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Muze: a musical instrument that plays with you

A couple of us started talking about the state of musical instruments, digital music creation, and how so much of it buckles under the weight of heavy user interfaces and the desire for more knobs, buttons and faders. What if we were to create a device that sings to you and has its own musical inclinations, yet can also engage in a two way dialog with another musician? Not something that can be controlled as much as be guided and influenced – and as a result guides and influences the user.

The proposition is relatively simple. We have educated Muze with a palette of notes that it can in-turn interpret and compose into various rhythms and phrases that are strung together to form something musical. The user can then influence these strings of notes and rhythms to create entirely new compositions. Much like you would a tune a radio to get a new song, Muze can be tuned to provide new and different melodies.

But Muze also has its own desire to explore and will continually improvise on the melodies it creates with you. It is out of this ability for it to self-create that Muze becomes a partner and not just an instrument. For instance, we have played with it and then left it to play over lunch. When we return it has come-up with something completely new, yet derivative. Sometimes what Muze creates is enjoyable, sometimes not. At which point you give Muze a little nudge and it creates something new.

In the interest of keeping Muze from becoming another knob laden techno-fest of an instrument, we have limited the interaction to one input. The input takes the form an aperture into which the user places a color coded knob. There are 6-8 knobs (still a work in progress) and each colored knob represents a new way to nudge Muze into a deviation. No single knob controls a single function, but rather a blend of functions. In playing in a band, you might suggest to a fellow guitarist to pick-up the tempo during a jam, and he not only speeds up, but becomes more syncopated, or staccato, or loud. How a musician picks-up the pace is not just a function of mathematics, but style and mood. Muze, likewise, is free to interpret your suggestions to give back to the creative process.

Technically, Muze is still evolving and growing. All of the code and circuits are open source, so feel free to check out the Arduino code and Eagle circuit schematic if you’re curious and want to try it out yourself. There’s still plenty of work to make it more musical, robust, and simple. If you have thoughts, we’d love to hear them!

23 Comments

  1. Wow–serious genius, both in the code and the clever UI. Keep going, and good luck!

  2. […] The resulting creation is Muse, a simple musical instrument with only a single user input. Muse has been programmed with a palette of notes that it can combine and remix into a nearly infinite number of musical combinations. Muse is perfectly happy composing on its own, and will create music that evolves over time, if left alone long enough. […]

  3. […] The resulting creation is Muze, a simple musical instrument with only a single user input. Muze has been programmed with a palette of notes that it can combine and remix into a nearly infinite number of musical combinations. Muze is perfectly happy composing on its own, and will create music that evolves over time, if left alone long enough. […]

  4. […] The resulting creation is Muze, a simple musical instrument with only a single user input. Muze has been programmed with a palette of notes that it can combine and remix into a nearly infinite number of musical combinations. Muze is perfectly happy composing on its own, and will create music that evolves over time, if left alone long enough. […]

  5. Awesomer idea. I would create a more commercial design andf make sure to patent it asap.

  6. Nice work, the music that is produced in this way is quite nice to listen to.

    The source code could have been better. As I’m porting this to an Arduino Duemilanove, memory usage is important. Replacing all int[]s by char[]s reduces the memory usage by a factor of 4 (not to mention the processing power as well)! That could also enable more voices and longer phrases.

  7. Thanks, Bert.

    We’ll definitely take a look at switching over to chars instead of ints where possible. We initially used ints to allow for simple math and debugging as the design evolved, but improving the speed and memory footprint is always nice — good catch. :)

  8. […] folks over at Teague labs have built a fun Arduino based Muze. Instead of directly manipulating instruments, you use a color coded knob to tune or influence […]

  9. […] a fun Arduino based generative music maker with a unique minimalist keyed user interface called Muze. Instead of directly manipulating instruments, you use a color coded knob to tune or influence […]

  10. Hi,

    This sounds really good.

    Can this setup play chords? I want to build an instrument myself.

    Thanks.

  11. Gary,

    You can definitely play chords using this setup. In fact, we have experimented with as many as 8 voices and had no problems.

    Hooray for MIDI. :)

  12. It took me half the video before I realized they were putting in different colored knobs. Once I realized that, the coolness factor jumped up an order of magnitude.

  13. What kind of board are you using as a MIDI voice/synth? Is it sold anywhere?

    Is the one with the sensor and knobs a self-developed setup or can it be bought?

  14. […] Labs » Muze: a musical instrument that plays with you In the interest of keeping Muze from becoming another knob laden techno-fest of an instrument, we have limited the interaction to one input. […]

  15. […] Labs » Muze: a musical instrument that plays with you – Vimperator In the interest of keeping Muze from becoming another knob laden techno-fest of an instrument, we have limited the interaction to one input. The input takes the form an aperture into which the user places a color coded knob. There are 6-8 knobs (still a work in progress) and each colored knob represents a new way to nudge Muze into a deviation. No single knob controls a single function, but rather a blend of functions. In playing in a band, you might suggest to a fellow guitarist to pick-up the tempo during a jam, and he not only speeds up, but becomes more syncopated, or staccato, or loud. How a musician picks-up the pace is not just a function of mathematics, but style and mood. […]

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