MADD Sampler by Team MiDi

A soft-surface musical sampler and editor co-created with ASCAP 
Tags: Hardware, Design, Music

About the project

As part of a Fellowship with the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP)​, our team developed a new way of creating and interacting with sound. 

Tools

Raspberry Pi

Arduino

Python

PureData

Fusion360

Notion

Context: Electronic musical instruments are stuck

Electronic musical instruments are stuck in an old paradigm of interaction. Today, we are mostly able to press a button, toggle a switch, or turn a knob. Music evolved from expressive mechanical instruments such as the piano, yet the current offer for low-cost electronic instruments simply does not provide a compelling layer of expressivity.

As part of a collaboration between the NYC Media Lab and ASCAP, our team developed a prototype from the ground up to solve this problem. Arnab Chakravarty, Dana Elkis, Matt Ross, and I tackled the limits of expressivity by inventing the MADD Sampler: a portable soft-surface sampler and editor.

In this project, I functioned as the product manager, product designer, and firmware developer.

Identifying possible solutions

There are many ways in which expressive instruments can be developed and the technical aspects of such an adventure were very exciting. We focused on creating an experience around the user that would encompass them in a bubble of sound they can take anywhere.

Extensive market research taught us that contrary to our initial hypothesis, good and robust expressive instruments exist already. However, their price tags are close to thousands of dollars and they are designed for advanced and niche musicians.

The 4 guiding principles

The project was developed focusing on 4 guiding principles unveiled during the user and market research phase:

Joyfulness, Musicality, Design, and University.

These were crucial in guiding our team through the abstract forms of an early prototype, and by focusing on Universality, the MADD Sampler was designed to have an incredibly low entry barrier.

Managing a hardware team remotely

I had the pleasure of working with a talented and passionate team that stayed flexible through the adversities of the COVID-19 pandemic. Doing hardware is hard, and doing it remotely proved to be even more difficult than I originally expected.

As the Product Manager of the team, it was crucial to have strong organization skills and relentless empathy to guide our team forward. I relied on Notion to plan and create tickets so that every team member was clear on objectives, timelines, and scope. We worked in flexible weekly sprints and had two weekly check-ins.

Following this structure allowed our team to complete the project successfully within time and budget.

Presenting at the NYC Media Lab Summit 2020

By the end of the program, we were selected from the 5-team cohort to present our product during the NYC Media Lab Summit 2020. I was fortunate enough to lead the conversations between our team and music legend Vernon Reid, during the ASCAP panel.

Media Coverage

Our prototype and conversation with the legend Vernon Reid were covered by different media outlets. You can read about them by clicking on the respective image.

David Azar

New York

Engineer & Creative Technologist

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