Geek Projects Special: Music

Project #3 (hard): Make Music With Kinect

1. Time for a trip to the atticRemember that Kinect sensor you’ve got buried away? Go and get it. You might not use it to play darts any more but you can use it to make sweet, sweet* music (*sweetness not guaranteed). Synapse (RMfree / is a piece of software that allows you to turn your Kinect into a kind of turbo-theremin.

2. Surrender to the musicBefore you start making noises, you need to plug the Kinect into your computer, fire up Synapse and stand in front of the camera with your hands in the air and your elbows bent at right angles, a little like you’re surrendering to it at gunpoint. That’ll help the app lock on to your joints and bind a red skeleton graphic to your body.

3. Trigger-happy soundsAs well as Synapse, you’ll need Ableton Live, Quartz Composer or something else that can pick up Open Sound Control (OSC) events. There are pre-programmed movement triggers available to download from to get you started with gestures, such as nodding your head to queue samples.

4. Now you’re a one-man bandAfter that, it’s a case of setting up your own triggers and sounds. You can map different movements to commands, filters and settings, so the height of your left arm could correspond to the volume of a sound, while its distance from your body could affect the filter applied. It’s a bit like being a musical marionette.

I Build... Modular Synths

Matthew Regula /

"I started building modular synths in the early 2000s as there were, and still are, very few manufacturers producing banana-jack-based modules. Bananas are a simpler, more robust connector than the popular mini-jack, and more often found on scientific test equipment. I quickly found that I preferred the gear I built myself to anything available, and now perform almost entirely on homemade kit.

I started by trying to sort through the piles of information that have accumulated on the internet. It can be a steep learning curve, and it can be quite intimidating seeing what others have done. Rather than waste too much time, I started with a very limited set of tools, a decent soldering station being key. Time proved that you can do almost anything with a concise setup.

I found very early on that, once I had determined the ergonomic layout of a module, I had no need for verbal references on the panel. As a result, all of my work has no labelling of any kind. I find it much easier to use the instruments without labels. While modular synths might resemble control panels in a nuclear power plant, I don’t think they should be approached that way. No other musical instrument is littered with these indicators.

The most extreme synth I’ve made is a 24-band vocoder. A kind fellow in Russia reverse-engineered a 1980s Soviet Bloc design for modern components and offered circuit boards for the project. Otherwise, I primarily make synths for people I know from the underground, experimental US music community.

For an absolute beginner, I’d suggest looking at Ray Wilson’s Music From Outer Space (MFOS) site. He offers a wide range of circuit designs and probably the best documentation available. It’s the closest thing to having someone holding your virtual hand as you go wading into what can be murky waters."

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