The QBO is an open source controller designed and built by Guido Tamino. The project was put together in fulfilment of a master thesis and its design is centered on the idea of an open source project that can have many contributors. It plays into the open source ethos by using Pure Data as its software and the controller itself was built using an Arduino, webcam and cardboard. The controller is a novel take on a step sequencer. The idea being to move a electronic music performance away from sitting behind a laptop and towards a more interesting experience for the audience.

The controller

The controller itself is a piece of cardboard with a matrix of holes drilled into it which is lit from below. It uses a webcam looking up at underside of the card to see what holes and can recognise which ones are covered. The camera also recognises different control cards that can be placed over on the controller to change the sound being produced. This allows a wide range of sound to be used depending on the number of control cards available and the different sounds assigned to them.

As well as using a step sequencer for the audio the software  also produces a visualisation of the audio. The QBO acts as a controlled for both the audio and video and two are interlocked as a result. The visuals are created in GEM the visual engine of Pd.

With the control cards there is also the ability to save audio patterns and loop them while other patterns are added on top, allowing you to build up the musical material. The idea of the controller is to move electronic music performance from a person behind a laptop to someone interacting with the music in a tangible way that an audience can appreciate.

The build

The controller seems relatively straightforward to build. The physical controller itself is consists of a webcam, an Arduino, some electronics and cardboard. On his website Tamino said that the cost of producing a prototype of the controller was $30 which by comparison to the other controllers I’ve been looking at is very reasonable. The physical hardware design seems pretty straightforward and as the software is already made the project is very doable. The only difficult area would be drilling the holes and making the control cards. These will require a steadier and more patience than the rest of the build.

There’s no list of instructions on the QBO page of Tamino’s site, but from the tone of the article he seems pretty approachable and if you wanted to make on of these your best bet would be to get in touch with him. He also mentions a website he built to foster a community around the controller which he has yet to make live so there is always the possibility that this will be made available in the future.

To sum up

This controller is really simple and would make a good beginner project for someone interested in getting into building their own controller. Even though it simple as the controller is open and it would be an interesting project to delve into the software and experiment with the audio and visual mappings. This would make an interesting follow on for anyone who builds this project. Maybe using the controller as a jumping off point for exploring audio-visual mappings or trying to find interesting ways of making the music making process apparent to the audience. Check out a video of the controller in action.