Hacking Together 30 Musical Instruments in 30 Days

Day 01: A fun and easy to play instrument made in MaxMSP

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…


This algorithm is inspired by the Algodones dune field in Southern California. It’s always the most interesting part of my drive home to Arizona. Though the underlying structure is always the same, the dunes are constantly changing in subtle and unique ways due to the randomness in the environment. For this piece, multiple rings are created with the same starting conditions. Random forces and time work together to evolve each ring into a unique structure. Although they may start the same, no two rings will ever end up alike.


Previously on Build Log…

Why is Everything Broken?

“Final” design packaged up and ready for testing

The last 10% of a project always takes 90% of the effort. This was certainly in full effect as we wrapped up and prepared for testing. So many problems emerged that it became a challenge just to isolate and debug each independently.

  • Voltage regulator would overheat even at low levels of power
  • Any length of wiring over a foot or two would cause serious signal issues — we needed to wire the second LED strip 8 feet away from the control unit
  • Developing lighting animations in Arduino turned out to be really tedious work

Don’t Have a Meltdown


Previously on Build Log

Firmware Design

I’m much more comfortable writing software than creating hardware, especially with Arduino. Still there are a few challenges to overcome in this design.

  • Proper timing for a constant animation frame rate
  • Making designing animations a simple and repeatble process
  • Getting the best FFT audio response I can out of the hardware

Implementing a solid FFT filter is probably going to be the hardest part of this project. Equally important is the job of making it simple to prototype animations as pluggable blocks of code. Considering it’s the point of the project, most of the time will be spent refining these…


Initial prototype with most of the design represented

Goals and Timeline

Where is the best place to start in my journey in embedded systems? LEDs! The goal in this project is to build a non-trivial interactive LED display. Specifically I would like to make something to place next to the DJ booth at an upcoming event. With any luck this installation will be a visual treat that accompanies the audio awesomeness coming out of the speakers.

The project needs to be completed and debugged in 3 weeks time. There are a handful of new challenges and unknowns:

  • 128 RGB LEDs (about 100 more than I’ve driven before)
  • Power requirements for all…


How I quickly prototyped a smart thermostat controller using the Particle Photon

Have one of these wall mounted AC units? No Nest for you!

Last year I moved to sunny San Diego. With its almost year round wonderful weather, most apartments don’t have full AC units. Instead they opt for space and energy saving wall mounted units. There are actually quite a few of these installed in houses and apartments around the globe so I wondered why Nest had decided not to create a version of their product for this need. I had all the excuse needed to start hacking.

1st Hardware Prototype


A Manifesto

TLDR: Don’t truncate yourself into a one page resume. I’ve found more satisfaction in my work by giving myself permission to wander.

Recently I found myself dragging my feet on a much needed update to my business card. The one thing I’m stuck on is what to place below my name. I’m finding it impossible to cram all my past experience and current skill set into a few words. This same confusions appears when someone at a party asks me what I do for work. I either stare blankly or rattle of a long list of things I’ve worked on…

Kyle Stewart

Creative technologist based in LA http://kylestewart.co

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