I have spent the last few Saturdays getting back up to speed on a project for the Madison Children’s Museum called Rock-It.  The idea behind Rock-It is to give children the opportunity to have an “I love making music!” epiphany that may led to them developing their talent further.  To do that, the Rock-It team has come up with a way for kids to control the performance of a piece of music with three control panels. 

One panel will control the melody with a series of levers, each representing one step in a 16-step melody.  Raising the lever produces a higher pitch within the scale of the melody.  Lowering a lever produces a lower pitch.  Push the lever all the way down, and you get a rest.  Another panel controls the drums and bass.  Buttons on the panel allow the child to choose different variations of intensity for the bass and drum patterns.  The last panel is the effects and pad panel. This panel allows the child to activate a range of atmospheric sounds that fit in with the music.  There will also be two hand proximity sensors that will allow a child to apply some filtering and effects to the melody.

All of this will be housed in the fuselage of an airplane that will be painted and crafted to look like a rocket.  All the buttons and levers will have lots of fun blinking lights to help kids get the connection between the controls and how they are contributing to the sound being produced.  The drum and bass buttons will pulse based on the note attacks in the selected pattern.  The melody levers will be housed in a Plexiglas wheel that is illuminated by color LEDs, where each color represents a scale degree.

We’ve got the electronics designed and most of the programming (arduino in C) complete.  What remains to be done is finish electronics assembly, complete the melody panel coding, work out the bugs, finish composing and encoding the music for the project, and work with the museum staff to marry up what our team has produced into the rock-it cockpit.  You can check out our YouTube channel rockitmakers to see how our team is progressing.  I will be posting updates as we progress to a mentionable new level!

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