Tag Archives: Music

This Arduino-powered instrument turns Bitcoin into sounds

::vtol:: has done it again! This time he has turned cryptocurrencies into tunes with a giant Arduino-powered string instrument.

Although cryptocurrencies may not be printed on paper or metalicized into coins, it doesn’t mean that Bitcoin and Litecoin can’t still be brought to life. Just ask Dmitry Morozov, also known as ::vtol::, who has transformed those digital bits into something quite tangible… music.


The artist’s latest piece, dubbed Silk, is an installation comprised of two six-foot metal towers strung with wire, which tracks the real-time changes in market activities related to cryptocurrencies. Motorized fingers pull one of five strings, with each one representing a different currency, as the rates fluctuate: dollar, Yuan, Euro, Canadian dollar and Ruble. The resulting sound is then picked up by a pair of Dimarzio guitar pickups, and emitted through a set of speakers.

The music is all in the data, however. As the Bitcoin and Litecoin cryptocurrencies change in value against the more traditional currencies, the imagined monetary values generate new melodies and rhythms.

Behind all the magic lies an automatic tuning mechanism comprised of 10 stepper motors and 10 servo motors that is tasked with precisely plucking the wires, all driven by an Arduino board and some MaxMSP and Pure Data programming.


“This piece explores how new technologies and progress in such areas of knowledge as cryptography, mathematics, computer science influence the financial system, inevitably changing the social structure of the society. These changes can be characterised by growing decentralization, transparency, unfalsifiability, immateriality of values,” the artist adds. “The ‘Silk road’ of the future, the global network of Internet is creating its own unit of exchange independent from political and geographical limitations. Bitcoin has no material analogue, and may be only conditionally compared to existing currencies, in fact being a protocol of values transfer. Technologies of future stimulate creation of virtual entities, which still have no less real meaning – and Bitcoin is one of the first examples.”

Okay, so although it’s not the most harmonic and soothing tunes you’ve ever heard, it’s pretty mesmerizing if you ask us. See for yourself below!

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.


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.


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.


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]

Reify lets you hear, see and hold music

Reify is a new medium of creative expression for artists, and a deeper, connected music experience for fans.

As enjoyable as listening to music may be, it is often times just one-dimensional. But what if, instead of simply hearing your favorite tunes, you were able to actually see and feel them at the same time? That is idea behind one Brooklyn-based startup’s latest innovation dubbed Reify a term that refers to the act of making something abstract more real.


Led by Allison Wood and Kei Gowda, the team of designers and engineers have launched a Kickstarter campaign for what they hope will usher in a new age of cross-sensory experiences, strengthening the bonds between musicians and their fans.

The process begins by collaborating with an artist on a range of visual interpretations of a specific song which take the form of abstract 3D models. These models, also known as totems, are created via Harmony — a custom audio-to-physical engine and parametric design software — and then 3D-printed.


From there, Reify encodes these objects using Unity and Vuforia with the original tunes and a series of intense, mind-blowing visuals. Along with an accompanying mobile app called Stylus, these totems morph right before a user’s eyes, taking them on a augmented reality journey like never before imagined — unless, of course, you’re Kanye West. As the song plays through Stylus, users have the ability to move the screen around to see all sides of the transforming, psychedelic sculpture as it changes shapes, bounces around and pulsates in sync with the audio track being played.

So far, the team has designed hundreds of experimental totems spanning across different music genres, with each one as unique as the song it represents.


“Each experience is unique in style and content. Some are game-like. Some are conceptual explorations. Others are both…and neither. All are direct expressions of the artist’s creative vision,” its creators note.

The NYC startup has taken to Kickstarter to help fund their project, where they are currently seeking $150,000. Whether or not, Reify achieves its goal, one thing is for certain: it’s awesome to see the Maker Movement continue to inspire engineers, designers and hobbyists to dream up ways to bring music to life.

This Arduino-based installation turns Google searches into music

Maker uses the popularity of others as the input for creating electronic music.

By now, you’re probably well aware that Moscow-based innovator Dmitry Morozov is no stranger to the Bits & Pieces blog with his unique Arduino-based installations. Just when we thought we’ve seen it all, from making eery tunes by crushing electronic devices to turning air pollution into contemporary art, the Maker has returned with his latest project: Kalculator.


Designed as a special piece for Moscow’s Museum and Exhibition Center, the installation uses the popularity of others to generate electronic music. A user selects one of 18 names from a chart listing top Russian artists. Within moments, the program conducts a Google search and returns the amount of times that the chosen name was mentioned throughout the web. This information is monitored and displayed on an Android tablet.

From there, a special algorithm transforms the number into a form of sound composition emitted through a pair of speakers. The complexity and duration of the tune is directly correlated with the amount of times that the particular name was mentioned. Meanwhile, the project was powered by an Arduino Mega (ATmega2560).

Intrigued? You can watch the piece in action below.

This instrument creates music based on the emotional status of Twitter users

“We’re pickin’ up good (social) vibe-rations.”

