MusicInk: drawing musical instruments with conductive paint to play and learn

An Italian startup is using Bare Conductive ink to create educational musical instruments that you can draw and play in minutes. MusicInk’s concept is simple — teach kids all about musical pitch and intensity in a fun and engaging way they’re…

An Italian startup is using Bare Conductive ink to create

educational musical instruments that you can draw and play in
minutes. MusicInk’s concept is
simple — teach kids all about musical pitch and intensity in a fun
and engaging way they’re likely to remember, combined with a brief
science lesson on electric circuits. It might be simple, but it is
also beautifully executed and a perfect example of how to
facilitate the genius of the carbon paint made by Bare Conductive. That paint made its musical debut back in 2009
when painted dancers in Calvin Harris’ “Humanthesizer” video
triggered parts of the track using movement, but MusicInk is now
bringing a little bit of that magic to the mainstream
classroom.

MusicInk
The kit includes a set of stencils that children can use to
paint the musical instruments — a trumpet with several keys, a
guitar with a few strings, a drum and more. The circuits are
mediated by an Arduino Duemilanove board, with a Sparkfun MPR121
acting as the capacitive touch sensor controller. The controller,
contained in a slick wooden box, can hold up to twelve individual
electrodes so a class can be playing 12 “instruments” at a time,
depending on their complexity, each playing notes produced and
recorded by the London Philharmonic Orchestra. At the more basic end, instruments have just one connection and
play one note, but a keyboard with multiple notes can be setup and
the guitar in particular is setup with divided tracks for the same
reason.

MusicInk
Presenting the design at the Maker Faire in Rome, the team —
made up of product designers Riccardo Vendramin and Gilda Negrini,
and software engineer Luong Bui — attached headphones for a more
intimate experience, but it can of course be used without them in a
teaching situation. The result of keying the notes — even for
adults — is frankly a lot of fun. It’s impossible not to get
caught up in the sheer novelty, with this reporter instinctively
beginning to strum the black ink lines of the guitar as though it
were the real thing, rather than simply pressing each one as would
be sufficient to get a response. Demonstrations of that
experience can be seen in the embedded video, where those it’s
intended for — a classroom of children — draw their circuits and
get to see the end result.

MusicInk – Learn the Music, Play!MusicInk
“This is just a prototype,” Vendramin told Wired.co.uk. “We want
to improve and do something wireless. It started out just as a
project for the Polytechnic University of Milan [the largest
technical university in Italy].” For a prototype, the MusicInk kit
is well designed with crisp doodles on the cardboard cutout box the
equipment is encased in. It even has an Android app (a Bluetooth
shield by Seedstudio provides the connectivity option) for
smartphones and tablets, which can be used to manage the music
catalogue

“We live in an age heavily influenced by smart and innovative
devices,” Vendramin says on the MusicInk website. “For me, the
future of design stands between technology, the art of design and
manufacturing skill.”