Music and technology have been comfortable bedfellows since before someone strummed the first electric guitar. But creating your own instruments -- electronic or otherwise -- can be a difficult proposition, and not one easily undertaken by someone without training.
That is exactly the problem British creative agency Dentaku decided to tackle when it created the Ototo, a pocket-sized circuit board designed to be a "musical invention kit." Translation: this thing can turn virtually any object into a musical instrument.
Simple enough that anyone can use it, the Ototo lets even the most musically or mechanically inept create a musical instrument out of just about anything -- no coding or soldering involved. It consists of a small control board about the size of a cassette tape that has a speaker and 12 triangular touch inputs which come pre-programmed so you can use them like piano keys.
Even more fun can be had when you use the included set of wires with alligator clips on the ends to connect the Ototo to any object that's even slightly conductive, letting you turn pots and pans, aluminum foil, a chocolate bar or even a plant into a musical instrument. Other accessories act like wah-wah pedals, letting you add even more variety to the sounds you can make.
The platform is also fully-hackable and compatible with the Arduino open-source electronic prototyping platform, so if you're more mechanically or electronically inclined, the possibilities are nearly endless. The sounds created by the Ototo are reminiscent of old-school Moog synthesizers, with a fun, futuristic feeling that's only heightened when you realize you can even turn a pencil drawing into something that plays music.
When it was time for the designers at Dentaku to seek funding for the Ototo, they decided to skip the now-ubiquitous Kickstarter crowd-sourcing method in favor of applying for traditional arts grants. A British arts program called Near Now found their idea intriguing enough to work with, and offered to fund it. Near Now focuses on arts and technology in everyday life, and Ototo is an example of interactive art that promotes design and digital literacy. Near Now Director Mat Trivett explains in Wired that they are "excited at the potential of Ototo as both an accessible tool to learn the basics of physical computing and interaction design and as an advanced tool for artistic expression, all whilst making awesome musical projects."
Pricing and an official release date haven't been determined yet, but budding composers and music producers who are interested in more information can sign up for the Ototo mailing list.
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