littleBits has already won over some synth enthusiasts with snap-together modules you can combine via magnets, and a collaboration with KORG. But until now, the open source gizmos have been largely a world unto themselves. You could route audio in and out, but that’s it; any expansion was dependent on buying more littleBits modules.
Over the course of this year, that will change. Already, there’s a US$36 Arduino module, opening up custom-coded functionality and computer connectivity.
And by the end of the year, littleBits will add three modules that make the Synth Kit into more of a synth (or controller, if you like):
MIDI: A minijack MIDI input lets you use keyboards and the like to play your littleBits synth. (Note that it’s input only, and since it’s minijack, requires a breakout – I assume that’ll be included, though it’s not in the pictures. Actually, I wish minijack were standard for MIDI connections by now.)
USB provides bi-directional I/O, so you can also make a littleBits rig into a controller, using the sensors and so on.
CV: Input, output for connections to analog gear.
USB I/O: This one I didn’t expect: it’s actually an integrated audio interface, so you can connect sound directly to software without any audio cabling.
(See pics at the end of the story)
No word yet on pricing, but you can sign up now for a notification when the modules go on sale:
The Synth Kit remains US$159.
littleBits isn’t without some disadvantages. I found the connections a bit delicate; you have to make some effort to keep your rigs connected. (Mounting boards do appear to help; I’ll be testing those myself, but I’ve seen them in action on other rigs.) Also, really taking advantage of the modular capabilities invariably means buying more modules. But the setup is a whole lot of fun.
There’s something about them, in other words, that has really captured imaginations.
And some folks are going really crazy combining lots of modules.
At SONAR in Barcelona this week, littleBits have a hands-on display.
Even better, if you’re in the New York area, you can catch Hans Tammen and friends with littleBits performances on a grand scale. It’s all part of the Dark Circuits Festival, a really lovely-looking lineup of music.
On June 19, you can catch a quartet of four members of the littleBits engineering team – Paul Rothman, Geof Lipman, Ed Bear and Sean Schumer – playing littleBits together (see pic below), all as part of a really nice program of music:
On June 21, there’s a combined workshop performance – with a 20-piece littleBits orchestra. That’s 20 players, 20 kits, and one conductor.
Using flashcards and hand signs, Hans Tammen creates large multi-movement pieces with large ensembles of electronic instruments for over a decade. As part of this year’s MakeMusicNY he will work with an ensemble of Korg littleBits synthesizer players. The littleBits are tiny synthesizer modules connected via magnets for quick changes in the signal chain, fitting into the littleBits modular system for infinite combinations of audio experience. We are looking for about 20 players to take part in the workshop and performance – you do not need to bring a kit because littleBits provides us with 20 kits to create a massive piece of synthesizer music!
Then, on June 22, there’s an epic 240-module littleBits rig Hans has built for a full-scale performance, played by a lot of good friends from the experimental music world:
APHERESIS is a large multi-movement piece by Hans Tammen for 14 performers of custom-made electronic instruments. The piece is inspired by Earle Brown’s Available Forms, uses a score that is rearranged every time it’s performed, and fuses various contemporary electronic music styles and techniques. It combines contemporary electronic music practices such as circuit bending, no-input mixers, laptops, turntablism, analogue circuitry, network sniffers and synthesis to produce sounds electronically. It is performed by internationally renowned performers Matthew Ostrowski, Andrea Parkins, Dafna Naphtali, Miguel Frasconi, Phillip Stearns, Philip White, Joshua Fried, Shoko Nagai, Maria Chavez, Satoshi Takeishi, Joker Nies, Mario DeVega, Lars Graugaard and Michael Vorfeld.
Prior to the APHERESIS performance, the ensemble will present their own version of “live coding” by creating a “littleBits Monster Synth” from 20 kits of the popular Korg littleBits synth. Starting with an empty table, the participants will create a piece by slowly connecting the modules, gradually assembling over 200 modules into an infinite maze of sonic possibilities, propagating in all directions, growing from the middle and springing up, unannounced, in seemingly impossible places. A camera from above will project the maze on the walls for the audience to follow the development, the music is distributed through a quad sound system.
Now, one more look at those new modules:
And it’s time to trot out my littleBits etudes again. I’d better make some new ones. (new modules, please!) These are CC licensed, so do let me know if you make something out of the samples; I’d love to hear it!