Matthew Herbert is known for using found sounds in his music, but hearing some of the stuff he’s using in his new album and performance piece One Pig, we’re thinking that pig innards are not exactly the kind of thing you “find” as opposed to actively look for. The music is based on the life of an actual pig raised on a farm and slaughtered for consumption at the age of six months. Herbert recorded sounds of the pig, ate some of it, and used its bones and skin to make percussive instruments used on the record. On stage, a crew of men in lab coats operate various electronic devices, triggering the pig sounds in an ongoing tribute to its life.
Among its unconventional instrumentation, One Pig incorporates a musical instrument that caught our eye. The Sty Harp, aptly named for resembling the fence of an actual pig sty, is operated using several wires one pulls to trigger various pig sounds. As it turns out, band member Yann Seznec built the Sty Harp himself using electronic items. Do we smell a how-to? Yes. That, and bacon.
For this project, you’ll need a computer with Ableton Live, an Arduino, a Mux Shield, and, most importantly, something very hard to find. Seznec somehow had a whole collection of obsolete game controllers called Gametraks. Before Kinect existed, this was the best the gaming world had to offer in terms of motion control. You’d actually have to attach the strings to your hands so that the game would know how far and roughly at what angle you were standing relative to the console. The idea turned out to be as ridiculous as it sounds in a Kinect-blessed world, and as it turned out, they served an integral purpose for the Sty Harp.
First off, you have to tear apart a few Gametraks, which shouldn’t be too hard to find the motivation for if you’ve ever played on one. What you want are the string/joystick controllers and their sensors. Seznec extracted a dozen of these for his Sty Harp.
Now hook up your Arduino to your Mux Shield. Basically, the Mux Shield increases the Arduino’s capacity for inputs. In this case, you need 36—parameters x, y, and string for each of the 12 string controllers. Too much to comprehend at once? If so, attach a Mux Shield to your brain so you’ve got a bit more capacity for this kind of input. In any case, here’s what it looks like with all the wiring done.
Now it’s time to set it up to send MIDI to Ableton Live. Seznec used some custom software from Lucky Frame, which could handle the amount of data. In the end, you’re looking at 12 MIDI channels, and they’re looking right back at you. And judging you.
Now it’s time to build the strings into the shape of a fence, allowing this instrument to live up to its name. Fence yourself in on three sides, with four parallel control strings making up each side. As soon as you’re done you should, from your vantage point, be feeling pretty swine-like.
Finally, play the thing! Seznec used pig sounds in line with the Matthew Herbert project, but you can assign any sound or effect to each string and control it. Got kids? Build a fourth side and turn it into a playpen that makes electrocution sounds any time they touch a string. You’ll be a lousy parent, but a creative one.