September 11, 2015 at 2:44 pm

New Musical Instruments Invented, Debuted at Monthly Music Hackathon NYC

This summer, the world gained several brand new musical instruments courtesy of the aptly-named New Musical Instruments Hackathon, part of the Monthly Music Hackathon NYC series. And what instruments they are!

For pre-hacking inspiration, ten musical instrument inventors and builders addressed this room full of clever and talented people, and demonstrated some of their creations, and then it was time to make several new musical instruments, including these three standouts.

If you like what you see below, join Monthly Music Hackathon at Spotify NYC September 25th and 26th for the Music Education Hackathon. They’ve got more music hackathons coming up in the next several months: Haunted Sound Art Installations, Sound Visualization & Data Sonification, Lyrics & Language, and Algorithmic Music.

Musical Spider Web

by Adam November

“I was inspired to build a musical spider web after learning that spiders tune the threads of their webs as they spin them. This allows spiders to triangulate the position of insects that get stuck by feeling the changing vibrations of the different threads.

“For my instrument, I used a lot of conductive thread and a Teensy microcontroller with capacitive sensing–a method of sensing that allows a human electric field to be felt through any conductive materials and translated into MIDI (or other) messages. I’ve made touch-sensing MIDI harps before, the challenge here was to change the form factor into something that you wouldn’t immediately define as an instrument.

“I started by making a hexagonal frame out of dowels and began running loops of thread to a twine ring in the middle. Because no two strings are supposed to touch, I headed in more of a dream catcher direction where all strings would come radially out of the middle. There are 30 strings in total. Each one then has a metal clamp along the middle ring with a soldered wire that leads to the microcontroller, where touches are converted to MIDI messages and sent via USB to a computer.

“What I had working by the end of the hack was a proof of concept- I had a lot of problems with string tension and the structural integrity of the frame, which I definitely intend to keep working to improve.”

The radial design


Adam November and Musical Spider Web

spider3 spider2

SU-109: Sublimation Synth

A Dry Ice Synthesizer

by Ari Russo, Rudi Thornburgh, Brett Cimbalik

“The basis for what we did centered around our interest in audio recordings made from the ocean beneath the Antarctic ice sheets. Capturing usable sound on stage from water ice would have been difficult so we opted to use dry ice (solid carbon dioxide) sublimating (vaporizing) within a container of hot water for a louder reaction instead.

“Once we’d obtained the dry ice (from a dry ice store!) we set up a mic aimed into the container and used the resulting audio as a seed for generative music improvisation. This involved extracting the resonant frequency from the audio, converting it to MIDI notes, then quantizing and compressing those notes using Ruby scripts before feeding them to two software synthesizers in Ableton Live. The parameters of that process were then modified on stage during the performance and mixed with the original raw audio from the ice.”


Please, tell us all about your project.

The sound of dry ice sublimating under water is translated into MIDI data (using custom software which dictates pitch data) which then controls a software synthesizer.

Why did you make it?

We wanted to develop a new musical instrument which combines the unknown nature of physical changes with the controlled nature of human technology.

What is it about? States of matter, rhythm, pitch.

What tools did you use?

A microphone, aluminum ice bucket, water, dry ice, audio to MIDI translator, Albleton Live 9, Tascam Audio Interface.

What roles did the collaborators play?

Ari wrote the code to control pitch data, all members conceptualized and fine-tuned the physical application.

What were you inspired by?

The sound of ice sheets in water.

Did you get any interesting feedback or comments from others at this hackathon?

Just a bit of curiosity about the dry ice.

What did you learn today?

We became familiar with the inherent rhythms of small blocks of dry ice bubbling in water.

What drove you to build it?

Curiosity about the musical potential of natural processes.

SU-109: Sublimation Synth


Uno Modular

Modular music tunes on Arduino Uno (github)

by Carolyn Chen, Elaine Chou, Harry Lee-Rubin, Matthew Matl, Jeff Snyder, Chloe Song, Garrick Trapp, Cody Youmans

“Our team worked on creating some software that allows you to make music by connecting together multiple Arduinos. All you need is an Arduino and a speaker, and any sensors that you want.

“The project uses the ability of Arduino microcontrollers to make 1-bit rectangle waveforms at audio rate, and also takes advantage of the portability of little embedded boards like Arduino. The big idea is to have several people, each with one Arduino, able to connect their signals to each other to create interesting composite sounds. The work-in-progress code is up on Github.”

Uno Modular draws a crowd


Presenting Uno Modular


A closer look at Uno Modular