PComp- Kanye West’s Synesthesia Machine

For the midterm, Will and I sat down and talked about something that’d be fun to make together. He suggested a synesthesia machine, “like Kanye has”. I thought it’d be even more ridiculous, then, to do a Kanye synesthesia machine so that maybe, for one brief moment, we’d get a glimpse into how Kanye’s mind works.

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Kanye was quoted in an interview, saying that for snares he sees white, for pianos, blue, and for bass purplish brown. Three felt like a nice balanced number to start with, so we drew up a little sketch:

The simple idea was to have a controller with three buttons that called the instrument and the color in p5.js. We threw in a volume knob and on switch/light for good measure.

We wanted to get the circuit working before anything else, so we began with the following:

Then, we took to the breadboard.

Friday night was a rager, I mean, look at this crazy wiring! But we got our components working and discussed how we wanted to put this all together. I had just taken Intro to Fab, so we ended up naturally splitting off to work in parallel, me on the enclosure, Will on refining the code.

We worked together on the layout of the panel and the prototype included this Kanye floating head, of which I was a fan. We slowly included our panel-mount items, one by one, in fear of damaging our circuit. I am self-proclaimed solder junkie, using wayyyy more than needed. Also my wires were cheap from Amazon, to the point when the wind blew, the wire broke. We eventually switched to Will’s which were from Adafruit.

It was starting to come together and I was having a pretty great time letting all my Intro to Fab lessons sink in. I wish I could’ve worked on the code more, to get some practice in, but I thought Will and I made a good team and worked to our strengths. I think he did a fantastic job finding the Kanye samples and figuring out how to call them using functions in p5.

Everything panel-mounted to the cardboard very well, so we were ready to move to acrylic by Sunday afternoon. I melted a button, so I also made another trip back to Tinkersphere. For some reason, I feel it necessary to joke with the shop girl about how many times I’m in there, but she just kind of looks at me and cues up another Elton John midi song. This project also allowed me to try every form of wire connecting that I was aware of. Wire-wrapping is my new favorite, relaxing past time and I could do it for hours. I’m a very messy solderer and my connections kept breaking, even with heat shrink, but eventually solder plus hot glue seemed to hold.

We updated the design a bit, printed, and then used the trick where you color white erase board marker over sharpie to fill in the acrylic etching with marker.

The rest of the day Sunday was spend refining connections and organizing our components. We used the drill trick to twist the wires together and it was extremely satisfying. Props to M.H., who taught me how to strip a female jumper wire and solder it to the components so that they could be plugged and unplugged as necessary. This saved us such a huge headache because the modularity gave us the flexibility to move things around.

We had a working synesthesia machine! This was so much fun to make. I loved the process of watching nothing become something and letting the potential of serial communication use sink in. I’m gradually beginning to see how possible it will be to make something worthy of one of the ITP shows. It didn’t seem possible a few weeks ago. Also, after sitting in an office cubicle or, worse, an OPEN FLOOR PLAN for 10 years, I was in heaven simply using a drill press.


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