Illumaphone: Looks Like Cups, Sounds Like Music

Illumaphone: Looks Like Cups, Sounds Like Music
The Illumiphone may not look sophisticated but it has a devine sound.
The Illumiphone may not look sophisticated but it has a divine sound.


Princeton graduate and Software Engineer at Codecademy Bonnie Eisenman was asked to create an electronic music show for a class project. She went a step beyond, creating an electronic music show using a new musical instrument she developed, based on light and spatial movement. Extra credit seeker?

The instrument is called the Illumaphone. On the surface, it looks like six coffee cups sitting on top of a cardboard box. When you wave your hands above one of the coffee cups, a connected computer speaker plays a note. While it looks like magic, it’s a bit more involved than that.

YouTube player

The Illumaphone is powered by Arduino Uno, photoresistors and Princeton’s proprietary music software, ChucK. For Eisenman’s model, she took six coffee cups and placed a photoresistor in the bottom of each. When she waved her hand above a cup, the amount of light in the cup changed, triggering a response from the sensor to Arduino, which sent a signal to a connected computer, which was interpreted by the software, releasing a musical reaction in response to the spatial movement. Well, maybe it is magic.

Eisenmen gives a detailed description of how she built the instrument and how it functions on her blog. She also uploaded a few videos on YouTube to record the ordeal. No, you don’t always have to invent a new instrument for your class final, but sometimes, it helps.

To see Bonnie’s build process for the Illumiphone check out her blog here.


Discuss this article with the rest of the community on our Discord server!

The one-man ace engineering wrecking crew - If you have a problem, if no one else can help, and if you can find me, maybe you can hire... the Cabe-team

View more articles by Cabe Atwell


Ready to dive into the realm of hands-on innovation? This collection serves as your passport to an exhilarating journey of cutting-edge tinkering and technological marvels, encompassing 15 indispensable books tailored for budding creators.