Most of my research these days is about getting to the heart of how we interact with musical instruments, exploring the essence of a nuanced touch that a piano player has or that subtle vibrato that makes one guitar player different than another. As a departure or brief interlude I’ve been thinking also about how to make an instrument that plays itself. It’s not a new idea, there are plenty of generative art projects that create their own ambient soundtracks but I’d like to look into how an instrument might create music from data it gathers from an environment.
The NonInstrument is a sonic interaction experiment that scans bluetooth devices and creates melodies from the UID of the device. The project explores how our devices are constantly talking to each other without us even being aware of these exchanges.
What’s a UID?
A unique identifier (UID) is a numeric or alphanumeric string that is associated with a single device. In other words, a unique sequence of numbers or letters that can be used to identify your device from ever other device in a huge ocean of devices.
How it works
With the Sonic Interactions Kit (SIK) I installed Bluez, the Linux Bluetooth system, there’s a decent guide on how to install it at Adafruit. Then I wrote a simple Python script that uses Bluez to scan for devices and send the UIDs to PureData (Pd) using UDP protocol. Once that data is in Pd, the data is parsed into ascii and number values which are then converted from MIDI notes into frequencies. Each UID becomes a sequence of 16 notes which are saved into Tables/Arrays. The sequences are then played back and playback tempo and delay can be adjusted by potentiometers on the Lots of Pots expansion board (LOP) on the Pi.
Here’s it in action on Instagram
For the next steps on this project I’m thinking about putting the device in public locations to see what it picks up – scanning people’s devices and recording the melodies. I imagine each place will have a totally different sound and texture.
Some questions come up like:
- How do I make this device portable and durable? Battery-powered and in a metal pedal case maybe
- Should the device have it’s own amp and speaker to playback while on location?
How do you think I this project should evolve? Leave a comment below.