Hackoustic: Using the Touch Board with Pure Data

The Touch Board has the power to integrate touch and proximity sensing into many applications, by working with other tools and software such as Pure Data . In recent months we have seen an increase in our community using the Touch Board to power interactive instruments and musical interfaces. This interactive instrument was built by the Head of Design Technology at Beechwood Park school, Tom Fox, who also serves as creative director for the London sound art community group Hackoustic, of which the piece was created for. He also works with Music Tech Fest running workshops, hackathons and Innovation Labs.

Constantly on a quest to invent, tinker and hack musical instruments while exploring interfaces and methods of interaction, he created the Hackoustic instrument  with the idea of inspiring people with a project they could instantly interact with. The piece revolves around a Touch Board connected to a printed instrument sensor and when notes are pressed on the sensor, the piece triggers mechanical mechanisms as an output that strike an object like a metal bowl, playing a sound. The patterns of notes are then memorised so the patterns can be repeated.

After many different projects, Tom began to approach his work with the general rule for installations being the simpler and more immediate the interaction, the bigger the spark of joy will be. Having used the Touch Board for a number of years, he found himself always going straight to it for easy to use and interesting methods of input with his installations. His interactive work is usually showcased at day events or temporary spaces, and for Fox ease of setup, minimal programming required and minimal take down effort are essential.

This particular project uses the Touch Board as an input device in combination with another Arduino based tool, called the DADA Machines Automat. Both devices communicate with MIDI which makes the whole setup incredibly simple to use. The DADA converts MIDI signals from the Touch Board into electrical voltages, which in turn drives solenoids, motor systems, lights, relays. The Touch Board’s MIDI signals create unique audio outputs. In order to communicate between the Touch Board and the DADA, Tom used a Raspberry Pi running the free software Pure Data, which is open source visual programming language for multimedia applications and can run on any computer or Raspberry Pi.

The user controls the Touch Board by touching the printed instrument sensor, which sends MIDI directly to Pure Data. This Pure Data patch is running a simple looping code that he wrote which then simply throws MIDI back out to the Automat. Tom didn’t have to change any code or require any plugin on either device as the Touch Board MIDI example code was already set up to do exactly what was needed. The longest part of this whole setup was making the physical elements as all the hardware was essentially plug and play!

Tom has used the Touch Board for interactive projects at venues like the Tate Modern, V&A, the Olympic Gardens, Hackoustic Presents nights and having included them in workshops run at UCL, The Royal College of Music and at Music Tech Fest Sparks events across Europe. He found the immediate response from everyone who interacts with the capacitive touch projects was one of joy at the uniqueness of the projects, whether they are focus on visual interfaces or sound design. It didn’t matter if the touch triggered a sound effect or made an instrument play or controlled lights, the immediacy of the interaction always came across as something magical.

Tom says he will “continue to use the Touch Board to control the majority of his projects, mostly out of the simplicity of use, but also because it’s been incredibly reliable. I’ve used it outdoors, at events with thousands of people, with groups of rambunctious kids and it has withstood the heavy use!”

Images and Videos by Tom Fox

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