Music Box Plays “Still Alive” Thanks to Automated Hole Puncher

Custom hole punch and feed system

Most projects have one or two significant aspects in which custom work or clever execution is showcased, but this Music Box Hole Punching Machine by [Josh Sheldon] and his roommate [Matt] is a delight on many levels. Not only was custom hardware made to automate punching holes in long spools of paper for feeding through a music box, but a software front end to process MIDI files means that in a way, this project is really a MIDI-to-hand-cranked-music-box converter. What a time to be alive.

The hole punch is an entirely custom-made assembly, and as [Josh] observes, making a reliable hole punch turns out to be extremely challenging. Plenty of trial and error was involved, and the project’s documentation as well as an overview video go into plenty of detail. Don’t miss the music box version of “Still Alive”, either. Both are embedded below.

this was a triumph.

A post shared by Josh Sheldon (@heyjshel) on

As [Josh] mentioned on his project page, he was inspired by a tutorial video showing how to punch music by hand. It led to this tool to take a MIDI file and cut the music paper out on a laser cutter, whereas [Josh] and [Matt] were inspired to automate the entire process in their own way.

For those of you who don’t think science should stop there, why not automate the creation of the music itself with the output of this Bach-emulating Recurring Neural Network?

Thanks to [Tim Trzepacz] for giving us a heads up on this delightful project!

20 thoughts on “Music Box Plays “Still Alive” Thanks to Automated Hole Puncher

    1. I know how to use a solenoid….

      What you want is some mechanism such as those in staple guns, which gradually load a spring until a tipover point and release energy in a swift movement….

      This would be matched well to the characteristics of a solenoid where it is very weak at the furthest extent of it’s extension and gets very strong just as slug is fully pulled into coil.

      You probably won’t need a very strong staple gun, if you wanna use one for the parts, just one of the ones that does desktop #8s or something.

  1. Two immediate thoughts:

    Pneumatic piston pushing the cutting die – this is the way most of your bulk paper gets punched (well, hydraulics, but that’s messy) – it would speed up the system by severalfold.

    After all of that automation and programming…they hand-crank the music box. Adorable.

    1. Hey, Matt here, glad you liked it! There was a group that got a web tool up and running really fast for translating MIDI into vinyl cutter commands to make music box papers. It’s a really good solution, and a really cool project, we just wanted to gave a good time making a thing too :) In the video we talk briefly about pros and cons of each approach.

      Here’s the video where Martin from Wintergatan talks about that team (also listed in the description of our video):

    1. Last year I built a 19th century perpetual motion machine in order to run a music box like this. It would have been able to play one of the massively long pieces of music that this machine could produce, if only the original perpetual motion machine design didn’t have 99 points of friction.
      (And yes, it did need a motor to run perpetually.)

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