Ready for some blue-sky, 35,000-foot-altitude thinking? Photo (CC-BY-ND Andres Rueda.

Want a flying car? Dream of the flying car. Build the flying car.

A competition I’m hosting with Digitópia, the musical-technological community of Porto, Portugal, extends to readers worldwide a challenge to dream up the digital musical instrument/interface/creation you want. Got something practical you wish could be built? Got something impractical and bizarre? Either way, articulate it in the best way you can — images, words, videos, mock-ups, stop motion animation, beat poetry, whatever you think is best — and send it in. We’ll share the most interesting entries, and pick one that the folks at Digitópia will actually build. (So, if it is unfeasible, we’ll have to find one that at least can be made feasible.)

I hope it’s just the beginning of this kind of big-picture thinking in digital music.

Here’s organizer Rui Penha on the concept behind the call for entries:

Digitópia = Digital Utopia. We strongly believe in the power of communities, of open source endeavors, of sharing and spreading inspiring ideas, either simple or utterly crazy ones. Our goal is to empower the individual with means to achieve a more fulfilling, rewarding and personal musical expression, regardless of his or her experience and motivation. New interfaces and instruments can overcome the steep technique obstacles of some old ones and create new musical languages and thus we want to make them available to everyone. We want to help you build your idea and, together, we’ll share it with the whole world!

We want your ideas, but you have to act fast. The deadline is this Saturday, midnight GMT, April 3.

Submit ideas via email to, using whatever medium of illustration you wish. Works will be judged on innovation, originality, feasibility and inclusive potential. If you win, you get your instrument, built for you.

Full rules after the break / bottom of this post.

By the way, if you’re near Porto, Portugal, there’s a Handmade Music event this Saturday 3/27! Go, take videos, photos, enjoy! Details:

In Portugal, Now

Por favor divulgue. Obrigado! / Please spread. Thank you! (english version below)

A quarta edição da Handmade Music Porto terá lugar já no próximo sábado, dia 27 de Março, na Digitópia: uma festa que junta um mostra&conta a uma jam session com instrumentos únicos. De hardware a software feito em casa até circuit bending, kits personalizados ou instrumentos acústicos originais, todos estão convidados a aparecer na Casa da Música pelas 21h30 para montagem de instrumentos. Estarão disponíveis algumas mesas e tomadas, contudo os canais de amplificação serão muito limitados, pelo que será melhor vir prevenido. Pelas 22h abrimos o evento ao público geral – a entrada é livre e recomenda-se -, ocupando a Digitópia e a zona do bar do Foyer Sul. Contamos convosco!

Teremos dois convidados muito especiais: Rolf Gehlhaar e Luís Girão, que trarão alguns dos instrumentos criados para o projecto “instruments 4 everyone”, no âmbito do Festival Ao Alcance de Todos, edições de 2009 e 2010, que agora começa.

Rolf Gehlhaar –

Luís Girão –


The fourth Handmade Music Porto, a party + show&tell + jam session with unique instruments, will take place at Digitópia next saturday, March 27th. From handmade hardware or software all the way to circuit bending, customized kits or original acoustic instruments, everyone is welcome at Casa da Música around 9:30pm for assembling the instruments. We’ll provide some tables and power sockets, but only a few channels for amplification, so it is advisable not to rely on them. At 10pm we’ll open the doors – admission is free and we’ll have a bar! See you there!

We’ll have two very special guests: Rolf Gehlhaar and Luís Girão, who will bring some of the instruments made for the “instruments 4 everyone” project, part of the Ao Alcance de Todos festival in 2009 and 2010, starting this week.

Rolf Gehlhaar –

Luís Girão –


You may view the latest post at

Entering the Competition (worldwide)

Rules (PDF download):

RULES · Digitópia Dreams Competition · Digitópia 2010
1 ·
1.1 · Entrants shall submit an idea for their dream instrument, interface or software.
1.2 · Only original and yet to be materialized ideas will be admissible.
1.2 · The winning entries shall be developed under a Creative Commons license – .
2.1 · Works shall be submitted by email to the address , with the contact information of the
applicant – full name, nationality, date of birth, email address – on the email body.
2.2 · Each applicant is free to choose the best way (text, schemes, videos, etc.) to present his or her idea.
2.2 · The closing date for entries is 03/04/2010, at 23:59 GMT.
2.3 · All successful submissions will receive an auto-reply by email.
2.4 · Each applicants may submit up to three ideas.
3 ·
3.1 · The jury will be comprised of Peter Kirn (president), Paulo Maria Rodrigues and Rui Penha.
3.2 · Judging will be based on each submission’s innovation, originality, feasibility and inclusive potential.
3.3 · The jury will announce its decision on 02/06/2010, through Digitópia’s website – .
3.4 · The jury may decide that none of the works submitted merit selection.
3.5 · The jury’s decision shall be final.
4 ·
4.1 · The winning applicant will be invited to collaborate with Casa da Música and Digitópia’s team on the development of his or her
4.2 · At least two copies of the project will be built, one for the applicant and other for Casa da Música.
4.3 · The complete process will be documented and shared under a Creative Commons license –
about/licenses attributed to the applicant.

Good luck! I look forward to the results.

  • Having just been writing yet more specifications for my "dream instrument" which is about as open source as available technology allows me to make it for literally the last 15 hours straight this strikes pretty close to home, Peter!

    I daresay I'm not the only one who will wonder about the parameters of what is "feasible"… what sorts of skills, hardware and materials do these cats have? Just wondering about a general, ballpark estimate.

    Having spent the previous seven or so years trying to GIVE away my best ideas to anyone who would implement them and get us out of the "great MIDI technological lock-in" stalemate we've been in for so long now I wouldn't even know where to begin, but I assure you I'll enter the competition! What a great idea.

