A Wooden Performance Is Fine WIth This Sequencer

You could sometimes be forgiven for thinking that making popular music has become too easy. With a laptop and suitable software almost anybody can now assemble something that had they secured the services of a canny promoter would be in with a shot at stardom. So many performances have been reduced to tightly choreographed dance acts to mask the absence of musicians or indeed musical talent, and our culture is poorer for it. It’s not that music made with modern technology or outside the performance is an indicator of lack of talent, indeed when a truly talented musician makes something with the resources of a modern technology the results are astounding. Instead it perhaps seems as though the technology is cheapened by an association with mediocrity when it should be a tool of greatness.

So it was with pleasure that we noticed a fresh project on Hackaday.io this morning which provides a marriage of accessible music technology and a requirement for performance. [Ernest Warzocha] has made a wooden sequencer.

It’s true, audio sequencers are old hat, so a new one will have to work hard to enthuse a seasoned Hackaday reader who’s seen it all. What makes [Ernest’s] sequencer different is that he’s made one with a very physical interface of wooden pucks placed in circular recesses on a wooden surface. Each recess has an infra-red reflective sensor that detects the surface texture of the puck placed in it and varies the sample it plays accordingly. It’s all held together underneath by an Arduino, and MP3 samples are played by a Sparkfun MP3 shield. At a stroke, he has turned the humble sequencer from a workaday studio tool into a performance art form that you can see in the video below, and we like that.

Home made sequencers have a special place in maker culture, and as you might expect over the years we’ve featured quite a few of them. Shift registers, CMOS analogue switches or even turntables as the sequencer elements, Lego as a human interface, a sequencer made from a cash register, and a rather lovely steampunk sequencer, to name but a few. So this one joins a rich tradition, and we look forward to more in the future.

11 thoughts on “A Wooden Performance Is Fine WIth This Sequencer

  1. Seems a little slow to operate compared to buttons since youre limited to manipulating two steps at a time whereas with fingers you can usually operate adjacent steps with adjacent fingers, and the lack of indication of the active step is potentially confusing when all the bricks are removes, but otherwise curious and fun build.

      1. Yes visible in the early part but I think washed out in the latter part.

        Effectively it’s just a novel form of buttons on the sequencer – which gives a very physical dimension to operating the sequencer – watching him adjust the “switches” reminded me of watching a DJ creating on a series of turntables.

    1. Sheesh, tone it down.

      Her comment on pop music is that the bar to entry is much lower because of low-cost available tech. But she qualifies it my mentioning that these still make great musicians even better. There’s nothing to complain about here.

      1. Maybe my language was a bit hyperbolic and inflammatory, but I was somewhat trying to be the squeaky wheel here.

        In any case I still take exception to her comment: “So many performances have been reduced to tightly choreographed dance acts to mask the absence of musicians or indeed musical talent, and our culture is poorer for it.” That’s a pretty damning statement, and shows clear lack of insight into music culture. I would argue that the culture is richer now because of the variety of performance types (a view supported at a minimum by David Byrne in “How Music Works”).

        From DIY punk bands without a bassist, to carefully orchestrated DJ sets with pyrotechnics, diversity and variety breeds (or is a product of?) progression in a culture. This is true of any evolving system. The viewpoint that only trained musicians should create and perform music is a very classical western way of approaching it, and needs to be done away with.

        In the same way that Hackaday writers often criticize other blogs for their incomplete coverage of hacking principles and technical culture, I believe Hackaday deserves criticism for their unfounded comments on the state of music culture.

  2. –“Instead it perhaps seems as though the technology is cheapened by an association with mediocrity when it should be a tool of greatness.”

    The whole problem is that the music scene is not a meritocracy, because the double trouble of Copyright and Intellectual Property law prevents it. One has to sacrifice money at the altar of big media even for playing your own music in a public venue, no matter how small, not to mention trying to get a radio/TV station to play it to a wider audience. Technically, a street artists playing his tunes is breaking the law if he doesn’t pay protection fees to the performance rights organizations.

    In other words: the publishing industry is using copyright/IP laws to monopolize all the publishing channels, so the good stuff doesn’t float up top. Instead, what you hear is hand-picked by the handful of large corporations that own all the stations, and of course they pick the most formulaic shit that still passes as music, because it offers the best return of interest. Anybody can do it, so you only have to pay anyone pennies for it. Supply and demand.

    The point is to spam the airwaves full of crap to oversupply and devalue music in general to the point that there’s simply no audience left for the real talent. They even manipulate album/singles charts by fraudulent records sales reporting in order to get magazines and list programs play exactly what they want.

    Then if some good talented musician dares to come along and try to be heard, they’re utterly dependent on the trillion dollar corporate machine to have an audience. Otherwise they’re forever doomed into obscurity. Sign here.

    1. It’s btw. why Copyright was invented in the first place. Nomen Est Omen.

      Back in the days of Gutenberg, an author would write a book, a printer would print the book, and a bookshop would sell it. Then another printer would snag a copy, quickly set up the plates and crank out copies of the book.

      There was nothing the printers could do about that, because there was no reason why just one printer would have the sole right to print a particular piece of text. So they had to argue that it is in fact the author of the book who has a “natural” power to decide who prints the book, so the printers could then refuse to print the book unless they were given a sole right to it, signed under by the author and enforced by the king.

      In that way, copyrights were never about protecting the author, rather, it was invented as a tool for the middle-men and distributors to secure monopolies to particular works, so they could demand higher prices from the public without competition. Author gets a fixed compensation or a tiny royalty, publisher makes all the money, and that’s how it’s been ever since.

  3. “So many performances have been reduced to tightly choreographed dance acts to mask the absence of musicians or indeed musical talent,…”
    I was watching an old concert on YouTube, and the closest thing to choreographed dance or any dance was the musicians jumping in time to the music. The musicians were all decently clothed, and the music was forced to stand all on its own. I wonder how well any of this modern music would survive, if it didn’t showcase half nude women in the concerts.

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