Why open source? (And news about Oontz)


Here @ConductiveMusic we are very excited because a new baby is in our office – it’s name is Oontz. It’s brand new, open source, and Arduino based, just the way we like to see our technology arrive.
Oontz is a button-based MIDI controller. There are hundreds of similar devices available or in-production, but why did we @ConductiveMusic choose this one?
Because you can see inside it, to see exactly how it works – and not just because the case is made of transparent 3D-printed plastic.
The Oontz doesn’t simply turn on and off straight out of the box. It comes in pieces! It must be assembled from easy-to-follow instructions, so you become its maker and user. You know and understand your Oontz inside-out!

The instructions are great, the tutorials are very useful, and you can find all the instructions (there are different models) on the Adafruit website. But there is more…

Yes, but why open source?

If your instrument is Arduino-based, it means that you can hack it!

The developer will provide you with one or more example codes, but you can build your own, from scratch, and transform – completely – the nature of the instrument. If, like me, you are a bit code-dumb and afraid to start from scratch, well, then why not tweak the one that came pre-loaded on the device?

An example? Sure! On my new Oontz, I liked how the buttons light up when pressed (you solder the LEDs inside, and you can choose your favourite colours), but I wanted a longer illumination – something that would fade after a few milliseconds to leave a track of my hand movements. Well, all I had to do was to open the Arduino Graphic Interface, load the code and look through it to find and tweak the on/off release of the LEDs.


Why is this the right path for future instrumental devices

It’s in my nature, and I hope it’s in yours too, to want to look inside things, to discover how they work and to become a part of the technology I use, by altering it slightly (and, sometimes, breaking it – but we learn from our mistakes).

This is represented in a very strong trend in 20th- and 21st-Century composers, called extended techniques. Composers look into an instrument, usually acoustic, and they see how it can be augmented (for example, a prepared piano). They put weird and unexpected objects on top (a cymbal on top of a kettle drum) of the instrument as noisemakers, or they try to control strange but fascinating sounds (the multiphonics of a clarinet) by playing the instrument in a different way.

To me, the possibility of changing an instrument’s behaviour is key to artistic expressiveness. From a didactic standpoint, I have witnessed many times the engagement potential of students facing a new way of interpreting a controller. They are instantly hooked on this new process of reasoning and interaction.


Choose your hardware, and get hacking!