  • simonator

    Well… just pipe dreams, but imagine…

    Something EXACTLY like Ableton Live… only with the ability to sync tightly to another copy of itself on another laptop.

    … but alas… that is something SOOOO technologically infeasible it could probably never happen.
    …Even if your company had some top software coders and a massive loyal user-base of customers paying you €700 per copy.

  • Well, I think the ideal would be, come up with a really big idea, then scale it down to something that is doable. The problem is, most often we come up with what's doable, and try to make it into a big idea.

    I have a feeling this disconnect is what initially discouraged people from contributing, but let's see what happens now. 😉

    Of course, generally on CDM we call for people to go ahead and build these things, but it is a fascinating idea Rui and co have come up with.

  • Cody

    My dream musical contraption is just a simple lunchbox with some doepfer modules in it. The catch lies in that both of the oscilators will have REALLY big tuning knobs so that you can slowly, smoothly detune them into intervals that you want. Not really innovative though, gonna build myself with that diy synthkit they're making for a nice price.

  • I appreciate the comments, but do remember to submit something to the email above. So, if you've got one idea you are building, you can conveniently submit the one you aren't. 😉

  • hmmm

    i have a very interesting idea for a program that would kill everything that's outs there. I'm not kidding. i believe this program could easily make money, and i'm not too keen on typing out my ideas here. I would rather make this program, but I don't have the time to develop it right now. if your interested, hit me up. either way I will still make it. 🙂

  • J. Phoenix

    Whew…just to remind people, when it says 03/04/2010, its day, month, year, and GST. I spent a very confused few moments there.

    Do modifications of existing equipment qualify–such as adding a midi controller to an existing saxophone–or is something completely new and unseen previously more preferable?

  • J. Phoenix: since that would require a saxophone, that probably isn't the best choice. Something that can be built that's self-contained would be better.

  • Adrian A

    Ah Ha! I have an idea for an audio device (not really an "instrument" per-se) that I've seen companies approach, but never quite capture.

    I will try to get my submission in this weekend!

  • I keep visiting my local music store to get an E tuning fork. Each time I go, they are always out or gone. They have plenty of A though, if anyone is interested.

    What I have desired in the past as I do now is not a tool, but an understanding. The quote above contains something, that is here and elsewhere, which I think is a mistake. Namely, that technique is a barrier to expression.

    Interfaces and GUI's are temptations and sensations for the eyes. They might be fun and for 25 cents might provide substantial entertainment, but it is not musical to play a video game, to watch someone play, or be played. There is also no substitute in music for understanding, and intention. A lot of facilitated is music is simply a dumb accident.

    I know this because for the last month I have been testing my sense of absolute pitch and during this time it has improved. We are plastic. We can change. To make a connection with an external interface be it, your lover, the wind, a violin, or a wild animal; you must contain some of the experience yourself. You are the sponge and your sympathetic connection and internal model of the outside is all you have. Tools are lies compared to understanding. There may be a day soon where I will not need the tuning fork. I will be the tool. We are mosaic and never done.

    If I were to dream of some innovation that might assist my limited senses, it would be a variable proximity interferometric microphone for making acoustic recordings using lazer light without sound interference. I understand this tool might also enable remote recording by watching the vibration of a surface near a conversation, and combined with remote spectrometry to determine a resonant profile; potentially a weapon. When you are in sync with a remote system there is a possibility to only listen, but also to interfere. The only difference is intention and desire.

    No tool can replace my intention, desire, or understanding of music. I must, following cybernetic reality, make a connection directly to be in sympathy with a resonant system. I am not broken without that connection and need no help. I am not maligned, handicapped or without talent. All I need is desire, and with intention I will gain understanding until I can close my eyes and see every note, feel every frequency without sound, and compose with dignity.

  • hobot

    So… does the submission have to be illustrated? With… illustrations?

  • jvoorhis

    @Peter Kirn

    Rejecting ideas for being impractical is never productive early in the brainstorming process. If we start censoring every idea that we find impractical, and our current notions of practicality are informed by existing technology, then we'll limit our progress.

    That said, an add-on wind controller isn't too far flung…

  • Nothing is getting rejected for impracticality, so dream away.

    That said, I know Digitopia will pick one idea that they'll build.

    You get multiple submissions. So you can send one that's the one you think is feasible, *and* one you think isn't.

  • J. Phoenix

    Excellent. All questions answered. I will definitely be submitting my two favorite projects–both the practical and the pie in the sky 😀

    Best luck to all submissions!

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  • RCUS

    LOL! I wish i did that more often Peter! I totally sent in my submission thinking the deadline was LAST Saturday! Anyway, wanted to share my dream creation:

    the key here is this would work with any DJ software, but also integrate with either Ms. Pinky or another solution for scrubbing and scratching clips in Live…you guys did say DREAM BIG! hahah

  • RCUS

    Oh and the piece is the attachment deck that fits into the endbell areas of the APC40, so you can run one, or chain like 6 together if you want to go crazy.

    totally whipped up the photoshop job quick because I thought the deadline was coming so no hatin' on the photoshop skillzzz (or lack of)!

    It's sexy and I want it!

  • Hey Peter,

    On the rules doc from it says that judging will be based on "inclusive potential." Care to (allowed to?) elaborate on what is meant by this? Is it simply that it should be something that could be built by anyone? Or something that could easily be sold in stores or distributed? Or just not too specific to fit on persons needs and something that everyone could use for things beyond its original intention?


  • a tracker with a popout window to look at the sample while you make editing codes referring to it.

    I dream so large

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  • Mike

    Any news? The announcement was today, correct?