New Musical Instruments with Axoloti

We just started a new course at the University of Iowa School of Music: MUS:3285 New Musical Instruments: from Design to Performance. The School of Engineering's Electronics Shop laser cut the boxes, made by after vorplus's axoloti enclosure plans. I like the personalized engraving:

Here is an excerpt of the syllabus:

Registrar's description

Acoustic principles of selected traditional instruments (e.g., winds, strings, percussion) as well as principles of electroacoustic sound production (e.g., analog synthesizers, microphones, transducers); students work in teams to build, test, and improve their own musical instrument and experiment with its playing modes; projects may include inharmonic variations upon classical instruments, musical bots, guitar or voice-processing pedals, transducer-driven DIY Gamelans, and more; for composers, performers, engineers, and sound enthusiasts who want to design, build, and/or perform with new musical instruments.

Objectives and Goals of the Course

This course is aimed at performers, composers, engineers, and computer scientists who are interested in electronically augmented traditional musical instruments, and new electro-acoustic musical instruments. Upon completion of this course, you will be able to:

  • produce and read sound spectrums;
  • find the natural resonances of an object such as a metal plate, and use this knowledge to drive the vibration of the object with a transducer;
  • program an embedded Digital Signal Processing board, using the axoloti software and hardware platform (see www.axoloti.com );
  • collaborate efficiently between artists and scientists in order to develop art-science projects.

The semester will be organized around 3 projects:

  • Metallic Resonances, where the class will build a cymbals/metals-based vibrating installation/instrument as a group.
  • Synth-in-a-Bottle, where you will create a synthesizer or noise-maker in a bottle or glass jar.
  • Personal Projects, where you will make instruments on your own ideas (for instance, augmenting a traditional instrument, creating a unique guitar pedal, or re-purposing a broken piano, etc.)

The students will compose/design performances for the final projects: the class will present their instruments in a concert on December 1 (in the Recital Hall and shared with LOUi, the Laptop Orchestra).

During the semester, students will work with the axoloti platform. The software is free, and an axoloti board will be checked out to you for the semester. This platform allows embedded Digital Signal Processing, using a graphical programming language.

If you have access to a personal computer, you should install the following free software packages:

Why axoloti?

In this course, the students are going to explore some possibilities offered by embedded DSP, so they can build standalone hardware if they wish. That's why I looked for something else than the combination of Max & Arduino with which I teach ARTS:2800 Digital Arts: an Introduction.

  • axoloti is a great platform to develop embedded audio processing. Indeed, it is an open-source project with an active community, and it is reasonably priced. Also, the basic board lets you decide on the final form factor, with the pots, sensors, and buttons of your choice would you need some.
  • Another interesting platform, using the same micro controller, is the Hoxton OWL: it comes ready with pots & buttons inside a guitar FX pedal casing.
  • The MOD Duo is another programmable guitar FX pedal, using a more capable micro controller. It collaborates well with Max and is not an open-source project.

Looking forward to december, to discover creations coming out of this course!

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