The DNO - A New Musical Instrument

A wonderful device born out of the final project for the Yale course ENAS 344/MUSI 316: Musical Acoustics and Instrument Design

High Resolution Photo

How it Began

The Directionally Nuanced Orbital (DNO, pronounced like Dino in Dinosaur) was created as a final project for ENAS 344/ MUSI 316 Musical Acoustics and Instrument Design, a hands-on class taught at the Yale Center for Engineering, Innovation, and Design (CEID). The course explores the principles of acoustic and electronic musical instruments and culminates in the design and construction of an original instrument by each student1. ENAS 344/ MUSI 316 was co-taught by Larry Wilen and Konrad Kaczmarek, faculty in Mechanical Engineering and the Department of Music, respectively.

Inspired by the saxophone’s assortment of keys and fingering chart, I wanted to create an electro-mechanical instrument that incorporated an array of buttons that mapped to discrete musical pitches. The performer, however, can simultaneously gyrate the orb in space, so I also wanted to actively measure the instrument’s physical orientation in the user’s hands through a combination of motion sensors.

Project Development and Instrument Overview

The course instructors encouraged students to embrace of design challenges as opportunities to inspire creative elements and innovative surprises that might lead the instrument into a new direction. The design and construction of the DNO indeed faced several challenges, such as the limitations of available audio hardware that ultimately led to an exciting implementation of wireless solutions. The resulting device was a spherical Musical Instrument Digital Interface (MIDI) controller built with intentional programmability and stylish visual aesthetics capable of producing modifiable polyphonic control mappings.

As a MIDI controller, the DNO can both make its own sounds through digital music synthesis programs and act as a controller for other devices that communicate with MIDI signals. As an experiment, the DNO was used to control another student’s digital wind chime instrument, to entertaining results. The development of the DNO served as an exceptional hands-on learning experience that emphasized making through iterative design, where challenges present opportunities to adapt and come up with innovative solutions. This experience would not have been possible without the resources provided by the Yale CEID.

A more in-depth description of the design process and physical/electronic components of the DNO can be found in my Poster Abstract published in the Proceedings of the 4th International Symposium on Academic Makerspaces