There are all kinds of DIY instruments available for you to experiment with, but electronic instruments have to be some of the craziest. From the Theremin, using radio waves to control pitch and volume, to an instrument controlled, literally, by bananas, the options for “electro-musical” creativity are nearly endless!
Circuit bending could refer to any number of instruments, but it’s the art of hacking an existing electronic instrument or toy into something that sounds, well, different. This video gives a broad introduction to the technique. It’s probably best to start with something inexpensive or that you don’t care about.
The Theremin is an instrument patented in 1928 that amazingly requires no physical contact from the user. One hand is held in the air near an antenna used to control the volume, while the other controls the pitch via another antenna. This video shows the original author playing it extremely well. For another take on this instrument, here’s Make:’s version using a photoresistor and ultrasonic sensor instead of an antenna.
Apparently the late 1920s was a really great time to make strange instruments. Although perhaps lesser-known than the Theremin, the Trautonium, invented in 1930, was built to free a performer from the limits of a piano’s intonation. The results somehow remind me of what would happen if a fretless bass was combined with an organ, but the music produced is actually quite nice!
Thanks to the Makey Makey board, which acts like a USB keyboard, you can use anything that’s just a little bit conductive as an interface device. A banana fits the bill for this, so if you hook up a few of them as shown in the picture and set up the “keys” correctly, they become a keyboard.
Headphone Amplifier Waveform Display
Although it would be a stretch to call this device an instrument, this headphone amplifier is cleverly designed to display the waveform produced by an audio source on a tiny CRT display. It may not make original music, but it definitely can enhance existing recordings while looking amazing.
DIY Sequencer and Looper
With an Arduino, a few buttons, and some knobs, this DIY sequencer allows you to play around with custom beats to your heart’s content. It can also be hooked up to a computer to interface with devices that can work with a MIDI file.