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This week in Made in Japan:
Previews from the 4/20 MAKE: Tokyo Meeting:
Musical printers, tennis ball bazookas, and a powder bead spectrum analyzer.
Also:
“Matryomin” MIDI Machine, “Denkuri-Kun” Electric Shock Click Track, The Driver’s Perspective RC Toy Car, Archive of the Golden Years of the Radio Cassette Player, Webcams Hacked for Infrared – Yokohama Soundscape, Hina Aoyama’s Cut Paper Art, Mac Motion Sensor-Controlled Physics Modeling, Mop Theremin, JUON Photo “Ghostifier”, Cupcake Speakers, and the amazing debut of the Otona no Kagaku Theremin Cat.

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Over at MAKE: Japan they’re gearing up for the first MAKE: Tokyo Meeting this Saturday. Here are some previews of a few of the presenters:

playing Made in Japan   Volume 10


Kararion – Musical Printers

They’re back! Perhaps you remember these musical printers from the All-Japan Handmade Instrument Idea Contest video from Made in Japan vol. 1. The team known as Minus Driver from the University of Electro-Communications uses the stepper motors in old printers to play MIDI. There will also be a group from the same university debuting something called a “coffee Theremin” as well! Check out the Kararion project page (Japanese), which includes moving pictures, printer songs, schematics, and diagrams. [via MAKE: Japan]


NIT Physics Lab’s Tennis Ball Bazooka
The NIT Physics Lab will be at MAKE: Tokyo Meeting to demonstrate their tennis ball bazooka, 4WD robots, and plenty of other exciting stuff, to be sure. Don’t use words like “Gallagher-esque” to describe this produce-bashing, it’s all in the name of science, I’m sure. [via]


Yukikaze – Inoue Taichi’s Powder Bead Spectrum Analyzer
Yukikaze, meaning “snow + wind” is a spectrogram that uses a row of DC fans controlled by Gainer and interfaced with a Mac to send “powder beads” (you know, the stuff inside those weird spandex pillows) up in the air to create a spectrum analyzer of the sound being played. A LED array mounted on top provides the light, and the bottom of the cage houses the fans underneath a stainless steel mesh screen to keep the powder beads out of the fans.

The above are just a few of the great projects that will be featured at the MAKE: Tokyo Meeting. A full lineup is available here.


“Matryomin” MIDI Machine
Here’s a machine that plays the Matryomin (Matryoshka doll + Theremin, made by Mandarin Electron). Instead of a hand controlling the Theremin, it uses a metal plate attached to a servo to control the pitch. The sound that the Matryomin produces is sampled into a Mac, this sound is converted to MIDI (using Miller Puckette’s “fiddle~” audio-to-MIDI external) and then compared with the target MIDI file in Max/MSP to determine the servo’s movement. The Max/MSP data controls the servo using the MAKE Controller. This diagram sums up the system quite nicely. One thing that is nice about this is that because the arm is constantly readjusting itself to try to match the intended MIDI note, the movement is not overly precise, and there’s even some vibrato going on, just like Clara Rockmore and the other great Theremin virtuosi. More pictures available on the flickr set.

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“Denkuri-Kun” Electrical Current Click Track
Yet another great project from Recotana! Here’s a clever hardware hack that solves the age-old problem of how to get a metronome/click track beat to a drummer that is loud enough to be heard over the drum set (without causing the drummer to go deaf in the process). This project completely bypasses sound volume by repurposing an electrical current massager (a product that is ubiquitous in Japanese electronics outlets but that doesn’t seem to have caught on in the West) to send safe levels of electric shocks that correspond to a beat, allowing the drummer to feel the beat instead of having to hear it, effectively eliminating the need to turn up headphones loud enough to overpower a drum kit (a difficult [and often headphone-destroying] task). Although the picture above shows the terminals being attached to the arm, were it a real-world situation, Recotana suggests applying them to the drummer’s rear waist area, as that is where there would be the least amount of movement while rocking out. Judging by the “guinea pig/client” shown in the video, he is really feeling it, suggesting even turning the shock voltage up a bit. The shocks alternate between strong and weak pulses to correspond to the high and low clicks. I can see this invention really catching on.

