This is the project have been working on over the past several months whilst studying my 4th year in Innovative Product Design at Dundee University. My project is titled 'Sensing Sounds', here is the Proposal and Brief...


Product Proposal /

Project Statement:

A digital instrument/tool using sensors and instrumentation to make a new form of manipulating sound and playing electronic music with a simple interface.


Personal ambitions.

Throughout the course of the year I plan to gain a better knowledge and understanding of electronics and sensors to manipulate sound and discover new tools for creating electronic music which is a great interest of mine. I would like to create a new electronic instrument, using electromagnetic or electrostatic sensors that do not require touch, only movement. I see this project helping me for after my degree because I am working in a field of my interest, which is music and sound engineering, using my skills as a product designer and my knowledge of music and sound I would like to move on and work with a company designing and producing electronic audio devices. I have a range of electronic music instruments which inspires me to make the sounds and music I want to hear, encouraging me to design and build my own sound product(s) for producing electronic music. I would like to have a position in a classic industrial design company, bringing an innovative eye to improve and create new products exploring new ways to produce new sounds and forms of music.

Key themes & issues.

I am interested in interactive design, particularly using sensors. I have began my research into sensors and what they are capable of and how they can be used to produce and manipulate sound. I have studied Proximity Sensors and how they can be programmed to play a sound and it is possible to control the pitch or tone of this sound by holding your hand or any other object – this is known as the ‘target’ -  different distances from the sensor. I want to learn new ways to play and manipulate sound through sensors that do not require touch. I was inspired to learn more about ‘non-touch’ electronic instruments after being introduced to the world’s first synthesizer and ‘non-touch’ instrument, the ‘Theremin’. The Theremin consists of two frequency oscillators and two antennas. Electrical signals are amplified and sent to a loudspeaker. Moving your hands around the antennas controls the Theremin’s frequency (pitch) and amplitude (volume). The instrument produces an eerie ‘ghostly’ sound which was commonly used in 50’s horror films. The Theremin produces a sound commonly used in ‘avant-garde’ music. 

I was fascinated by Léon Theremin’s invention which has helped me in my path of research to discovering completely new instruments and opened my mind to new means of producing new music

Project niche.

Initially I am going to name my project ‘Sensing Sounds’.

My project is going to be based around sound manipulation through the medium of sensors such as Proximity Sensors and Light Dependant Resistors and other forms of sensors such as Strain Gauges, never before used to create sound.

I am going to create a completely interactive digital musical interface designed to create and bend generic and programmed sounds.

I would like to make the product mainly of wood with the electronics built in, the instrument / interface could stand alone or be a USB MIDI (Musical Instrument Digital Interface) controller to work with common music production software such as Ableton Live™ or Reason™.

The Instrument must be easy to learn and use for its user group which will be within the ages 18 – 30 where electronic music production is popular.

Design skills.

Throughout the project I would like to develop my 3D CAD modelling skills to design the body of my product and learn to use Edge CAM so I can have my product milled on a CNC machine if needed. I would also like to develop my wood-work skills and electronics skills to develop the product fully and to the finest professional finish. I would like to have the electronics of the product built into the wood.

I would also like to develop my filming and editing skills to make a good demonstration video of the product which I feel would be very important for the instruments success, along with a nice simple website, which I am just learning to make. The website would have clear detailed photographs and videos of the product in use

I need to develop my programming abilities because this is a huge section of the product I want to design, 70% of my time will be used on writing a program to operate the instrument.

Business agenda.

My product will be entering a large and specialised market of electronic music production and DJ tools, where there are many other tools trying to achieve the same effects but through different mediums.

To sell the product, public demonstrations will be necessary for the product to stand out in the market it will be in. The average customer who would buy into a product such as this would already have a basic understanding of this kind of product and other similar products on the market, they will expect to pay a large amount of money for any kind of digital instrument, but the product needs to meet their demands and produce the music the user wants to hear. This project is another step forward in this kind of tool, becoming even more interactive                            
and enjoyable to use which is required
to be successful in this market. The main competitors in the market Korg™ and Moog™ are massive companies with huge resources, these companies have owned the market for the past 10 years using innovative technologies - such as the Korg™ Kaoss Pad  for warping sounds. Competing with such large companies and well known brand names would create difficulty in entering this market, therefore my product must bring a new form of interaction to appeal to the user group.            


Technical agenda.

Within the product I will be using a variety of different sensors including Proximity Sensors, Light Dependant Resistors and Strain Gauges, I will write a program to re-appropriate existing technology by making the outputs read by the sensors produce or manipulate wavelengths of a sound, weather that be a tone, sampled sound or audio file.

