Play House from Alex Allmont on Vimeo.

“Play House” — get it?

Playing with LEGOs seems to have an ongoing intuitive connection to musicians, to composition and musical play. So, of course, after we commented on the LEGO Maschine controller hack at MIDI Hack at Stockholm last weekend, several of you reminded us of this recent piece by Alex Allmont. (Now, in fairness, the Maschine hack was put together in well under 24 hours – sometimes work takes time. But I find it nice to see them together.)

What’s especially beautiful about Play House is that musical mechanisms and robotic LEGO mechanisms are so closely linked. The LEGOs become a tangible visualization of the musical machine. Great stuff.

Stay for the end for a sense of the acoustic sound of the machine, which is almost another piece in itself. The music is convincing – I listened to it repeatedly without the video. The machine itself I find somehow even more beautiful; Alex – follow up piece?

Wired’s Olivia Solon has a detailed story on the work:

And Alex himself goes in exhaustive detail through the process and tech for MAKE:
Kinetic Sculpture Blends Bizarre Mix of House Beats and Lego Bricks

The basic structure: use mechanical moving parts to activate piezo sensors (that is, hit the sensors), then generate analog signals to individual modules (on a Eurorack modular here) to produce the drum sounds and instruments. And do it all with AVR microcontroller proramming – think simple circuits as found in many Arduino projects.

Some of the experiments along the way are just as compelling as the end result. Here’s a drum machine in which robotic “drummers” activate piezos that send MIDI to a drum machine, as other mechanisms turn the knobs:

Clunky Drummer Audio Grab from Alex Allmont on Vimeo.

Clunky Drummer uses one motor to walk through phased rhythm patterns. It converts them to MIDI via piezo transducers, sending bass, hat and snare signals to a drum machine. This is tweaked along with the effect chain which transforms the sound.

Talk about code meeting engineering. Alex describes himself as “a full-time coder and part-time arts PhD in improvisation with polyrhythm and phased rhythms.” That is, he understands the engineering of rhythm, not just machines that produce it.

Alex, hope you keep us posted on CDM of your work!

The Oxford UK festival this was featured at sounds great, too:

Serious play. Photo courtesy the artist.

Serious play. Photo courtesy the artist.