Imagine drawing an interface on paper, then being able to use it as a musical interface. Or, heck, don’t imagine it – do it. Unfortunately, the kinds of intelligence necessary to make the music video in yesterday’s post just aren’t practical yet. (That is, you could draw a picture of a keyboard, and even use the picture as a music controller, but while you or I could recognize a keyboard from a drum pad and know that line is a fader, a computer would need some sort of advance structure for any recognition to work.) But you can do some really clever things, as folks have shared in comments.

And using some basic paper interfaces, you can make entire instruments for just a few dollars.

Of course, the awesomest way to do anything is with LAZORS. Greg Kellum and Alain Crevoisier presented a paper at last year’s NIME (a conference for new interface designs for music) proposing a system for making any surface a control surface. Like the music video yesterday, you can configure your surface to function however you like – even dividing it up into pads and faders.

By now, you’e likely seen plenty of multi-touch interfaces or means of tracking hands. But, to paraphrase the NIME paper, these either require a special surface (or transparent surface), or they can’t actually detect when you’re touching. You can even use multiple cameras or an IR beam, but there are limitations to accuracy and the size of the usable surface that would result. Kellum and Crevoisier use an infrared camera and two illuminators, each built by pointing a laser at a mirrors.

Yawn, you say, been there, done that, seen Jeff Han’s video… The advantage of this system is that you can use any surface, like your dining room table. And you can configure that surface however you like. There’s even a freely-downloadable Surface Editor you can extend in Java and Processing. The creators claim they can even get input latency down to a reasonable 10 ms using high-speed cameras.

Transforming Ordinary Surfaces into Multi-touch Controllers [PDF paper, NIME 2008]
Future Instruments > Projects
Thanks, Randy Jones!

db3ll has created a keyboard out of paper, and of course it works better than those flimsy rubber “roll-up” pianos you see for sale. “Conductive ink is what I used,” he says, “painted on as traces on the non-printed side of the paper.” That’s the twist – I had assumed you’d use the top of the paper, but the trick is to use the reverse side to provide the “wiring.” He also offers advice for making a fader:

You can make a paper thin fader in much the same way, but it requires a magnet. Cut a slot in a piece of paper, color around the slot with conductive ink (I use the “trace repair” pens sold at electronics supply places… it has a very fine tip), and glue some SVHS tape (resistive side up) under it. Put a thin piece of metal beneath the SHVS tape & use a magnet to conduct between the SVHS tape & the conductive ink. The magnet will stay in position due to the metal (I use package banding) under it, and aside from the magnet, it is roughly the thickness of a couple sheets of paper.

Simon Lacelle is also working on a project I’m eager to see:

In a pad controller I’m making using a HUGE Staples calculator, I’m using strips of aluminium foil separated by a sheet of paper with holes at each button as switches merely a milimeter thick, and these are quite responsive.

A YouTube uploader by the name of DJ Mocap appeared briefly online with a project that seems to show him controlling Traktor with a drawing. There’s a camera and some sort of analog input being fed into a circuit board, but I’m not entirely sure what’s going on – though I can think of a couple of ways to make this work. It stumped DJ Tech Tools’ readers, but I have a feeling it can’t stump CDM readers, so have at it.

UPDATED – FAKE (but possible) Okay, so this turns out to be a Stanton touch controller hiding underneath a piece of paper. Of course, that’s itself not such a terrible idea – by having a drawn overlay, you have visual feedback for specific positions on the controller. But furthermore, while this is fake, the idea remains possible – and more cheaply than buying a piece of Stanton gear to toss under your piece of paper. So I call this “fake but potentially inspiring.”

Thanks to Gizmo from Scratchworx. Now, show Gizmo and Mocap by making a real version of this!

Just to consider moving in the opposite direction, I have to point to Amit Pitaru’s Sonic Wire Sculptor, an interface for drawing virtually and digitally. Because it’s digital, you can draw in 3D, do something you can’t with real-world markers. Here it is in a Tokyo gallery installation version; see more information (or try it yourself online) at Amit’s site.

And back to the realm of the imaginary – could MPCs of the future be made out of cardboard? (Oh, how I love reading YouTube comments. “Doesn’t look too sturdy.” “Why do you have your MPC in a box?” Apparently some people thought this was somehow insulting hip-hop. YouTube comments – pushing the very frontier of stupidity.)

Thanks to dyscode on comments — brilliant.

The cardboard MPC comes from and our friend Elijah Torn, as seen previously on CDM.

Doing it Yourself

If you’re interested in entering the world of paper, drawing, and controllers, there are two directions I’d suggest.

One way to go is to simply start thinking about drawing as an interface. The creator of Tablet 2 MIDI, a MIDI-graphics tablet interface, suggests that using the pen you can draw any interface you like, then map it to tablet input. That concept could certainly be applied more broadly.

As far as using paper and a conductive pen to doodle your own musical creations, it turns out this is one of the easiest ways to learn about resistance in electronics.

PAiA 2 Transistor “Ribbon” Kit from Create Digital Media on Vimeo.

Learn Musical Electronics, No Soldering: Free PAiA Ribbon Controller Kit for CDM Readers

This project, which we covered at the end of 2007 and featured at our Handmade Music event, is ideal for giving young people (or the solder-phobic) their first step into electronics. The whole kit fits on a business card; you just need speakers to which you can connect.

The Drawdio project uses the same basic circuit and principle, but attaches it to a pen, making the rig a little more portable and allowing other fascinating experiments. It’s also available for purchase.

You’ll find countless variations of the basic circuit, because it’s so simple, and it’d be a great way to get into the more sophisticated (or at least more complex) ideas here.

Other ideas? Questions? Stuff I’ve left out? Let me know, and I’ll update the story.

  • Gizmo

    Just so you know Peter, the DJ Mocap clip is a Stanton SCS.3d prototype under a sheet of paper. This obviously makes me highly suspicious of any other paper based units.

  • Paul

    Using pure data bonk and a microphone you could make the the hypothetical pads "velocity" sensitive by following the loudness of you hitting the pad

  • flunky
  • flunky

    and I know you all know, but here's a bit more from the sos article..

    "The unique Oramics synthesizer was controlled by drawing onto 35mm photographic film."

    gotta love that for 1950's !

  • Patrick Richardson

    I saw the visual paper-interface at NIME 2009.

    I love this community!

  • Peter Kirn

    @flunky: Actually, quite a good example. I realize now if I get into "drawing" or "graphical interfaces" (as with Sonic Wire Sculptor), this is a much bigger category!

  • J Normand

    Found this on youtube, looks like some guys in New Orleans are doing something like this:

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  • dyscode

    I did not realize that the MPC Cardboard video was by Elijah Torn, I think he really cool.

    And again sharing information rulez

  • Graphics Tablet Revi

    Using something like a wacom tablet, you should be able to make a pretty good interface I would have thought – similar to the Sonic Wire video above.

    Or do these things already exist for graphics tablets and I have just never seen them? lol

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