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Have MIDI, Will Travel

Courtesy of the ingenious Tom Whitwell of Music Thing

If you watched the excellent new Why We Bleep Podcast (video) interview with Tom Whitwell of Music Thing Modular, you may, right at the 50-minute mark, have heard Tom talk about a little MIDI device he prototyped with me in mind. I thought I’d share some images and some context, by way of saying thanks to Tom.

I’d been asking online (via Twitter and Facebook mostly) for some time as to why there isn’t a super small, portable MIDI device that has faders, pots, and endless knobs. I’d located various DIY projects with varying degrees of clarity in their instructions, and fixated for awhile on one, the k4b4, that I found on a Japanese website (picture below in case the site ever goes dead), but it appeared to be sold out; nothing else seemed to come close to what I had imagined. And even this one lacks faders:

Height wasn’t of particular concern, but I figured something roughly the length and width of a credit card or small mobile phone would be perfect. I wanted something I could keep in my backpack without ever having to consider its volume or heft.

Then Tom got in touch. Let’s start with the finished object, before getting to some process materials. This is the top and bottom view. The length is just under 4 inches, and the width is just over 1.75 inches.

And this is it fit snug in one of the smallest Pelican cases, along with a USB cable:

Tom ran a few PCB (printed circuit board) designs by me in rapid succession, with different combinations and permutations of controls. Ultimately, I decided that the pairing of pots and endless knobs was more important than buttons, since I’d often be using it with something like a laptop. Keyboards have more than enough buttons.

As it came together, he shared images:

And, of course, there is a unique — and for me brand new — experience of seeing one’s name on a printed circuit board. The “PSM” stands for “phone-sized MIDI.”

Here’s the full interview (originally on YouTube) with Tom:

More from Tom Whitwell and Music Thing at musicthing.co.uk.

By Marc Weidenbaum

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  • Marc Weidenbaum founded the website Disquiet.com in 1996 at the intersection of sound, art, and technology, and since 2012 has moderated the Disquiet Junto, an active online community of weekly music/sonic projects. He has written for Nature, Boing Boing, The Wire, Pitchfork, and NewMusicBox, among other periodicals. He is the author of the 33 1⁄3 book on Aphex Twin’s classic album Selected Ambient Works Volume II. Read more about his sonic consultancy, teaching, sound art, and work in film, comics, and other media

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