Since its launch four years ago, the Makey Makey invention kit has been used to turn bananas into piano keyboards, make potted plants talk when handled and transform the outstretched hands of audience members into a virtual drumkit. Now Dr. Liza Seigido of the Psyche Electro-Acoustic Opera company has used the board to bring a broken Ðàn ty bà back to life as a MIDI music maker.

The lute-like, four stringed and roughly pear-shaped traditional Vietnamese Ðàn tỳ bà is held in a vertical position to play, with the fretting hand bending notes plucked using a large pick. Dr. Seigido told us that she bought a broken instrument from a store to serve as a decorative piece in her home. And there it sat until she was asked to perform some music composed by former teacher Dr. Susan Epstein titled I'm sitting in another room.

"Rather than perform on a store-bought MIDI device, I decided to turn my Ðàn tỳ bà into an electronic musical instrument so as to add a visual element to my performance; I've been using the Ðàn tỳ bà in my own work ever since," she revealed. "My Ðàn tỳ bà is powered by the Makey Makey micro controller and Max/MSP. The Makey Makey can turn anything conductive, in conjunction with the user, into a temporary switch."

Dr. Seigido attached the Makey Makey board to the bridge end of the Ðàn tỳ bà's body, five circular silver-plated beads were glued in place at mid-fret locations on the upper part of the neck and cabled down to the Makey Makey board ASCII inputs. Two decorative square beads were positioned on the body and also cabled up to the board, one of which was set to bend the pitch of the note being played.

An LED was installed into the board's LED output and cables run from that to another LED mounted on the neck. Copper tape was attacked to the back of the neck to serve as a grounding strip.

Once the hardware was set up, Dr. Seigido headed to Max/MSP to transform the Makey Makey signals into MIDI data. "I use Max/MSP to read the Makey Makey's outputs and use the Makey's On/Off signals to trigger MIDI channel voice messages, the onset of real-time audio effects, and trigger visual effects on a DXM light fixture or on a fixed or live video using Max's jitter objects," she told us. The software was then virtually hooked up to a digital audio workstation, where instruments were assigned.

You can see and hear Dr. Seigido playing her creation in the video below.

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