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New media and performance artist Balam Soto has been making unusual musical instruments for years. This is just his latest: Exp.Inst.Rain, a wavering, touch-controlled instrument that varies from sublime to intense, and sounds alternately a little like a slide guitar and a lot like a MIDI video game.

The experimental instrument is played by touching a series of copper tape sensors on clear plexiglass columns. Underneath, an Arduino Mega runs custom software, and links to an iPad via an open sound control interface network. It has a full octave (12 notes), three different sound modes, and knobs to bend the pitch.

Soto’s most recent creation is Exp.Inst.Moon, which he showed at this year’s Westport Mini Maker Faire. “I have the Maker Faire audiences to thank for giving me great feedback this year on what they would like to see the instrument do,” he says. The iPad control is a result of that; it’s more user-friendly than the interface that was on Moon.

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Like Moon, Rain will feature a projection-mapping element, playing animations of moving patterns of light, generated by the sounds, like the old Windows Media Player visualizations brought to life. Soto designed it to explore how people interact with tangible touch-controlled devices, and analyze cultural adoption of an increasingly relevant field.

“I love to see how they interact with my work and how easy they get into it,” says Soto, who is also co-owner of Open Wire Lab, which sells educational electronics kits. “I did the work because I just love music, and especially experimental and electronic music.” If you do too, you can watch and listen to Exp.Inst.Rain here:

take 2 Exp.Inst.Rain from Balam Soto on Vimeo.


Soto and his instrument will be at World Maker Faire New York on September 26 and 27, where you’ll be able to play it — get tickets here!