Tag Archives: Korg

Creating instruments that surprise, amuse and excite


OK GO, KORG and the Royal College of Art recently collaborated on a project that explored innovative musical instruments.


By now, most of you probably know that the band OK GO is a large advocate of the Maker Movement. The group recently collaborated with music instrument producer KORG and students from the Platform 21 unit in the Design Products Department at the Royal College of Art in London. The project, called Hack ’n Rollencouraged participants to create a series of objects that would not only generate sound, but would do so in a visually appealing and entertaining way.

The Makers were divided into three teams: Team OK, Team G and Team O. Each team used a variety of KORG products as a starting point, devising instruments or a space that would enable the musician to play while being free from traditional constraints imposed by existing tools. The goal was to have a set of devices that would interface between the performers and the instruments/system and could be played on stage with their bodies. The song that they would perform was “Another Set of Issues” by OK GO, of course.

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First, Team OK based their creation on the concept of “visual amplification” where the circuitry of a KORG MS-20 mini was hacked and rewired to play only four notes from the song’s repeating bassline. Rotating a handle on its side triggers the circuit and oversized keys to play the corresponding notes. Aside from the mini synth, the system was comprised of a half-dozen Arduino boards, stepper motors, stepper shields and Fresnel lenses, as well as some pieces of clear acrylic and lumber.

“The faces and bodies of the band members are magnified and distorted as the chorus of the song, ‘Another Set of Issues’ is played on KORG’s MS-20 mini. The six notes to play the chorus sequence are programmed as triggers that rotate six stepper motors that are attached to large Fresnel lenses within the frame,” the team writes.

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The next group, Team G, focused on “floating keyboards.” This consisted of eight modular keyboards linked together to make one long keyboard. As its name implies, each keyboard’s height changes with the music and is choreographed to the lyrics. This was achieved by attaching the keyboard to two motors, one on each side. The system is complemented by pulleys that create an extra visual effect and an optical light illusion.

“The concept for the floating keyboards is creating an object that both enhances the stage, audience experience through light and visuals, as well as creates a new humorous platform to play electronic music. Thus, making the experience more human based compared to pushing a button on a stage and just counting on lighting and visuals. The floating keyboard also allows OK GO band members to choreograph a routine both in tune with the song and their humorous style,” the Makers explain.

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Lastly, Team O was tasked with “inflatables and contemporary busking” — an instrument specifically for one person that lets them deliver a range of different sounds. This particular unit was made up of five KORG synthesisers and a KORG Wavedrum. A trio of KORG Volca synthesizers was triggered by a foot switch, that when pressed, delivered one note programmed into the synthesizers. Meanwhile, a pair KORG Monotron were hacked and put through an Arduino to ultrasonic distance sensors. From these sensors, the pitch is controlled by hand on the side of the plinth.

“The closer your hand is to the sensor the lower the pitch and vice versa. All the devices are sent through a mixer, which is connected to an amp that outputs the sound. Having all the devices on display it allows the user to adjust anything and also shows the audience what devices are being used. A completely portable product contemporary busking brings its own style to street performance,” its creators mention.

When all is said and done, Hack ’n Roll was one pretty impressive project. However, you have to see it all in action to truly experience the full effect. Read all about it on its official page here.

[h/t Creative Applications]

littleBits announces bitLab, an App Store for hardware

Taking one step closer to its mission of “putting the power of electronics in the hands of everyone,” litteBits has announced the launch of bitLab, a marketplace for user-generated hardware. Comparable to Apple’s App Store, bitLab allows Makers to create their own littleBits modules and share them with burgeoning DIY community.

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“When Apple launched the App Store, many apps were games, many were frivolous. I remember a lot of fart apps,” explained littleBits Founder and CEO Ayah Bdeir. “But now 6 years later, there are more than 1.3 million apps that have distributed nearly $15 billion to the software developer community. We believe the same thing will happen with hardware ­developers just need one common platform to develop on, a supply chain that powers it, and a marketplace for community and distribution.”

According to the company, anyone with a working prototype of a new Bit can submit it for community consideration. In contest-like fashion, littleBits will then select the ones receiving the most votes, examine them for viability and put them into production, with the creators receiving a 10% royalty.

