A hackable musical instrument
The D-Box is a digital musical instrument created in 2014 by Victor Zappi and Andrew McPherson as part of the EPSRC-funded Hackable Instruments research project. The project investigated the ways that musicians appropriate, modify and subvert digital technologies for creative purposes.
To that end, we created the D-Box as an instrument which could be exploratively rewired by the performer using a breadboard concealed inside the instrument. Unlike more familiar modular synths and digital instrument toolkits, the breadboard intentionally did not present a linear, well-formed control space. Instead, feedback loops between hardware and software produce idiosyncratic and unexpected (yet repeatable) results when the circuits are changed. The D-Box was used as a research probe into how performers encounter such opportunities and constraints.
Aside from the papers and performances that came from the Hackable Instruments project, the technology behind the D-Box has had an extended influence.
To design the feedback loops between hardware and software, I created an embedded hardware system featuring ultra-low latency processing of audio and sensor signals. This system later proved useful for many other tasks, and it was eventually released to the public as Bela. Following a successful Kickstarter campaign in 2016, we launched a spinout company to continue growing and diversifying the Bela community.
The D-Box also featured novel capacitive touch sensors on the surface. Several years later, the Bela team turned that technology into a family of touch sensors for makers known as Trill. The Trill sensors are easy-to-use modules featuring 1D or 2D sensing of touch position which can be integrated into interactive projects.
Trill launched in a successful Kickstarter campaign in 2019. Most recently, we have released Trill Flex, a simple, low-cost approach to touch sensing using flexible circuit boards.