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Make Music With Everyday Objects Using Ototo

The synthesizer board can be wired to almost anything

5 min read
Make Music With Everyday Objects Using Ototo
Photo: W. Wayt Gibbs

The Ototo board is an invention for musical innovators; it is to would-be creators of playable instruments what a prototyping board is to circuit builders. The board makes it easy to connect both everyday objects and a wide range of analog sensors to a music synthesizer. Any vaguely conductive surface (metallic duct tape, the skin of a fruit, and so forth) becomes a touch sensor once wired to one of 12 large pads on the board, which correspond to one octave of notes. Additional sensors can be plugged into any one of the four headers, which provide 5 volts, a ground, and a voltage-sensing input. The inputs from these can alter the pitch, amplitude, and timbre of sounds. There’s a built-in speaker, and a stereo headphone jack can send sounds to an amplifier.

But the most powerful feature of the Ototo—what really elevates it from toy to tool—is that when you connect it to a computer via the board’s Micro-USB port, it functions as a musical instrument digital interface (MIDI) controller. This means it translates both key touches and analog sensor values into a stream of commands for software instruments. MIDI is the universal language of digital musical instruments, and it was this feature I was most eager to explore. In particular, I was wondering whether it could help me play a beautiful violin romance by Antonin Dvořák, even though I’ve never had a lesson.

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From WinZips to Cat GIFs, Jacob Ziv’s Algorithms Have Powered Decades of Compression

The lossless-compression pioneer received the 2021 IEEE Medal of Honor

11 min read
Photo of Jacob Ziv
Photo: Rami Shlush

Lossless data compression seems a bit like a magic trick. Its cousin, lossy compression, is easier to comprehend. Lossy algorithms are used to get music into the popular MP3 format and turn a digital image into a standard JPEG file. They do this by selectively removing bits, taking what scientists know about the way we see and hear to determine which bits we'd least miss. But no one can make the case that the resulting file is a perfect replica of the original.

Not so with lossless data compression. Bits do disappear, making the data file dramatically smaller and thus easier to store and transmit. The important difference is that the bits reappear on command. It's as if the bits are rabbits in a magician's act, disappearing and then reappearing from inside a hat at the wave of a wand.

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