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“We’re breaking down the barriers of entering the field of hardware. We want to democratize the hardware industry, to revolutionize it and make it accessible,” Bdeir tells Forbes. While anyone with a laptop and a little coding skill can make an app, and 3D printing is opening up manufacturing, the hardware industry hasn’t gone through that. “It’s still largely closed, very top down, really prohibitive to non-engineers.”

In its latest blog, littleBits writes:

For the hardware community, the bitLab means our community can come together and develop on one common platform, add in a seemingly incremental innovation, and see the innovation multiply. The hardware developer community has often been distributed, decentralized and considered by the outside world to be secondary to the software developer community. We believe a big part of that is because the community has not had one common platform to develop on, with a supply chain as a backbone, coupled with a marketplace to grow its distribution. But even more importantly, we haven’t seen this happen in hardware because of one simple fact: making hardware modular is an extremely difficult and complex problem. It’s difficult to create a system, a product line, and a supply chain in which one module can be added to the others and work in every which way. Over the past many years, this is exactly what we have done with littleBits. We have made the largest modular hardware library in the world. With the bitLab, a hardware developer that has created an exciting new sensor circuit or has an idea for a new digital interaction can create a module (or multiple) and leverage the entire littleBits library with its sensors, switches, wireless transmitters, power, actuators and other modules without having to recreate them. Every new Bit multiplies the power of the rest of the modular platform. And it grows exponentially from there.

Similar to how the app store opened up Apple’s API to developers, littleBits has open the doors to a world of electronic modules, via its Hardware Development Kit that is now available. “It’s a proprietary connector basically creating entry points into the system,” Bdeir reveals to Fast Company. “With that and the rest of the HDK, which also includes a perf board, tinkerers can plug in whatever they can think up and make it work with other bits.”

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In recent months, littleBits has taken huge strides to stretch the limits of imagination. Around Maker Faire Bay Area, the company launched its Arduino module. This programmable ATmega32u4 powered Arduino at Heart component enabled Makers to easily incorporate sketches into their littleBits circuits.

A few months later, they launched another pillar of “power,” the cloudBit. In what the company hoped would alter the perception of littleBits from toy to tool, the electronics kit manufacturer announced a new component that empowered any littleBits creation to the become an Internet-connected ‘thing’ without the need to solder, wire or program for basic projects.

Now, the newly-unveiled bitLab is the first of its kind in the field of electronics. “Even though it may seem obvious that hardware needs an app store, building a genuine app store that can allow every new “app” to interoperate with every other app and its underlying platform is complex,” the company writes.

bitLab is an evolutionary successor to dreamBits, an open forum where littleBits users can suggest new modules they’d like to see produced. While countless Makers have already showcased their creativity and added a number of ideas to the site, Bdeir is hoping bitLab will now experience a domino effect. In other words, as more Bits join the library, more people will think of different and new ideas.

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Partners who took part in the bitLab beta include some of our friends as well as fellow Arduino At Heart members including Arduino’s Massimo Banzi, MaKey MaKey‘s Jay Silver, Bare Conductive‘s Matt Johnson, Korg‘s Tatsuya Takahashi, Gabotronics’ Gabriel Anzziani, Backyard Brains’ Greg Gage, and and Bleep Labs’ Dr. Bleep.

“We want people to say, ‘There’s a Bit for that,’ and if there isn’t one, they will make one,” Bdeir concludes. Interested in learning more? Read littleBits’ entire announcement here.

The Maker Movement continues to grow as a technological and educational revolution, demonstrating its true potential to today’s young Makers. Ayah Bdeir will be joining Massimo Banzi, Quin Etnyre, and Atmel’s Bob Martin and Daniel Ujvari for Saturday’s Maker Faire panel on the MAKE: Live Stage as they explore the ways in which DIY culture is influencing young Makers and helping to create tomorrow’s industry innovators.

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Don’t forget to join the Atmel team in Queens this week for the 5th Annual World Maker Faire! Undoubtedly, this year will be amazing as an expected 750+ Makers and 85,000+ attendees head to the New York Hall of Science to see the latest DIY gizmos and gadgets, as well as a number of the Makers mentioned above. Once again a Silversmith Sponsor of the event, Atmel will put the spotlight on everything from Arduino to Arduino-related projects