During this year’s Amsterdam-based Music Hack Day, two intrepid hackers originating from Berlin created a musical umbrella that produces a random series of lo-fi 8-bit tones. The tones are triggered by raindrops striking the outside surface of the umbrella's canopy and the abstract results bring to mind a warped soundtrack for the first generation Nintendo Game Boy.
Put simply, the musical umbrella works as follows: When raindrops strike the outside surface of the umbrella canopy, they are converted to tones by the the presence of twelve piezo pickup sensors which are taped to the underside of the umbrella and respond to vibration. The piezo’s are then fed into an Arduino Uno - an inexpensive and open source micro-controller popular with hackers and hobbyists, which is in turn connected to two speakers.
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The Music Hack Day event was first held in the London offices of U.K. newspaper The Guardian in 2009 and has since spread to Berlin, Amsterdam, Boston, Stockholm, San Francisco, Barcelona, New York and Montreal, drawing over two thousand participants and sponsorship from some heavy hitting music-tech companies. Each of this year’s events are now over, though those interested in attending next year can sign up by visiting the Music Hack Day website.
There’s no word as to whether the musical umbrella is ever intended to be sold, but according to the BBC the umbrella’s creators, Alice Zappe and Julia Lager, have decided to create a new and improved version of their Music Hack Day prototype. This new iteration will introduce wires and sensors that are sewn into the canopy, rather than gaffer-taped on, in addition to providing a wider sonic palette to choose from.
To see the musical umbrella in action, check out the video below.