This Found-Sound Organ Was Made With Python And A Laser Cutter

Some readers will no doubt remember attaching a playing card to the front fork of their bicycle so that the spokes flapped the card as the wheel rotated. It was supposed to sound like a motorcycle, which it didn’t, but it was good, clean fun with the bonus of making us even more annoying to the neighborhood retirees than the normal baseline, which was already pretty high.

[Garett Morrison]’s “Click Wheel Organ” works on much the same principle as a card in the spokes, only with far more wheels, and with much more musicality. The organ consists of a separate toothed wheel for each note, all turning on a common shaft. Each wheel is laser-cut from thin plywood, with a series of fine teeth on its outer circumference. The number of teeth, as calculated by a Python script, determines the pitch of the sound made when a thin reed is pressed against the spinning wheel. Since the ratio of teeth between the wheels is fixed, all the notes stay in tune relative to each other, as long as the speed of the wheels stays constant.

The proof-of-concept in the video below shows that speed control isn’t quite there yet — playing multiple notes at the same time seems to increase drag enough to slow the wheels down and lower the pitch for all the notes. There appears to be a photointerrupter on the wheel shaft to monitor speed, so we’d imagine a PID loop to control motor speed might help. That and a bigger motor that won’t bog down as easily. As for the sound, we’ll just say that it certainly is unique — and, that it seems like something [Nicolas Bras] would really dig.

17 thoughts on “This Found-Sound Organ Was Made With Python And A Laser Cutter

    1. Cut the wheels from steel, put pickups instead of cards, and you almost have a Hammond.
      But it is interesting this way also, it just needs resonant box and, as stated in summary, better speed control. It sounds like some cat choir from a cartoon. :-)

  1. A great out-of-the-box idea. I’d worry about wear though. Both on the gears and the reeds. But make the gears metal. And lots of instruments have reeds that wear out – sax, clarinet, oboe, bassoon, etc.

    1. I definitely made it as more of a experiment than an actual concert instrument, as far as I can tell it’s the only instrument of it’s kind but I’m not joining a symphony any time soon. The reeds do wear out, but are also very cheap and easy to replace, I chose the materials that I did based on speed of production as I mostly work with a laser cutter and make a lot of prototypes.

  2. Mount the reeds with paper cups as vibration to air transformers. Do it with a Hammond generator I have a couple junk ones laying about. The notes aren’t in order though. A marvel of mechanical mass.

  3. Almost as pleasant-sounding as nails on a chalkboard.

    Speaking of chalkboards, I wonder how popular they are these days, with many schools having switched to dry-erase boards or smart screens?

  4. Maker here, as pleased with the build as I am it’s definitely a prototype with a lot to improve. The speed issue is actually a whole lot tricker than you’d expect, as even tiny variation is immediately audible. There’s actually an Arduino running a PID loop in there trying to stabilize the speed, which did help a lot but is far from perfect. I’m hoping to eventually add a large flywheel on there as an inertial buffer and/or but a speed controlled ESC.

    Also it’s definitely similar to a Hammond organ, I ironically learned of that mechanism after I posted the article. I actually think it has the most in common with siren disks, another weird mechanism that I’m want to make a playable instrument using.

    1. You should make a string instrument next! Maybe custom design solenoids to pluck the strings, and have a fret move up and down the strings to adjust the note; that way you’d only need a few strings. Better yet, make a farm that automatically raises and cooks pill-bugs!

      (lol, great work Garett!)

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