What’s the big idea in designing new interfaces for music? Just about everything, judging from the finalist entries for our Futuristic Music Design Challenge. A sequencer with bubblegum balls? A synth that works with surface temperature data and maps? Microtonal guitars, sound-making boxes, Nintendo games, digitally-connected saws and tape on bicycle wheels? Gloves, buttons, lights, strings, turntables? Yep, we’ve pretty much got the gamut here. We told contestants to make the Second Space Age proud. Now we get to see how they hold up.

Check out some of the videos and photos of what’s to come to get a sense of the projects, and if you’re attending Yuri’s Night Bay Area, be sure to get there by 2:30pm to watch these artists compete with each other in front of our expert judging panel. (See the Yuri’s Night Bay Area event schedule.)

Join this event on Facebook — and say hi!

After the show, get up-close-and-personal with the artists later on at the Create Digital Music booth. On the same stage, at 3:30 pm, our friends at Instructables.com have a show-and-tell session for even more DIY goodness. And then there are the installations, acrobats, space things, major scientists and thinkers… and, of course, stick around for a huge lineup of incredible music all night long. I’m going to figure out how I can be three places at once, personally, because there’s loads I want to see.

See you Saturday afternoon, California-bound peoples. Those of you not lucky enough to be in the Bay Area, stay tuned right here for more online coverage following the competition — plus the winner.

The Judges

Roger Linn is a leading designer of electronic music products, and is considered by many to be the father of the modern drum machine, as the designer behind his original LM-1 and the legendary Akai MPC60. He also wrote hits for the likes of Eric Clapton and Mary Chapin Carpenter — and he plays traditional Italian songs on mandolin monthly.

Liz Enthusiasm is the lead singer for indie synthpop band Freezepop, the “sweet and cold and fruity and plastic-y” band that has earned a passionate following among geeks and a spot on virtually every Harmonix game ever made, from FreQuency to Rock Band. And she sings a song with the digits of Phi. And undertakes in-depth studies of Dr. Pepper variants. Yum. (Photo:lisztless.)

Peter Kirn is the creator/editor of Create Digital Music and Create Digital Motion, communities and online zines for bleeding-edge digital creative types making computers into live visual and musical instruments. He’s also a composer, media artist, and classically-trained musician, and quasi-expert on the emerging nerdster scene. (Photo: Chachi Jones.)


Matt Ganucheau has produced music for games, film, and live electronic music, and teaches sound design for video games at the Expression College for Digital Arts. He’s one of the organizers of Yuri’s Night Bay Area. And he made an infamous art installation simulating female orgasm — as musical instrument, no less — and another that challenged our relationship to trees and the environment.

The Competitors

Bubblegum Sequencer

Hannes Hesse & Andrew McDiarmid

The Bubblegum Sequencer is a physical step sequencer that lets you create drum loops by arranging colored balls on a tangible surface. It generates MIDI events and can be used as an input device to control audio hardware and software. Because the output is generated in the form of MIDI events, the Bubblegum Sequencer can be used to control any kind of audio hardware or software.

The Box

Evan Morris


Hardware/Software music system using a custom Reaktor ensemble running on a laptop that re-sequences samples for an actual live electronic music performance. The hardware is designed to give the user LED visual feedback to avoid ever having to look at the the laptop’s screen.

I used the ucapps midibox64 spec for the hardware.


Brick: Weather Report

Jordan Hochenbaum and Owen Vallis

Brick is a tangible touch interface that allows its users a very new, unique, intuitive, and hands-on approach to computer interaction. It is a blank canvas– and depending on the software it is running, it can be used for many things. We are exploring the many ways to use Brick as a meaningful and musical instrument. Our first use of the table is as an interactive installation called Weather Report, where the user sonifies real-time surface temperature data into beautiful mini-compositions. We are also interested in developing Brick for different live performance settings, to meet our own needs and the increasing needs of the vastly different kinds of today’s musicians.

The Kromatron

Craig Dorety


The Kromatron is a Dynamic Meta-Instrument designed to revolutionize the way musicians interact with performance-based electronic music software. It was designed with aesthetics considered to be a major issue. Most commercially available MIDI controllers are essentially boxes with knobs on them and leave a lot to be desired, aesthetically. I am trying to put some Rock and Roll back into electronic music performance by adding a true sense of style and design. This instrument is a well-crafted and beautiful device. The Kromatron is machined from clear acrylic and includes an internal lighting system that acts as user feedback. It also contains 128 user-defined configuration presets that can be called upon with MIDI patch change signals. This allows for complete and dynamic control of any MIDI based software or hardware. I will be using a CME WIDI wireless MIDI interface to allow for freedom of mobility.

The Thimbletron

The Evolution Control Committee.: TradeMark Gunderson, Christy Brand


For the last 20 years, The Evolution Control Committee has built a reputation as one of the world’s leading bands in sampling, making experimental pop music in a style that has never quite settled on a name. Plagiarhythm? Plunderphonics? Mashup? Collage? Whatever you call it, The ECC assembles samples and sounds into cut-and-paste masterpieces. It’s illegal music, and The ECC has been violating copyright laws since before it was easy.

The cut-and-paste aesthetic isn’t just for the music: Live shows feature custom-built performance equipment like the Thimbletron, connecting ordinary thimbles to recycled electronics, allowing live sample triggering and more. White jumpsuits and lab coats round out the mad science style. In the world of The ECC’s music, Public Enemy duke it out with Herb Alpert while TV news anchor Dan Rather is the new frontman for AC/DC (which earned The ECC a cease and desist order from CBS Network’s lawyers). Copyright violation never sounded so good.

The Looping Pedal

Jen Carlile, with Sasha Leitman, Steven Backer, Jesse Fox



The Looping Pedal is a giant DJ turntable made from abandoned bicycle parts and a dismantled reel to reel tape player.

Two pieces of 1/4″ analog tape are strung along the outside of two bicycle wheels which are mounted on hacked bicycle frames. Also mounted on the frames are two tape heads which pick up the signal from the analog tape. This is a loop in the most literal sense.

The instrument can make a typical “scratching” sound by pushing the wheel back and forth or it can create a different timbre by spinning the wheel freely. In addition to the “traditional” scratching gesture, the right wheel can be rotated using the attached pedal. The result is a sound that builds on the sound of turntable scratching while adding other sonic possibilities.


Luke Dahl


The WaveSaw is a flexible instrument for creating timbral gestures. As you flex and twist the WaveSaw the shape of the instrument becomes the shape of the sound waveform or spectrum.

Wavesaw paper PDF



Carl Lumma and Denny Genovese


2-sided handmade electric slide guitar with 28 strings, tuned in 15-limit just intonation. It’s like nothing you’ve ever heard before. Unless you like Harry Partch or Toby Twining.


Nathan Ramella

The future of turntablism, vinyl control of sample phrases allowing layering and complex manipulation with the aid of MIDI control. It may be a little vanilla for this contest but maybe not. I don’t know who else is entering. I think it’s pretty sick. It can’t even say this is the ‘evolution’ of scratching, I skipped about 3 steps and landed in 2030.

Ed. note: Nathan is the co-creator of the Unofficial Ableton Live API, making him a hero among music geeks.


Martin Robaszewski

GrooveStep is an innovating music-making program for the Nintendo DS which enables users to quickly create music using the touch screen interface.

Photo credits: Peter Kirn/Create Digital Media; Artists.