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SANTIPAB SOMBOON

Creative Technologist // Filmmaker //
Aspiring Data Scientist //

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Concept: For my final project, I am building a compact MIDI (musical instrument digital interface) that emulates gamelan sounds called GA-MIDI-LAN. Developed roughly thirty years ago, MIDI allowed synthesizers and drum machines to be connected to computers. It revolutionized the music industry and provided anyone to create massive soundscapes. Gamelan is a set of percussive instruments mostly consisting of gongs, metallophones, and drums found in Indonesia. The instruments have political and religious roots, and plays an important part in sustaining traditional Balinese culture. But more importantly, a Gamelan is played together as a group and emphasizes community over individual values (here is a short clip on youtube). The reason to its limited exposure is due to the transportation challenges of a heavy ensemble, thus compiling a set of instruments into one device creates opportunities for a wider audience to experience Gamelan music.

Technology: I am using six piezo sensors as analog inputs and three digital push buttons to trigger different instruments (here is the breadboard schematic). I started testing with a variety of materials (plastic, cardboard, wood, etc), and learned that piezo sensors are EXTREMELY sensitive. Any additional signal disturbances created erratic and inconsistent sounds through Kontakt, a MIDI player that features a Gamelan library. As you can see from the first iteration below, there were numerous factors causing signal disturbance. One: Every strike on the bar loosens the bolts. Two: Masking tape on piezo sensors did not solidify analog signal.

Challenges: The most difficult task was generating a stable, undeviating sound from each bar. Through trial and error, I found that it was more effective if I tested/soldered each piezo individually as opposed to wiring all the components and running the arduino program. Once I achieved this feat, the rest was making adjustments to the midi code (what analog value to cause a note; how many cycles before a second hit is allowed; dividing the hits average so it balances out).

Another challenge was swapping piezo sensors as they tended to break after awhile. I realized striking the bars with mallets damaged the sensors to a certain extent. As a result, I chose to use my fingers instead to trigger notes.

Feedback and future iterations: I think implementing more than three instruments is crucial to a complete gamelan midi controller. There are at least a dozen instruments within gamelan orchestra, so I would assign a button to each instrument. I also would add another sensor to bring more authenticity to the sound (maybe a pressure sensor?), and include LED lights when striking the bars.