We’ve all seen the various musical compositions created using solely the sounds emitted by the extruders and stepper motors on 3D printers, but this recent project by a man named Laurens Weyn, a robotics enthusiast out of Cape Town, South Africa, takes the cake for sure. Weyn, who is competing for the 2015 Hackaday Prize, sponsored by Atmel, freescale, Texas Instrument, Mouser Electronics, and Microchip, is vying for the chance to win a trip into space, among other awesome prizes.

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His creation isn’t just a single instrument (3D printer), it’s an entire orchestra of technology. Confused? Let us explain…

In what he describes as a ‘hardware and software project,’ Weyn hooked together a Printrbot Simple 3D printer, along with two old floppy drives and two hard drives. He then created a central Java program which controls the whole thing, and according to him was by far the hardest part. The software had to be able to parse MIDI files, and via its interface make critical adjustments prior to sending instructions to each of the ‘instruments’. All the while the software had to output a visualization of the notes in real time. In order to keep all the instruments perfectly synchronized, while calculating the notes simultaneously, the Java code had to run over 5 threads.c2

“While there’s currently only 3 types of instruments, the system supports pretty much anything with steppers, or anything that makes a noise on a signal pulse as percussion,” explained Weyn on his Hackaday project page. “An old doorbell, noisy fans, etc. can be used. Machines that accept G-code through the standard serial protocol can be used as well.”

One issue that Weyn ran into during the creation of his technology orchestra was that 3D printers are not made to stop during a print. This obviously was a problem, because he didn’t want sounds emitted from the printer non-stop, just like you wouldn’t want a guitar in a band constantly playing without pause. This meant that he had to use his own control software as the printer’s control software. This allowed him to prevent any movement of the printer simply by blocking off instructions to the machine.

“It runs in ‘ping pong’ mode, only giving instructions once it’s done (because we don’t want to rush ahead in the song),” he explained. “When a pause happens, or rather when the printer doesn’t need to be sent any notes, the control program simply refuses to give the printer the next command, forcing the printer to stay still and do nothing until it’s meant to play the note.”

Weyn has made numerous videos of his orchestra in action, many of which are provided below. As you will notice, the hard drives act as percussion instruments as the 3D printer and floppy drives chime in for the rest of the ensemble. As for whether or not he has a shot at taking home the Grand Prize for the 2015 Hackaday Prize, his creation is certainly in the running in my mind.

Let us know your thoughts on this innovative approach to creating music via a 3D printer and other tech components. Discuss in the 3D Printer Orchestra forum thread on 3DPB.com.  Check out all the videos below of his orchestra in action:

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