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Instrument Building Projects

Spring 2024

Wesley Rhodes - Tea Box


My instrument uses a metal tea box with a plastic guitar pic in it. The guitar pic was not bound or mounted in any way allowing it to move freely inside the box. We made sound by tapping, shaking, squeezing, and manipulating the lid of the box. We recorded these sound through a contact mic taped to the box. I then processed those sounds using audio effects created by Gulli Bjornsson in Max.

Lily Gruman - Nilla box

My instrument arose from an attempt to turn transient sounds (like tapping on a box) into a sustainable pitch. I chose the Nilla Wafer box because it has a relatively low and somewhat resonant pitch, and was easy to transport. Initially, I was looking for MSP objects that could help me granulate and spread out the incoming transient, but while looking through the options I instead found comb~, which, to my understanding, is basically a tape delay with an additional delayed feedback line from the output, which gives it some extra sustain and color. With the right gains, EQs, and comb filter parameters, including a relatively high output feedback, this makes a nice thick buzz from tapping the box.

Ben Perschall – Part Lamp on boom mic stand

My instrument uses a boom mic stand with springs as the input source which is fun since you can flick the springs around and it leads to many weird sounds. The max component of the project is very simple, using an effect to bitcrush the audio and also lower the sample rate, an effect which is controlled by the mouse position. Whenever a sound happens, it generates a midi note, and depending on how loud the sound is, the higher in pitch the midi note will be.

Next, I wanted to have pitch changes be triggered by tapping the box. Specifically, to start I went for a "boing" sound, where the pitch would slide from its current pitch to two subsequent target pitches. I adapted the transient detection we explored earlier in the semester and connected its output to the mechanisms that select the target pitches and trigger the ramp of the comb filter's delay. I set up both to be able to send a fixed pitch, selected on a kslider, as well as to independently choose a random within a specified range. I also set up the first one to be able to use the other's previous pitch. Regardless of how the pitches are selected, they are compiled into a message for the line~ object that modulates the comb filter's delay. Other parameters can be customized as well, such as the speeds of the ramps, the feedback gains, the ranges of the random pitch selectors, and the parameters of the filters on the input and output. ​

Nate Bachta – Strainer Marbles Instrument


For my instrument building project, the first thing that came to my mind was somehow using marbles to create a sound in some manner. I found that a strainer was a fun tool to use as it has the rigidness to create an interesting type of friction that isn’t heard in a metal or plastic bowl. Marbles can be brought in once at a time to create a very simple sound, or multiple at a time, creating a wall of sound along with introducing collisions as a new timbre. The audio is sent through a pitch slider and vibrato to prevent a singular pitch to stick out, and has reverb to help the sound resonate more.

Robbie Garza - Wind chime inspired kalimba box

I set out to create a unique musical instrument, starting with a wind chime design. Using materials like a bell, marbles, screws, nails, and metal wire, I aimed to craft something reminiscent of traditional wind chimes but with a bit more of an eerie sound. During experimentation, I tried dunking the setup in water to see if it would produce interesting pitch bending sounds, but unfortunately, I ended up breaking it. Because the glass that broke was the part making the most interesting sounds, I decided to abandon the wind chime idea and start over.

I then made a makeshift kalimba on a hard watch case made of cardboard as a base. I and gathered a bunch of random items like a rubber band, a hairpin, a plastic toothpick, a bird feather, a paperclip, a bookmark, and even a coffee distributing tool. Although these materials might not seem musical on their own, I'm hoping that when amplified with a contact microphone, they'll create some interesting and unique sounds.

Will Meade - Arduino Ribbon Synth

Here's my project 2. This is instrument is essentially a ribbon-controlled synth. I decided to make this instrument after I saw a video of someone making a more advanced version of it and playing one of the main themes from Mega Man 2. After I looked into it a little but, I found this video which had a very detailed tutorial on how to make one yourself and implement it into MAX! So I bought the necessary components including a soldering iron, arduino, breadboard, and several wires. After some trial and error, I got it to work! I was also thinking about maybe Getting some more of the ribbons and making a 3 or 4 string "Ribbon synth guitar." The person who made the tutorial video experimented with using 2 ribbons on the neck of a guitar. In MAX, I more or less followed the instructions, but I did add a few things. I added a scale object that can change the output to play only chromatic 12 TET notes. But it can also be re-routed to be fully pitchable from E2 to C4. There's room as well to mess around with different effects for the pressure sensor, such as vibrato or velocity.

Spring 2023

Group Improv, based on prompts from chatGPT

Contact microphones were taped onto the students instruments and processed through audio effect chains via Max patches and mixed in logic.