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Driver’s Perspective Radio Controlled Toy Car

Tsuyoshi Abe shows us a wireless camera mounted inside a remote control car transmitting to a wireless video receiver that is displayed on a computer screen. What makes this even better is that Abe-san has replaced the usual RC steering remote with an actual full-sized steering wheel (Japanese), allowing for a strangely realistic remote driving experience as the driver weaves past the toy cars in its path. There is a movie (.mov) here of the driving experience that is absolutely dreamy.

rajicase Made in Japan   Volume 10

Archive of the Golden Years of the Radio Cassette Player
Here’s a wonderful archive of scanned pictures of radio/cassette players from what this archivist considers to be the golden age of portable music players. From the website introduction (my translation):

In the 1970′s, there was a boom in BCL (broadcast listening) radios and radio/cassette players that came out one after the other. The majority of these radios were based on analog tuning circuitry. These radio cassette players were from before the days of the CD or MiniDisc, and the sound was of course analog. In addition, their functionality was inferior in comparison to the products of today. But, in the design and the conception of these products I think that there was a sense of “dream” that has since been lost in the current MiniDisc and CD player/radios.

At this site I have listed over 100 of my favorite BCL radios and radio cassette players from the pamphlets of various manufacturers that I collected in elementary school through high school.

Webcams Hacked for Infrared – Yokohama Soundscape
Nao Tokui presents a tutorial on how to convert a webcam to be used as an infrared camera (Japanese). At the end of this how-to, he mentions (in a crushingly humble “by the way…” sort of aside) that these webcams were used in his Yokohama Soundscape 2007 installation in which visitors were given flashlights that they could shine on a miniature model of Yokohama to evoke sounds from that area. The areas where the flashlights were shined were detected by the infrared cameras and the corresponding areas were then accessed by a computer that would play sounds that had been field recorded from that area in Yokohama. What a beautiful application for an infrared webcam!

aoyama hina papercut art 1 Made in Japan   Volume 10

Hina Aoyama’s Cut Paper Art

Beautiful, intricate paper cutting art from a modern master:

Hina Aoyama has got hands as steady as those of the world’s best surgeons. Except she uses hers to make intricate cut paper art.

Hana Aoyama’s Blog (Japanese). [via]



Mac Motion Sensor-Controlled Physics Modeling

Unknown Quality made this program that takes advantage of the Sudden Motion Sensor found in modern Mac laptops. The SMS is designed to sense sudden movements and lock up the hard drive to protect it in the event that the computer gets dropped. This program accesses this motion sensor data, and with a Ruby socket server sends the data to Flash, where Box2d orchestrates the physics of the ball collision. The code for each step is listed and available for download at the site.


Mop Theremin
Was the internet invented for Theremin videos?!?! This time we have a WiiMote that is fastened to a mop. The nanchaku controls the volume and the mop controls the pitch. You could almost just go ahead and do this one without the mop, but then it wouldn’t be a Mop Theremin then, would it? It’s so weird that I love it. You can download the code here.

But enough of that serious stuff. The following are debatably noteworthy but nonetheless pretty entertaining:

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JUON Photo “Ghostifier”
This might be a tad off-topic for MAKE, but what the heck, here’s a funny little site that will creep-out any photo by inserting a ghost from Ju-On (a.k.a. The Grudge) or a few other spooky characters of your choosing. The picture above demonstrates what it did with one of my Rube Goldberg photos. It makes anything kind of scary.

cupcake speaker Made in Japan   Volume 10

Cupcake Speakers

Don’t think dirty thoughts! Those are cupcakes. These cupcake speakers are made for jamming out publicly to devices that are normally jammed privately (iPods, Zunes, Walkmans, etc.). Plugs into any 3.5mm stereo plug. Diameter = 11cm × height 14cm, cord is 120cm. Only available in Metric. Cost: 2,100 yen (~$21, cheap!)

Available in Japan via MONOCLIP and PLAZA.


Otona no Kagaku Theremin Cat
Here’s a clip of a cat playing the Otona no Kagaku Theremin that comes in kit form with vol. 17. It was too cute not to share.

Don’t you want one?:
otona kag Made in Japan   Volume 10

That’s it for this week. I’m sure there will be plenty to report after the MAKE: Tokyo Meeting, so I look forward to weblogging that.

Can’t wait for next week? I know, I know… In the meantime, you can check out the Made in Japan Archives!

-Mike


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