New Musical Instruments



All segments are complete! (I’m having trouble sharing the photos from my phone, hopefully this will resolve soon). I’m getting all the wiring set up. After several tries (almost) all of the pots and buttons are functional and the piece has a lower risk of accidental sensor unplugging. Now my focus is shifting back to sound, light, and composition inside PD. I don’t want too much of a composer hand on the form of the piece but I need to figure out some trajectory. I’m incorporating more silence that will hopefully draw focus to human motion and sound.


5 of the 6 segments of 27B/6 are carved and (mostly) sanded. Almost there.

<p><a href=”″>27B/6: 5 out of 6 segments</a> from <a href=””>Alex Christie</a> on <a href=””>Vimeo</a&gt;.</p>

The instrument is coming together. I’ve been calling it the “long box” because I haven’t thought of a name. But I watched “Brazil” and now might call it “27B/6”. I have carved, sanded and glued two of the six segments, a third is drying now.


Here’s a picture of some of the Long Box sides in progress. I’m using the X-Carve to carve out the bands. Then I sand and dremel down the edges to try to smooth the whole thing out. I’m hoping there will be a kind of ripple effect when they’re all in order.


I also want to stain all this wood and get it darker. I’ve also decided to have all of the lighting happen inside the box. I’ll X-carve and dremel down the inside to hopefully get the wood thin enough at certain points so LEDs can shine through but still look like they’re under the wood. I’m also considering putting some windows in but I’m not sure if I want to destroy the sense of one solid chunk of instrument. I’m also thinking about having a miniature model of myself playing the instrument inside the instrument, but that is not a priority.

The Long Box:

I’ve spent some significant time now thinking specifically about materials. It looks like the Long Box will end up being 18 feet long, divided into 6 3-foot segments. One reason for this is that I want to be able to laser-cut patterns into at least some of the segments which means they must be short enough to fit on the laser bed. Also, the triangle-shaped ends will now have a right angle at the peak. This is kind of a bummer just because I like equilateral triangles, but it makes the most practical sense in terms of construction. I’m considering hinging the whole thing so it can just unfold into it’s performance form. I’m also thinking about how to finish/design each individual segment. I like the idea of each piece looking different in a way that creates some interest around the instrument as an object. I’m working on some designs to laser cut that will highlight the control elements (pots, etc.) of the instrument. Here is a picture of a triangle laser-etching that would be for the non-performer end of the box, that is, the end with three buttons. This will obviously have to change now, but the general idea is the same:


Back to the Awk Box for a moment:

I’ve installed the amp and speaker in the box. So far I have not cut any “sound holes” and I think I’m going to keep it that way. The amp and speaker are quite power and make the whole instrument shake and rattle, reducing the fidelity of the sound but adding a quality I think was missing before. The instrument feels more self-contained and applying pressure to various areas of the instrument body can alter the sound. It also has more heft to it now and feels awkward and clunky in a satisfying way. The sound world is beginning to feel stagnant,though, and the “randomness” of the computer interruptions feels predictably random…. I’m considering programming some sort of probabilistic progression into the instrument but I don’t want to get too “compositional” with a form that is meant to be out of my control (this also leads to questions for the long box). I think mass and scale are important themes. It’s starting to feel like a successful Awk Box performance might require at least three of these instruments.

<p><a href=”″>Awk Box (Bela-Based Instrument) Demo #2</a> from <a href=””>Alex Christie</a> on <a href=””>Vimeo</a&gt;.</p>

A picture and video of the cardboard prototype of the long box. I’m beginning with a “roof” design for quick and easy access to the Bela etc underneath. Eventually I might like to return to the box style. The whole thing is 20 feet long so it will need to be segmented for transportability. The performer must walk to different ends of the box to control the interaction and sound-making processes. I’m imaging this instrument as something between musical instrument and theatrical set design. I’m also curious about the acoustic sounds this instrument/system/set forces the human performer to produce (like footsteps). This could also present some fun opportunities for a version of the instrument that could be formed into different shapes that determine or rearranged the walking path.

<p><a href=”″>Long Box Prototype Demo</a> from <a href=””>Alex Christie</a> on <a href=””>Vimeo</a&gt;.</p>



Here is the patch and soundfiles for the AwkBox as it is now.


Here is the beginning of a design for an extended ‘Awk Box’. The instrument will be very long and require the performer to walk back and forth in order to disable the system’s interference and return to the performer control area. I hope this will also provide opportunity for theatrical presentation in which the instrument not only becomes composition but also space/set design. I’m considering ways this walk can be enhanced… perhaps requiring the performer to wear a suit and hat that must be removed at the performer control area and

longboxdesignpart1 put back on for the walk to B.


Soon I will have this speaker and amp installed in the box so the whole system will be self-contained. I’m considering the name “Awk Box”.

Here’s a demo video:

Bela-Based Instrument Demo #1 from Alex Christie on Vimeo.


These are coming later than I meant… here’s a new instrument in the works. The case is frustratingly large with controls (2 pots and 2 buttons) placed in awkward positions. The PD patch allows a balance of computer and human control over the manipulation of 4 percussion samples. The patch also interferes with human control through the production of contrasting sonic material (loud, bare, raw synthesis). The human must then disable this interference in order to regain control over their own sound. As the performance progresses, the computer interference increases in frequency to a, hopefully, overwhelming presence.


Here are 5 ideas for new musical instruments.