The first phase of our SSHRC grant was exploring the world of Arduino technology. In early October of 2020, music technologist and percussionist Levy Lorenzo led a two-day workshop via Zoom to teach our team about the Arduino Uno microprocessor.

Findings from this workshop can be read in our paper “On Parallel Performance Practices: Some Observations on Personalizing DMIs as Percussionists”.

The Arduino is a microprocessor that can be programmed and customized via computer code. Initially,  the group constructed a basic prototype which consisted of a breadboard fashioned with four buttons and four LEDs which was then connected to the Arduino. In addition to constructing the physical components of the interface, we also learned how to code pitches and rhythmic patterns corresponding to different button combinations.
After learning the basic Arduino programming skills, each team member began to experiment with and customize their interfaces. This hands-on approach promoted individual creativity and exploration, culminating in an online concert broadcast on December 3rd, 2020.

Individual Arduino Projects

These four lab members were living together at the time of the workshop, so they opted to work as a group. They added a second breadboard to one Arduino Uno, making for a total of eight buttons. The buttons on one breadboard controlled pitches that blinked on and off at regular intervals, and the buttons on the second breadboard controlled the speed of the pitches. They built a second, similar instrument and performed with one person on each breadboard. The quartet performed a three-part étude featuring different styles. The first part featured a shifting melody-accompaniment relationship between instrument pairs; the second part generated musical ideas using time signature 7/8; the third part explored the instrument’s timbral extremes.

Greg created a semi-autonomous tone generator from his Arduino UNO unit. The unit has five settings of random note generation, with corresponding LEDs, starting at silence and increasing in range and rhythmic density from “low and fast” all the way up to “lessest low and fasterest.” Greg improvised with these varying states of tone generation using three guitar pedals: a Boss GE-7 graphic EQ, a Boss PS-5 ‘super shifter’, and an MXR carbon copy delay.

Randall added two extra buttons onto the breadboard in order to expand the range of possible pitch/rhythm combinations. These two extra buttons control the pitch combinations, while the other four buttons correspond to pitch material. His  performance was a structured improvisation that revolved around consistent rhythmic motion.

Aiyun chose to program fixed material on her Arduino. By pressing a single button, she triggered a pre-programmed sequence of tones that lasted the entire performance. The main point of interest for her were the two speakers that came with the Arduino kit. Taking the cue from the limited dynamic control of the Arduino, she used half of a squash and the space surrounding them to amplify and mute speaker’s output. Aiyun simultaneously utilized throat singing as a way to amplify and merge with the Arduino tones, additionally noting that subsequent performers of their étude need to “find a way to engage and blend with electronic sounds.”

Gordon used his Arduino instrument as an arpeggiator. He mapped four pitches, one to each button, and kept the rhythms consistent so that there was fast rhythmic alternation between the pitches on the buttons when pressed. The Arduino was used in combination with a hi-hat and kick drum to create a groove-based composition that incorporated polyrhythms.

Trial by Analog, Error by Digital was inspired by two components of our workshops with Levy Lorenzo: electrical currents and Arduino programming. The “analog” sounds of creating and manipulating the flow of electrical current (with a 9V battery and a speaker) interact with the programmed Arduino, both of which are amplified and enhanced by the snare drum. The Arduino code consists of musical gestures that continuously loop until other button combinations are pressed, but an error in the code led to the creation of a glitch. This “error” resulted in the sonic alteration of the tones that emanate from the speaker connected to the Arduino.

By connecting the Arduino instrument through Max MSP into Ableton, Adam used the additional inputs to manipulate various effects applied to the output. The musical material consisted of shifting arpeggios with washes of delay, reverb, and filter sweeps manipulated by the performer by using the potentiometer and photoresistor that were added to the breadboard.

Pino used the Arduino instrument to perform an arrangement of Koji Kondo’s video game track “Zelda’s Lullaby”(1991) from the Legend of Zelda franchise. The notes of the melody were programmed onto the Arduino instrument, while the other hand performed accompanying material on the vibraphone. By mounting the Arduino instrument on a cardboard box, Pino could create a sense of vibrato while shaking it with his hand.

Live Broadcast