The product will also have EQ level controls like Volume and Bass to change the output signal of the instrument. These Controls will be situated on the outer front face of the instrument. The circuit-board will be held inside the main body and the sensors will be situated around the outer surfaces

The production process will not be complicated; the product will consist of one solid body of machined wood, which will be the casing for the electronics, which will be connected to the sensors and EQ dials on the outer of the body. The dials will be mounted on a plate of machined steel or aluminium. The components will be reasonably cheap to manufacture, and building the product will be relatively simple. These materials are not only suitable aesthetically but their properties are perfect for the requirements of the product.

User agenda.

The typical user group my product is aimed at is the electronic music production generation, within the ages 18 – 30. My product brings ease to producing music and controlling sound in a way that has never been done, with a simple interface for minimal input yet impressive output in the form of digital audio, once again moving forward and making electronic music easier to produce and manipulate in a new form.

I will use qualitative research methods with electronic music producers and DJs to learn what these users desire in a new instrument that would give them control and ease of making the music they want. I will compile a questionnaire for producers to teach me what they need in a new digital audio tool. I will post the questionnaire on forums of electronic music record label websites which will give me help in understanding the next step forward in digital production and the desired tools.

The interface of the product will be as simple as possible, so any user can play the instrument first time, the shape will be simple because it’s the open space above the unit where the user moves their hands that will be needed to input signals to the sensors. The product will have a high life expectancy and little if not any servicing because there will be no moving components.

Time & resources.

Within the first phase of the project – the Investigation – I plan to experiment with different sensors.

Planned tasks:



To complete these tasks I require these types of sensors and some help programming to make the sensors do what I want.

I plan to have these tasks completed by the end of December then move onto the next stage of the project.



Brief //

Target Audience /

Producing and playing electronic music is a massive hobby and job to many people worldwide today and there are many tools in which they use to do this. Many of these tools are limiting and mundane, and artists need to use more than one tool to create what they want, and many artists do not use physical tools, they limit themselves to producing there music solely with a computer which takes a massive element away from creating music. I feel music needs to be played with an instrument, whether that is analogue or digital, where a level of human skill is required. Music is an enjoyable art and I want to create a new tool for creating or playing music which is fun and controlled by human movement.


Product Opportunity /

The product opportunity lies in creating or playing electronic music by new means that involves creativity and controlled easily and freely with the hand.


Features and Technology /

Throughout the project I will develop many of my skills, particularly in programming and working with electronics and experimenting with a variety of sensors, and using them to control different elements in music production. I will also improve my prototyping skills so I can test various concept ideas on potential users in my research.
The product is to be designed towards electronic music producers and live performance artists. A quantative research survey was compiled to understand the user groups within the topic of study, which tells me that most artists, producers and DJs are in the age bracket of 20 to 39. This age bracket is large but there is strong common interest between them which I will be designing for.
My product itself must allow users to create music, or perform a live act, that will be both engaging for the active user and surrounding audience. The product itself will allow the user to control and manipulate sounds with the movement of their hands and/or body and be able to generate sounds through the product/instrument.
There will be variety of different analogue sensors within the product, a program will be written to use the analogue inputs to control different parameters to create and manipulate sounds. The most advanced software to program and control audio is Cycling 74’s Max/MSP. With Max, any output can be controlled with numeric input from the sensors. This software will be the basis of the technology embedded into the product.


User Scenario /

An electronic music production artist/DJ is doing a live performance act at a dance festival. The artist is performing using a variety of different new and innovative sound tools, such as effects machines and drum machines. One of the acts will be using the ‘Sensing Sounds’ product where there is physical performance. There will also be a display of visuals for the audience that will respond to the movements of the artist and sounds being created.


Market /

There is a large market for sound production and DJ tools, mainly computer based but I want to take the element of using a computer away from the creating electronic music. There are few tools that can be used to produce music with needing to use software on a computer.
There is not such a large market for live production and performance tools. These tools are generally designed and built by individual artists for their own use.
One example of a fully developed product used for live performance is the ‘Reactable’, a tangible interface where blocks are used together and connected through a touch screen to create music. There are few of these Reactables been made and they cost around £4000.
I want to expand the market for interesting live electronic music production and DJ tools, and design a product easy to use and not so expensive.


Key Issues /

The key issue I need to consider when developing my product is safety. The product must be electrically safe, especially if the product involves an item worn by the user. It must be a solid design to ensure it can be used anywhere and moved anywhere.
Within the next 10 weeks I will be developing my concept ideas into working products. I will be testing these prototypes and researching more into the user group and learning more about why and how people like to produce music.
I will build many prototypes to test and use different sensors to control different elements in producing electronic music. I will create various 3D generated models of different concepts and prototypes to gain an understanding of the aesthetics of my final product.
I don’t yet know what form the product will take or what the product will actually be able to do but this will be resolved within the next few months of the project.

Compromises /

The main anchor of the project is the 2008 Degree Show, all of my work over the year is aimed for then. Most of the aspects of my project will ‘float’, I don’t know what the cost of my materials will be, neither the length of time that will be spending designing concepts and programming. My biggest compromise will be my budget for the year. My main priority will be to have a fully developed and operational product, finished to the highest level.