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MAGIC MACHINE Synth Controller

The MAGIC MACHINE is a 5-pin MIDI controller which outputs a MIDI signal to a synthersiser, allowing a user with little or no background in music to create interesting sounds by pressing a few buttons.

produced by: Benjamin Sammon


The basis of the idea was to find a solution for a few music making problems I experience. I am a synth player and have hardware synthesisers but I also make computer music. My plan was to try to control my traditional synthesisers in a similar way to using a USB controller and a piano role with software synthesisers. My idea quickly escalated into thinking about what kinds of sounds I would want to make and what kind of effects I would be able to use practically.

Part way through the making of my device I decided that I wanted it to be interactive so that anyone, regardless of skill, would be able to use it. Synthesisers can be very daunting, especially if you are not a musician, so creating a box with an interface that would allow even a child to work out how to use became an interesting premise. I also wanted to create a controller that would separate me from the instrument allowing for a new approach. Looking at this through the eyes of someone who was not a musician became an exciting premise for my own musical exploration.


For this concept, I decided to use an Arduino Uno. I began by mapping it out on a breadboard with smaller components, then moving onto soldering and fabricating the project on a larger scale.

Initially I wanted to create a device using an old computer keyboard with a PS/2 port but I decided to simplify it to make the device more approachable. Instead I used 5 arcade buttons. This included 2 blue buttons to control tempo, two pink buttons to control pitch and a green button as an on/off switch. To make the device even more user friendly I decided to include a green LED which would turn on and off as the green button is turned on and off and 3 blue LED’s flashing along with the tempo, visually displaying what the blue tempo buttons are doing.

I decided to laser cut a square box enclosure out of wood. Creating my design using Makercase and then adding in the holes for my external components in Adobe Illustrator. I found the fabrication process quite straight forward, there was a small issue with some of my holes being too small but with a bit of filing everything fit in perfectly.

The soldering process was long and laborious, I decided to create two boards using strip board, one for ground and one for 5v and resistors that go from the LED’s to the digital pins. After soldering everything together I realised that it was difficult to plug normal wire into the Arduino. I decided to cut all the wires that should be connected to the Arduino solder male jumper wires to them. This worked very well.