Initially designed as a Master’s degree project at the University of Limerick in Ireland by Cian McLysaght, Social Vibes is a unique installation that creates music based the emotional expressions of Twitter users.


The harmonic tunes are derived from a continuous stream of input by multiple Twitter users as well as the explicit interaction from those tweeting the steampunk-esque machine via its @vibe_experiment handle. Data associated with the emotional status of those online is mined from the social network via its open-source API. Meanwhile, Vibe adopts fundamental sound mechanisms used in a vibraphone (hence its name) and is powered by an Arduino Uno (ATmega328).

How it works is simple. When a user sends a post to Vibe directly, they are given instant remote control over the instrument. At that moment, their emotional state is shown on the device’s built-in LCD display as their tweet/musical composition is ambiently shared. A user can tweet using their Twitter account or by Twitcam, where the Vibe streams live video and audio online of the instrument being played.


“For example if a user tweets ‘The sun is out, I’m happy,’ the code I’ve written will strip out key words and strings associated with the user’s emotional state, within the tweets, i.e. ‘I’m happy,’ and translate this to a musical notation. Mining Twitter’s API, allows a continuous stream of data. These emotional states are then mapped to specific notes on the physical musical instrument, located in a public space. The tempo of the musical expression will be entirely based upon the speed and volume of the incoming tweets on the Twitter API,” McLysaght writes.


The instrument itself is comprised of a dozen musical tones of varying pitches, which are created by striking any one of 12 keys using the ATmega328-driven solenoids. What’s fun is that this enables users to hijack the instrument in a playful manner, as well as provides those with musical knowledge the opportunity to compose simple musical arrangements. When users are not tweeting the instrument directly, the Vibe will revert to mining the Twitter API.

Interested? Head over to its official page to learn more, or watch it in action below!

Building a city of the future with Arduino

Writing for Wired UK, Liat Clark describes the recently held Playable Cities competition between British and Brazilian digital artists.

“The scheme was launched in January, when a Brazilian cohort came to Watershed’s Pervasive Media Studio in Bristol to explore the concept of a future city that is not just smart and efficient, but fun to live in,” writes Clark.

“While driverless vehicles and smart meters remain the focus of those future metropolises, Watershed wanted to explore how a smart city could be interactive, playful and most importantly, how it could bring communities together. With help from the British Council’s Creative Economy program, this [initiative] was taken to Recife.”

One of the featured exhibits was Fortune Fictions, a futuristic bus stop that cheerfully delivers witty one liners to waiting passengers. 

According to Fábio Florencio, a sound and game designer, Fortune’s goal is is to “deliver enjoyable moments” for people who are bored waiting for their buses.

“[The project] also deals with complicated elements in Recife such as lost times in traffic jams, the heat in summer and rain in winter,” he says.

More specifically, the futuristic bus stop is furnished with an Atmel-based Arduino board that receives commands from a physical button pressed by citizens – with an MP3 shield triggering sounds and phrases. In the future, Florencio and his team envision equipping the stop with pressure sensors (for the benches) and RFID readers.

“It rewards the curious Recife bus traveller with fantastical words of wisdom, gauging the mood of the city and breaking the monotony of waiting times,” Florencio explains. “Drawing on data such as weather, traffic, pollution and football information, enigmatic advice, broadcast from the bus stop itself, sends the passenger on their way with a thought… and a smile.”

Press Play – another Arduino-based exhibit displayed at the Playable Cities competition – engages the public via music. Indeed, pedestrians can touch hands, fitted with sensors, to play part or all of a tune.


So, how does it work? Well, Press Play is fitted with a conductive matting for durable touch switches connected to an Arduino and wav-Trigger board. This configuration supports up to eight tracks running simultaneously from a micro SD card.

“[Press Play] became a gathering spot for different people that haven’t met before but, for a short period, felt intensely connected with each other,” Filipe Calegario, a doctorate student for UFPE’s Informatics Centre, told Wired UK. “Last Friday was the first day of public testing and, for a moment, the systems stopped working because the battery ran low. The people’s reaction was impressive, they felt so involved that the absence of sound made them shout ask us to make the system work again. It was such a spontaneous reaction.”

The full text of Liat Clark’s “Urban Legends Brought to Life in Playable Cities Competition” can be read here on Wired UK.

Making music with the open source Kyub

The Kyub is a Maker friendly, open source MIDI keyboard kit that can be easily assembled by just about anyone.

“Capacitive sensing gives the Kyub extremely sensitive action, [while] an internal accelerometer allows the volume of each note to be precisely controlled for versatile musical expression,” a Kyub rep explained in a recent Kickstarter post.

“You can attach multiple Kyubs to a computer synthesizer or digital audio workstation for solo play, jamming with friends, or composition.”

Key Kyub features include:

  • One Teensy 2.0 AVR-based board (ATmega32u4 MCU) with native USB MIDI support.
  • 11 fully programmable feather touch keypads on five surfaces of a 3-inch wooden cube.
  • Three-axis 3G accelerometer controls note volume, after touch or pitch bending.
  • Three open source programs for immediate experimentation and playing.
  • Compatible with most software synthesizers, including Propellerhead Reason.
  • Provides access to hundreds of high quality synthesized instruments.
  • Easy to assemble laser cut wood housing accepts a variety of finishes.

