The idea of building an autonomous drum that can be programmed and played with solenoids and actuators is certainly not a new one. Type the terms “solenoid drum” or “robot drum” into Youtube and you will find numerous videos of previous efforts, some more accomplished than others. 2010 seems to be the year when interest in this as a new medium for musical expression peaked before the novelty wore off somewhat and people moved on to other things. Being a little late on the scene is great as it means there is a lot of information on the web where people have outlined in detail how they went about building their solenoid drums. One of the most thorough examples we have come across it the one by Randy Sarafan of Instructables who documents in detail how he built his Arduino Controlled Robotic Drum kit. Another good introduction is the Drumbots post from Make (where we got the featured image) but there are countless more. Added to this is the work of some of the pioneers of the field who were mentioned at the end of the previous post. In this paper: A comparison of Solenoid based strategies for robotic drumming there is a great synopsis of some of the methods used by people such as Ajay Kapur, Trimpin and Eric Singer.
The video below is by Patrick Flanagan who goes by the name Jazari (here on Youtube). This is an old video and I hope he doesn’t mind me sharing it but it clearly shows the different strategies he uses to operate the different percussion instruments. Another interesting aspect of what Jazari does (at least in his earlier stuff) is use Wii controllers as an interface. We will be looking at Jazari again and examine how this idea evolves (hint, it turns into a horned beast covered in arcade buttons!) and it eventually replaced by a custom made surface controller.
Although as I mentioned above we have come to the solenoid percussion scene a little late there are two areas where I think we are adding to the field and contributing something original. Firstly the Bodhrán hasn’t (to my knowledge) been done before and it is particularly interesting because it poses a unique set of difficulties that need to be overcome. These difficulties arise from the way in which a Bodhrán is played, a combination of striking the drum with the beater (tipper) in one hand and dampening and changing the tone with the other hand against the drum skin. Secondly solenoid drumming hasn’t yet been used as a means by which a musician with a disability can perform in real time. This is surprising considering what it offers in this regard. Not only does it offer the individual the opportunity of playing a physical instrument rather than something sample based but it also offers a visual element to the performance that can be missed when the sounds are generated within a computer.