instrument-a-day 29: rainy day monitor

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I stuck contact mics onto a bunch of different plates and vessels and put them out on the rain. I like this sound so much that I’m tempted to make a permanent installation that I can plug in whenever it rains. Inspired by Quintron’s Singing House, which I spent a lot of time listening to last year.

This is the last day of Instrument-a-day 2012. Thanks for following along! I’ll be giving a talk about the project at Dorkbot NYC next Wednesday, March 7th, and performing with Andrea Williams, Dan Joseph, and the Glass Bees in Brooklyn on Saturday the 10th.

instrument-a-day 28: wind up time code

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Turning the click-clack of an old wind up motor into MIDI time code to control the playback of a recording. (I’ll try it on with a video next!)

(Inside the box, the wind up motor has a flapping arm that interrupts a light beam. Each clack of the motor generates a MIDI SPP command which tells the computer how far / fast to move through the recording.)

instrument-a-day 27: remote control

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That harpsichord bit at the beginning kind of sounds like Dead Can Dance, no?

An IR decoder plugged into an Arduino intercepts codes transmitted by remote controls. Simple software uses the manufacturer code to choose a MIDI channel, and the button code to choose a note. It plays a single percussive note for remote codes it can’t understand, like the Bose.

That synthesizer is 25 years old, and the NAD remote control probably almost the same.
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instrument-a-day 24: unpleasant reed pipe

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A friend gave me an old mouthpiece (I think it’s from an alto saxophone). I made an adapter to attach it to the pipe from yesterday’s PVC membrane pipe.

You can download the design files for the adapter from

This is way harder to play than the membrane pipe! It took all my breath to get a few honks out of it.

instrument-a-day 23: membrane pipe

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I think the membrane pipe is a relatively recent invention. I’m not sure who came up with it, but there’s a lot of nice examples on youtube. Here’s a how-to video. I should have watched that video before making this thing, which is my first attempt at a membrane pipe.

I didn’t make any effort to tune it – I just drilled holes approximately where my fingers could reach, and that not very accurately. You can see my hands straining in the video.

instrument-a-day 21: circuit starving

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My favorite form of circuit bending, because it’s the easiest, is what I call circuit starving: stick a potentiometer into the battery connection so you can turn down the voltage until the circuit has just barely enough power to work. That’s where interesting stuff starts to happen.

You don’t need to open the toy’s case, solder, or cut anything for circuit starving. Make a sandwich with a piece of paper between two scraps of aluminum foil attached to the leads of the potentiometer. Insert it between one of the batteries and its spring contact, and the potentiometer becomes part of the power circuit. Then you can tweak the pot, in very tiny increments, until the weirdness happens.