Electronic instruments really are becoming like folk instruments. US$42 now buys you a small board that you can touch directly, one that’s immediate and from which anyone can coax sounds. You can jam with it, pocket it; it’s affordable and direct and playable.

And it all fits in a plastic cassette tape box.

The re-released Mixtape Alpha (the first run sold out) looks like a real gem. It’s a crowd-funded run this time – eschewing Kickstarter for the Portland-based Crowd Supply.

An ATmega328p-powered 8-bit synth (that is, using the chip that’s also in the Arduino, among others), Mixtape Alpha has a surprising range of features:

  • “Stylophone-style” input (yes, you touch it and get continuous ribbon controls, or choose buttons for separate ntoes)
  • Four voices, five-note polyphony
  • Four effects
  • Record and playback looped phrases – in the video, combined with the effects, producing some rather pretty results



It’s also open source hardware, and – in a nice change for a crowd-funded project – the schematics and code are already there, plus a little patch for the free software Pure Data (Pd) that generates wavetables. And yes, being based on the ATmega, it’s hackable.

The project is a collaboration between Chicago, Illinois’ Open Music Labs and Jie Qi from the High-Low Tech group at the MIT Media Lab.


Crowd-funded run ends in about a month: