackable device. Consider yourself warned though, the open-source instrument will surely spark up some NES nostalgia! Based on an Atmel AVR MCU, the Lo-Fi SES replicates the shape of a good ol’ SNES controller, whose buttons are used to trigger samples, change tempo, as well as play, record and delete tracks. The controller, which is the heart of the Lo-Fi SES experience, comes equipped with a default playlist of onboard sounds including a lo-fi drum set.


Blast your favorite tunes with the Touch Board Boombox

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Our friends over at Bare Conductive recently teamed with Jude Pullen of Design Modelling to develop a trendy boombox that perfectly demonstrates the widespread capabilities of their ATmega32U4 based Touch Board. Comprised of simple cardboard box along with some stenciled on Electric Paint and attached to a Touch Board, the Makers were able to get this stylish creation to flood the streets of London with some of their favorite MP3s.


Drop a beat with this ATmega328 based drum box

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Maker Ole-Birger Neergård has devised a nifty DIY drum machine, the 7-BIT BEAT BOXXX, which is capable of laying the rhythm down for everything from ‘70s funk to modern-day hip-hop tunes. The retro synth-like box’s built-in metronome activates the 7-bit drum samples with every click. In addition, the drum machine is based on an Arduino Uno (ATmega328), encased in a series of mahogany and white acrylic panels. The Lo-Fi drum machine is programmed with nine different (and easily replaceable) 4-second drum samples, as well as features four buttons. The top-left button changes the sounds from three different sample banks, while the other three are responsible for activating the sound bites: big drum on the bottom left, snare on the bottom right, and hi-hat on the top right.


Arduino turntables transform Makers into DJs

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A Swedish designer by the name of Per Holquimst is redefining the use of the old-school turntable. No longer will the instrument solely play music; in fact, his Arduino tangible interface turntable will have you forming beats from scratch in no time! Each machine contains five digital distance sensors in its wooden arm. The instrument can analyze up to 15 different blocks, therefore allowing complex rhythms to be established. These sensors interpret the locations of the blocks and relay that data back through the Atmel based system, making music based on certain pre-programmed metrics. As the user adds a block to the deck, the distance sensor plays a sound; thus, creating a wildly different melody is as simple as moving a block an inch to the left on the rotating wheel.


This installation lets you play city sounds by stepping

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Ever since the days of Tom Hanks playing the giant piano inside FAO Schwartz, we’ve all wanted to step on floor keys and make tunes. Now, what if those “keys” could emit city, pow-wow or drum kit sounds? Thanks to a new audio installation designed by Chelsea Stewart and Eden Lew at the School of Visual Arts Products of Design MFA program, you can! Called “Sound Steps,” the project was designed under the guidance of Adafruit’s Becky Stern as the Maker explored the use of Arduino units in rapid prototyping of new product interactions. Inspired from their recent move from to New York, the duo decided to collect sounds around the city. The sounds were then uploaded to its farm, which consisted of four 1.25’ x 0.75’ x 6’ wood boards, a few extra pieces for an interior bracing as well as MDF material to create the platform top. Sound Steps is comprised of a 9 x 9 fabric square matrix, with each square connected to a Bare Conductive Touch Board (ATmega32U4). The project invites bystanders to walk barefoot across the interactive platform to discover the city audibly.


 Become a conductor of your own air symphony

Created by Ootsidebox’s Jean-Noël, 3Dpad is a sophisticated touchless gesture control interface with a depth perception of 10cm. Based on an AT90USB1286, the slick device is equipped for a wide-range of applications, including artistic expression, a game console, or in this case, an air controller for any electronic instrument.


This embedded ukulele can teach you to play chords and songs

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Designed by Cornell students Raghav Subramaniam and Jeff Tian, ukule-LED is equipped with 16 NeoPixels that are situated along the first four positions of the fretboard. This allows those playing the device to easily learn how to play each chord. All of the 16 LEDs are connected in series to a single pin on the ATmega1284P that sits on a board mounted to the bottom of the ukulele along with power and serial.  ukule-LED has two modes of operations: “Play” and “Practice.” First, in “play” mode, the user can feed the system a song file, a text file that contains the tempo, time signature, and an ordered listing of the chords in a song. The ukulele will then light up the correct chords at the correct times in the song. (Think of it like Guitar Hero.) While in “practice” mode, the user can specify a single chord, which is lit up indefinitely. For those more experienced musicians, the ukule-LED can still serve as an excellent chord reference.

1 thought on “Rewind: 30 Maker musical masterpieces from 2014

  1. Pingback: This embedded ukulele can teach you to play chords and songs | Bits & Pieces from the Embedded Design World

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