Red Bull Creation returned to Brooklyn this year for a third edition of the energy drink fueled maker/hack -a-thon. The premise pits teams of engineers, programmers, fabricators and artists against the clock, and each other, to design and build a working prototype which answers a challenge. This year six teams were selected from an online qualifier competition to create a new type of musical instrument in 72 hours. None of the teams had any advance notice of what the challenge involved.
A large paved area adjacent to a high school in the Greenpoint neighborhood was transformed into a full fabrication shop outfitted with top end plasma cutters, welders, 3D printers, and laser cutters. Also available for use was a fully stocked supply of materials ranging from traditional metal and wood to motors and electronics. Each team had their own work bay adjacent to the shop floor, and a large blue countdown clock dominated the center of the space serving as a not so subtle reminder that the pressure of this competition is real.
The approach to creating sound varied from team to team. Several adapted and modified traditional acoustic instruments to be played in new ways. Others created instruments from common items like plastic tubing and glass jars. Two of the teams used digitally created sounds played through unique interfaces.
I3 Detroit created the Whirly Turbulator which generated sound from corrugated plastic tubing spun by modified electric drills.
North Street Labs from Portsmouth, Va. built the Treequencer, a sculpture that incorporated motion and proximity sensors that triggered sounds as people moved and around it. North Street’s programmer Stephen Schaffer suffers from significant hearing loss and worked in a hotel near the site writing 8000+ lines of code used in the project.
Uncle Jimmy’s Fly By Wire Jug by Skullduggery Systems out of San Diego was clearly the loudest entry in the contest. The team piped an industrial dust collector fan into a large glass jug container filled with water. Sound could be played by moving around another glass container suspended on wires which controlled the speed of the fan.
The Maker Twins from Phoenix brought together inspiration from Leonardo da Vinci and DJ rigs to create Vitruvian. The large circular structure is meant to resemble da Vinci’s Vitruvian Man drawing. Several wheels and control sticks on either side of the Vitruvian are linked to a laptop running Ableton. Two separate tracks are assigned to each side and a user can freely mix, change the speed and direction and add other audio effects.
1.21.Jigawatts based in Minneapolis are past winners of RBC from 2011. This year they created The Erte-tronic Deco Decoder which translates graffiti into music. A roll of paper serves as a canvass onto which spray paint can be applied. When to paper is rolled around, a series of sensors read the drawing and trigger chimes.
MB Labs from Chicago pulled off an ambitious build called the Autoloop and won the grand prize. Autoloop is drum set fitted with actuators that is controlled by a custom built step sequencer. Users can generate drum patters on the fly by placing chrome marbles in recesses on a large diameter table. MB Labs installed a ring of led lights which tracks the tempo and shows the position of the pattern as it plays. Another table surface serves as a kind of optical theremin which generates sounds relative to the shapes placed on the top surface. Not only was MB’s design and build quality outstanding, they finished the project with over two hours to spare on the clock.