No, this isn’t some cheesy metaphor…okay, well maybe it is, but the point remains: 3D printers can be programmed not only to create a range of delightful printed objects, but also to literally make music.
Every sound has a note, my vacuum cleaner, for example, emits a low F# when I use it. Having a vacuum cleaner note won’t get you very far, unless you are looking to mimic the drone portion of a bagpipe piece, but machines that emit multiple noises have been employed in various clever ways to perform those noises in such a way that they become longer, more complicated pieces. In this particular case, Austin Dutenhoeffer has used the various whirrs generated by the movement of a 3D printer.
He’s not the first person to have figured this out, but he has updated the musical offerings to feature some more contemporary hits such as AWOLNation’s song Sail – although if you’re holding out for the big drop, you may be a bit disappointed. He was, in fact, inspired by a teacher. His shop teacher told the class a story about making the 3D printer ‘sing’ and gave a demonstration using a file that had been shared on Thingiverse.
The file his teacher had played used G-code to direct the stepper motors in the 3D printer and different pitches were created by working out which ones were generated by which movements, stops, and directional changes. Dutenhoeffer liked the idea of doing something unusual with his 3D printer and went in search of additional G-code files for other songs.
In an interview with 3DPrint.com, he explained how that became a challenge to create the song files himself:
“[A]fter searching Thingiverse and the internet, I found next to nothing. I asked my teacher about it and he replied saying that other students in past years have tried but no one had ever figured out how to make them or gotten it to work. So that set me on the track of researching how to make these song files for myself. After about an hour, I made my first song, the Pokémon theme song.”
His teachers were so pleased that they told him he passed the class. Then, of course, they told him they were just kidding and to get back to work. But Dutenhoeffer isn’t the kind of student you have to remind to get something done once he gets his teeth in to it. He has a history of setting his sights on a difficult project and working at it until he conquered it:
“I started out in high school by building a four foot tall tesla coil that emitted two-foot long arcs,” he told us. “[This] led the way to other things I’ve built including my own hydrogen fuel cell, a motor-driven bicycle, laser trip wire, air canon, quadcopter drone, and now 3D printing is one of my classes at Lake Area Technical Institute. To be concise, I find something that interest me and then I figure out how to build it and make it happen.”
In order to make this project happen, he first searched the internet for mp3 to MIDI convertors but couldn’t find anything that wasn’t either too expensive or full of malware. His next idea was to find the MIDI files directly, although this limited the amount of manipulation he could perform on the file and so he had to search for ones that would naturally work well when converted into G-code. Using a program from HomeConstructor to change the MIDI files into G-code, he then sorted through the channels in each song to find the essence of the music and rid the file of secondary noise that would confuse the 3D printer’s music.
You probably won’t see these songs released on Spotify anytime soon, but they are available on Thingiverse. And a note for people who take themselves too seriously: this project isn’t meant to replace musical instruments, it’s just a really fun thing to try and figure out. Here, the process of identifying an issue and teaching yourself how to resolve it is the real lesson. A person who knows how to do something can do it, but someone who knows how to teach themselves new things – they can do anything.
Discuss this story in the 3D Printing & Music Forum thread on 3DPB.com.