Final Project Documentation: The Wobble Box 2.0

Arduino,Assignment,Audio,Final Project,Instrument,Max,Sensors,Software — Tags: — Jake Berntsen @ 9:46 pm

Presenting my original “wobble box” to the class and Ali’s guests was a valuable experience.  The criticisms I received were relatively consistent, and I have summarized them to the best of my ability below:

  • The box cannot be used to create music as an independent object.  When I performed for the class at the critique, I was using an Akai APC40 alongside the wobble box.  I was using the APC to launch musical ideas that would then be altered using the wobble box, which I had synced to a variety of audio effects.  The complaint here was that it was unclear exactly how much I was doing to create what the audience was hearing in real time, and very clear that I wasn’t controlling 100% of the noises coming out of my computer.  At any rate, it was impossible to trigger midi notes using the wobble box, which meant the melody had to come from an external source.
  • The box only has one axis to play with.  At the time of the critique, the wobble box only had one working distance sensor attached to the Teensy, which meant I could only control one parameter at a time with my hand.  Many spectators commented that it seemed logical to have at least two, allowing me to get more sounds out of various hand motions, or even using two hands at once.
  • The box doesn’t look any particular way, and isn’t built particularly well.  The wobble box was much bigger than it needed to be to fit the parts inside it, and little to no thought went into the design and placement of the sensors.  It was sometimes difficult to know exactly when it was working or not, and some of the connections weren’t very stable.  Furthermore, the mini-USB plug on the side of the device sometimes moved around when you tried to plug in the cord.

In the interested of addressing the concerns above, I completely redesigned the wobble box, abandoning the old prototype for a new model.

IMG_1636 The most obviously improved element of the new box is the design.  Now that I knew exactly what the necessary electronic parts were, I removed all the extra space in the box.  The new design conserves about three square inches of space, and the holes cut for the distance sensors are much neater.


I applied three layers of surface treatment; a green primer, a metallic overcoat, and a clear glaze.  The result is a luminescent coloring, and a rubber-esque texture that prevents the box from sliding around when placed on a wooden surface.  In my opinion, it looks nice.


A strong LED light was placed exactly in between the two distance sensors, illuminating the ideal place for the user to put his/her hand.  This also provides a clue for the audience, making it more clear exactly what the functionality of the box is by illuminating the hand of the user.  The effect can be rather eery in dark rooms.  Perhaps most importantly, it indicates that the Teensy micro-controller has been recognized by Max, a feature lacking in the last prototype.  This saved me many headaches the second time around.



The new box has two new distance sensors, with differing ranges.  One transmits very fine values between about 2 inches and 10 inches, the other larger values between about 4 and 18 inches.  Staggering the ranges like this allows for a whole new world of control for the user, such as tilting the hand from front to back, using two hands with complete independence, etc.


Finally, I moved the entire USB connection to the interior of the device, electing to instead just create a hole for the cord to come out.  After then securing the Teensy within the box, the connection was much stronger than it was in the previous prototype.

In addition to fixing the hardware, I created a few new software environments between Max and Ableton that allow for more expressive use of the box.  The first environment utilized both Max and Ableton Live to create an interactive art piece.  As the user stimulated the two distance sensors, a video captured by the laptop camera would be distorted along with an audio track of the user talking into the computer microphone.  Moving forward, my goals were to extend the ability to use the box as a true instrument, by granting a way to trigger pitches using only the box and a computer.  To achieve this, I wrote a max for live patch that corresponds a note sequence-stepper with a microphone.  Every time the volume of the signal picked up by the microphone exceeds a certain threshold, the melody goes forward by one step.  Using this, the user can simply snap or clap to progress the melody, while using the box to control the timbre of the sound.  I then randomized the melody so that it selected random notes from specific scales, as to allow for improvisation.  The final software environment I wrote, shown below, allows for the user to trigger notes using a midi keyboard, and affect the sounds in a variety of ways using the box.  For the sake of exhibiting how this method can be combined with any hardware the user desires, I create a few sounds on an APC40 that I then manipulate with the box.

Final Project Documentation: The Wobble Box

Assignment,Audio,Final Project,Laser Cutter,Max,Sensors — Tags: , , , — Jake Berntsen @ 5:16 pm

After taking time to consider exactly what I hope to accomplish with my device, the aim of of my project has somewhat shifted. Rather than attempt to build a sound-controller of some kind that includes everything I like about current models while implementing a few improvements, I’ve decided to focus only on the improvements I’d like to see. Specifically, the improvements I’ve been striving for are simplicity and interesting sensors, so I’ve been spending all of my time trying to make small devices with very specific intentions. My first success has been the creation of what I’m calling the “Wobble Box.”



