David Azar

New York

Engineer & Creative Technologist

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The Music Box

A musical instrument that works with punchcards
Tags: Hardware, Music, Design

About the project

The Music Box is a device that allows people to compose musical arrangements while using a novel and unique interface – an exploration of a retro-futuristic computer evolution, a tool and a toy.

Tools

Arduino (Teensy)

Ableton Live

Roland Juno

Lots of Electronic Components

p5.js

The Music Box is a project about tangible interaction and musical composition. Inspired by old computer technologies and the Jacquard Loom machine, this project gives people the ability to compose diverse and beautiful musical arrangements without knowing anything about music theory.

 

The interaction is quite simple: take 1 of the 5 different cards and insert it in any of the 12 slots. The slots are broken into a 3x4 grid. Each column represents a block of 5 seconds in time, and each row is mapped to a type of instrument from the 3 building blocks of music; rhythm, harmony, and melody.

How does it work?

The brain of The Music Box is a Teensy 3.6 (a very fast Arduino microcontroller). The custom-made surface where the cards attach to have 3 channels each, all connected through multiplexers to the microcontroller. Fabricating this surface was a big challenge because it needed a precise fit in order to correctly read the cards. An internal metronome inside the Teensy reads each column at 100 beats per minute and signals a computer running a web-app to play the respective sounds mapped to each type of card.