Part of students projects for MTHC 480/780 at University of Kansas

Chase Boerke - Grate

My instrument was created by suspending a cooling rack from string and striking it with different items, like a ring, a metal crochet hook, and a drumstick. Through a contact microphone, there is a strange shimmering effect from the multitude of metal poles that create the cooling rack. The audio is processed through a delay pedal, as well as an effect that pans different frequencies to different places

Juan Marulanda - Arepa Grill
The possibility of recycling an old arepa grill has emerged as an unimagined experience. An arepa is a flat round cake made of cornmeal that is found in Colombia and Venezuela, where they are frequently eaten with different meals. The object that I have used in this project has a certain sentimental value. On a recent trip to Colombia, I brought an old grill from my mother's house with the intention of making arepas here in Lawrence. However, to my disappointment, just a few weeks after having arrived, the object lost a good part of its functionality due to an involuntary accident in the kitchen. Producing sound through this grill, by transforming it into an amplified idiophone, has been helpful in overcoming my previous disappointment. The initial plan of attaching a handle to hold the instrument while it was struck with a metal beater did not work because the worn and irregular surface of the object did not allow the necessary adhesion. This setback, however, was fortunate because the handle was substantially limiting the already low and barely perceptible vibration of the instrument. The use of the handle was then discarded, and this led me to consider other more subtle modes of sound production using the fingertips, the palm of the hand, or bowing. The effects chain, made up of a formant filter and an MC Bergmál Delay, allows the generation of a wide and varied range of sounds with it.

Snow Kim - Oven pan with stings and earrings

The instrument is an oven pan with stings and earrings. It can be hit, plucked, and rubbed with different equipment. I use Effect chains, including Echo delay, Distortion, and Reverb. Also, with EVOC FB, I could switch the frequency emphasized. I liked this oven pan with a wet and roomy sound when it emphasized low frequency.

Jake Bernard - Amazon box with long toothpicks
"This instrument was put together from a cardboard box and long toothpicks inserted into it and glued into place. I was going to experiment with different ratios for the length they stuck out from the box, but I got distracted and ran out of time. There are also some PVC pipes cut to different lengths on the top. Whether or not these serve a purpose is debatable. I had intended to be more rigorous, but I got distracted.
When you "pluck" (bend then release/flick) the toothpicks the box makes a sound. It's a beautiful day outside today. It isn't so impressive, but it's nice to build things. It is important to be ok with being human

Jasmine White - Metal Mixing bowl
For my instrument building project, I decided to use a metal bowl as the foundation of the instrument because I wanted to create a percussive instrument with a resonant, ambient sound. I figured out that I could create a variety of sounds with a metal bowl by sliding, swirling, and tapping it with a small metal crochet hook. Also, to add an element of pitch variety, I strapped three pieces of brass wire across the bowl. I discovered through a process of trial and error that electrical tape would work better than blue painter’s tape to hold the wires in place, and I discovered I could get different pitches based on how tense the wires were (strapping them as tightly as possible was the ideal path to take to ensure that the wires would not detach from the bowl).
To further develop the sounds of my instrument, I used Logic Pro to create an effect chain. I amplified the resonance of the bowl by adding a bloomy reverb effect through Chromaverb, as well as the Big Chorus effect through the modulation delay tool. I also created two Channel EQ effects (“pad warmer” and “reduce sharpness”) to add a sense of warmth to the sounds created by the bowl, and I used Pedalboard to add the TieDelay, Trem-O-Tone, and Double Dragon Deluxe Overdrive amps. The result was an eerie echo delay effect, slightly amplified by the use of the overdrive amp.
Lastly, for mic placement, in order to effectively pick up both the resonance of the bowl and plucking of the wires, I placed a contact mic on the inside of the bowl as close to the wires and edge of the bowl’s opening as I could.

Gabriel Leverette - Resonant metal objects suspended on a board of wood

My instrument consists of various resonant metal objects suspended with sewing string on a board of wood. A contact mic will be attached to one of the resonant nodes on the board of wood to maximize the chance of picking up the most sound possible. My method of playing the instrument will consist of using a metal chopstick to strike the metal objects and using my fingers to do more percussive effects. the sound of the metal objects resembles that of a triangle. I think this is both because of the shape, as well as the silver plating on the forks. I got the idea for this instrument when I accidentally hit one of the forks and realized the resonant potential. My max patch for this instrument includes the following audio effects; Reverb, panning, delay,, a double distortion system, an autonomation patch made by Gulli Bjornsson, and an earlier patch made by me, that takes some of the input sound and makes notes with an ADSR envelope. 

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