30 Days of Instruments
Hacking Together 30 Musical Instruments in 30 Days
For the month of April I challenged myself to create 30 instruments in 30 days. The last time I was involved with musical instruments was back in high school so this was a quite a stretch for me. Why the sudden interest in music and performance? I’ve recently become aware of the connection between mathematics and sound. Previously I’ve explored mathematics as a way to create visually interesting output with code, now I’m interested to explore audio in the same way.
It would seem that I’m at a disadvantage given I haven’t been involved in music for a while. This turned out not to be true. Being able to come at this challenge with a somewhat fresh perspective gave me the ability to explore sound without too much bias as to what is considered correct music. I wanted to understand the mechanics and makeup of organized sound from the ground up. For example, why does a certain note or wavelength sound pleasant and another obnoxious? What are the components that makeup the voice of an instrument? Why are humans so obsessed with organized pressure waves anyways? I had obviously found an interesting topic with many avenues to explore.
I was quickly sucked in
Let’s contemplate why music is so interesting to musicians. Why are people able to dedicate thousands of hours to the creation of music and mastery of even a single musical instrument? During my 30 day challenge I had a taste of this addiction. No creative tool I’ve experienced gives a tighter feedback loop than a musical instrument. I believe the ability to play a note and hear it immediately is taken for granted. Compare it to other creative work such as code based art which feels like a completely detached experience as you have to wait for code to compile, run, and produce results for each iteration. The immediacy of plucking a string or hitting a key on a keyboard can’t be beat. I’ve really begun to understand the addiction that musicians are under.
Technology as the medium
One of the things I was most excited about when starting this challenge was the chance to learn how to create sound with multiple types of technology. My focus was on the audio synthesis techniques popularized by analog synthesizers years ago such as the Moog Modular. I learned a good deal about subtractive synthesis and realized it can be applied across multiple types of technology. It was also surprising to me how simple the math involved in synthesis is. Each concept seemed to build on the last and I never found myself stuck on a topic for long.
- MaxMSP — I love how patch programming challenged my programmer brain
- Pure Data — The original patch program software that Max is based from, can run on almost anything (maybe even your toaster)
- NS1 Nanosynth — An affordable analog/digital mixed synthesizer great for learning and experimenting
- Teensy — My favorite Arduino platform has an amazing audio library, also used this board to interface with knobs for my final instrument
- Raspberry Pi — Used to run Pure Data patches (would have used MaxMSP but its not Linux friendly)
- A couple of sequencer apps on iOS, none of which I would recommend due to poor design and high prices
All code and patches are posted on this Github repo.
End of a challenge, beginning of an addiction
I spent hundreds of hours studying, designing, and creating these instruments. It was an incredibly enjoyable experience and I’ve developed quite an addiction for the topic. You can’t beat the moment where an instrument you envisioned and created begins to sound good. It’s very easy to lose yourself for hours in this kind of work, both my right and left brain were well satisfied. You will certainly be seeing more musical instruments from me in the future.