Simply stated, the box contains two distance sensors which are each plugged into a Teensy 2.0.  I receive data from the sensors within Max, where I scale it and “normalize” it to remove peaks, making it more friendly to sound modulation.  While running Max, I can open Ableton Live and map certain audio effects to parameters in Max.  Using this technique I assigned the distance from the box to the cutoff of a low-pass filter, as well as a slight frequency modulation and resonance shift.  These are the core elements of the traditional Jamaican/Dubstep sound of a “wobble bass,” hence the name of the box.  While I chose this particular sound, the data from the sensors can be used to control any parameters within Ableton.




Designing this box was a challenge for me because of my limited experience with hardware; soldering the distance sensors to the board was difficult to say the least, and operating a laser-cutter was a first for me.  However, it forced me to learn a lot about the basics of electronics and I now feel confident in my ability to design a better prototype that is smaller, sleeker, and more compatible with similar devices.  I’ve already begun working on a similar box with joysticks, and a third with light sensors.  I plan to make the boxes connectible with magnets.

IMG_1528For my presentation in class, I will be using my device as well as a standard Akai APC40.  The wobble box is not capable or meant to produce its own melodies, but rather change effects on existing melodies.  Because of this, I will be using a live-clip launching method to perform with it, making a secondary piece of hardware necessary.


Final Project Milestone One: Jake Berntsen

My struggles thus far in this class have rested almost entirely on the physical side of things; I’m relatively keen with regards to using relevant software, but my ability to actually build devices is much less developed, to say the least.  With this in mind, I decided to make my early milestones for my final project focus entirely on the most technically challenging aspects in terms of electrical engineering; specific to my project, this meant getting all of the analog sensors running into my Teensy to obtain data I could manipulate in Max.  To do so meant a lot of prototyping on a breadboard.


After exploring a wide variety of sensors, I found a few that seemed to give me a sharp control of the data received by Max.  One of my goals for this project is to create a controller that offers a more nuanced musical command than the current status quo, and I believe that the secret to this lies within more sensitive sensors.


The sensors I chose are picture below: Joysticks, Distance Sensors, Light Sensors, and a Trackpad.



Light Sensor






All of the shown sensors have proven to work dependably, with the exception of some confusion regarding the input sensors of the trackpad.  The trackpad I am using is from the Nintendo DS gaming device, and while it’s relatively simple to get data into Arduino, I’m having trouble getting data all the way into Max.

The other hardware challenge that I was facing this week was fixing the MPK Mini device that I planned to incorporate into my controller.  The problem with it was a completely detached mini USB port that is essential to the usage of the controller.  Connecting a new port to the board is a relatively simple soldering job, and I successfully completed this task despite my lack of experience with solder.  However, connecting the five pins that are essential for getting data from the USB is a much more complicated task, and after failing multiple times, I decided to train myself a bit in soldering before continuing.  I’ve not yet seen success, but I’ve improved greatly in the past few days alone and feel confident that I will have the device working within the week.




If I continue working at this rate, I do believe that I will finish my project as scheduled.  While I was anticipating only being able to use the sensors that I could figure out how to use, I instead was able to make most of the ones I tried work with ease and truly choose the best one.


Final Project Proposal (Revised): Jake Berntsen

Uncategorized — Tags: , , , — Jake Berntsen @ 4:21 pm

Assignment 2: “Lights Within Live” by Jake Berntsen (2013)

Assignment,Submission — Tags: , — Jake Berntsen @ 9:50 pm

My instrument controls various audio effects in Ableton with a light sensor.  The electrical components are very simple; just a light sensor going into a Teensy 2.  Within Max, I have a patch that converts the information from the light sensor to information that Ableton can recognize.  Then within Ableton, I can route the information from the light sensor to any effect I want to.  In the video above, I designed a basic oscillating patch and made the light sensor control the rate, resonance, and frequency of a low pass filter.  The sound can then be controlled by allowing less or more light to enter the sensor.  Ideally, future drafts of the project will have a larger variety of sensors and a plethora of associated audio effects.

Instrument: “Vegetables” by J. Viewz

Instrument,Reference — Jake Berntsen @ 9:59 pm



Instrument: “O-Bow” by Dylan Menzies (2010)

Instrument,Reference — Jake Berntsen @ 9:44 pm



Instrument: “Push” by Ableton (2012)

Instrument,Reference — Jake Berntsen @ 9:29 pm



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