Today we are happy to share the results of a very fun collaboration with the band OK Go. We first started chatting around the time the Synth Kit was released in the hopes of finding a project to collaborate on. Unlike most rock bands, OK Go have the additional quality of having excellent visual creativity as well as an interest in emerging technology. On top of that, they have been involved in maker initiatives and DIY projects over the years.
In preparation for their most recent album release, “Hungry Ghosts,” the band put together a Pledge Music campaign to share their process and raise money by providing unique experiences for fans. This ranged from personal art critiques to disposable cameras filled with tour photos to a customized synthesizer. That’s where we came in.
Our design team worked with Damian and the band to come up with an instrument comprised of littleBits modules from our Synth Kit and our library at large. The concept was originally a remixable music box. Essentially a song from the new album that could be played back from our Arduino module. Different song sections could be played in various orders and the timbre and shape of the sounds could be manipulated by the user.
As this developed, the idea came up that the music box could also be a generator of new music. Having to create these two instruments in one set of controls, we made a program that could algorithmically generate new melodies with the user providing simple inputs to alter the melodies. The result was the following circuit:
It works like this: There are two modes, “Song” and “Instrument”.
In “Song” mode, you can re-mix the melody, bass, and rhythm parts of four sections of the OK Go song “Another Set of Issues” (from the new album “Hungry Ghosts.”) In addition to playing with the song parts, you can tweak sound parameters like note duration and applying audio effects like filtering and delay in real-time.
In “Instrument” mode, a unique melody, bass, and rhythm are generated every time your synth is powered on. You determine parameters such as rhythm, tempo, key, and rests with the control sliders, which allow you to compose your own custom song. These modes are selectable with the “Mode” switch.
Song Mode – Choose this mode by setting the “Mode” switch to “Off.” Mix four sections of the melody, bass, and rhythm parts of the OK GO song “Another Set of Issues” on-the-fly. Slider 1 selects the melody part, while slider 2 selects the bass part.
Instrument Mode – Choose this mode by setting the “Mode” switch to “On”. A unique song is generated every time the instrument is powered on, and the song will slowly evolve as you continue playing. Compose your own song by choosing the tempo, key, rhythm, and number of rests in the song.
These characteristics are controlled as follows:
Rests: slider 1
Rhythm: slider 2
Tempo: distance between slider 1 and 2
Key: distance between slider 1 and 2
Once the instrument functionality was complete, we needed to decide on presentation of the control interface. With OK Go having such a strong visual presence, we wanted the instruments to be visually striking as well as playful. Inspired in part by all of the objects in their video for “The Writing’s on the Wall,” we put together a collection of objects that could be transformed into musical instruments. The objects are colorful and playful, simultaneously ordinary and engaging.
Check out the video above to see Damian and Tim demonstrate and perform with their artist’s proof toaster synthstrument.
Each object has been numbered, edition 1 through 10, and equipped with a laser engraved plaque bearing the edition and signatures of the band members.
All the objects are out in the wild with their new owners and we’ve now published a project in our MakerHub to show other littleBits users how to build their own instrument (and even hack the code to change the functionality). You can find the project here.
Have fun and keep inventing!
Director of R&D