So, how does the Kyub work?

Well, the internal circuitry monitors each of the keypads to immediately detect even the lightest finger touch reflected in a capacitive disturbance. 

Meanwhile, acceleration of the Kyub housing associated with a finger touch is converted to a note loudness, which, together with a pitch determined by the keypad, is transmitted over a USB cable in standard MIDI format. It should also be noted that the Kyub offers low latency (on the order of 3 ms), providing a highly responsive musical experience.

On the software side, Kyub can be easily modified in various ways, including changing the notes assigned to each pad, altering the MIDI channel, changing chords assigned to the chord pads, moving notes to make them easy to play, swapping an instrument from guitar to klaxon and playing almost any chord progression.

“We give you super-documented source code using the popular Arduino programming environment (simple C personalized for the Teensy) that will let you set the scale, tweak the note velocity curves, even map different instruments to different pads (say, drums and fife) to get exactly the musical experience you’re looking for,” added the Kyub rep.

“[Plus], our hyper commented source code should give you the tools you need to completely change the Kyub DNA. Make a loop recorder, a drum machine, an arpeggiator, assign pads to play musical phrases, tap into the accelerometer for after touch, pitch bending, or scale changes, squeeze the final bit of latency out.”

Interested in learning more? You can check out Kyub’s official Kickstarter page here.

Sir Mix A Lot hearts Atmel swag

Last week, the Atmel social team engaged in a bit of rap battle banter with our friends from Mouser Electronics and… of all people… Sir Mix A Lot.

Chiming in with some chipper rap rhymes, SMA, Anthony Ray, proved he had mad maker skillz to go with his other more famous talents. Taking advantage of the fact that Ray was performing in San Francisco Friday night, Atmel went to see the show, and bring some hardcore hardware swag for our new favorite bit banger.

Ray has some rather forward thinking ideas of his own when it comes to tech. Talking bendable, flexible touchscreens with Atmel backstage at the show, he showed a keen interest in creating the world’s first interactive full body music armor, as well as mixing decks that could be sliced and diced without impairing functionality. Imagine Mix’s surprise when we told him XSense, Atmel’s bleeding edge touch sensor product, could be just what he was looking for!

Check out some photos of Sir Mix A Lot with his Atmel goodies below:

image imagemix imagemix2 imagemix4 imagemix5

These robots make music

Steven Kemper studied music composition and computer technology at the University of Virginia. Unsurprisingly, he was always fascinated with robotic instruments that can be programmed to play music, respond to human musicians and even improvise.

So Kemper, along with colleagues Scott Barton and Troy Rogers, went on to found Expressive Machines Musical Instrument (EMMI), designing a Poly-tangent Automatic (multi)Monochord, also known as “PAM.”

As TechNewsWorld’s Vivian Wagner notes, the stringed instrument’s pitches are controlled by tangents – the equivalent of fingers – each of which is driven by a solenoid. Messages are sent from a computer via a USB to an [Atmel-powered] Arduino board, which switches the solenoids on and off.

PAM is also capable of receiving data from musical and gestural input devices – such as a MIDI keyboard, joystick or mouse – or from environmental sensors, allowing the platform to improvise its own music based on the programmer’s parameters and instructions.

“These instruments are not superior to human performers,” Kemper, now an assistant professor of music technology at Rutgers University, told TechNewsWorld. “They just provide some different possibilities.”

In addition to PAM, EMMI has created a variety of instruments, all of which can be programmed to play in multiple genres and settings.

“These instruments can improvise based on structures we determine or by listening to what performers are playing,” Kemper added. “We work with the free improv aesthetic and [our instruments] don’t fit into a particular musical genre. It’s improvising based on any decisions the performers make.”

This pop-up electronic DIY book is powered by Arduino

A Maker by the name of Antonella Nonnis has created a unique interactive electronic book powered by two Arduino boards. The book, titled “Music, Math, Art and Science,” was inspired by the work of Munari, Montessori and Antonella’s very own mother.

“The book contains movable parts and uses the electrical capacitance of the human body to activate sounds and lights and other sensors like a button for the math page,” Nonnis explained in a recent blog post.

“The pages [were designed] using recycled materials that I collected during years in London (paper, fabrics, LEDs, resistors, wires, foil paper, glue, cardboards). It [is] powered by two Arduino Diecimilas (Atmel ATmega168): one controls the paper pop-up piano and the other controls the arts and science page. [Meanwhile], the math [section] runs autonomously with 2 3V cell batteries.”

The two Arduinos can be powered with 2 9V batteries, although Nonnis says they are more stable if run off a USB via a PC.

The above-mentioned book was given by Antonella as a birthday present to her 6-year-old niece Matilde. Additional information about the DIY pop-up can be found here on the official page of Antonella Nonnis.