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A Physicist Is Crafting MIDI Controllers Out of Paper

Using conductive ink and capacitive touch, singer Cornelia and scientist Kate Stone can effectively turn any surface into a MIDI controller.

by Kevin Holmes
Jun 15 2015, 1:45pm

Full of echoing electronica and entrancing beats, Swedish musician Cornelia's latest album, Balun, drops today on DIY label Camp Mozart records, available in all the usual formats and one unusual one too: Should you desire, you can buy the album as a playable album poster with a built-in speaker that lets you play songs by touch. It's the result of a collaboration between Cornelia and Kate Stone, a former physicist and founder of Novalia, who specialises in creating unconventional electronic devices from unexceptional surfaces, like paper. Using conductive inks, mini circuit boards, and capacitive sensing, Stone's company has in the past created paper drumkits and turned album covers into mixing decks. 

In addition to the poster, the pair have also been working on a paper MIDI controller that can be integrated with Ableton Live and used for performing. The MIDI controller uses the same tech as the poster but combines it with MIDI processing and Bluetooth to allow for wireless connectivity. Their progress directs towards a prototype which Cornelia has been testing by mapping it to various Ableton functions. 

"What drives me to participate in this project is the possibility to design and build my very own MIDI controller in a material that is extremely light and hopefully relatively low cost. It's not the only way to approach this dream, but the pros I see in this technology are evident," Cornelia tells The Creators Project. "So far it's most useful for launching samples I've programmed into my live set or for playing a software synth on my printed keys. The hope is that we can implement a slider/fader so that it will be possible to use different effects in a more creative way."


The audio poster and printed MIDI. Image courtesy the artists

The idea doesn't end with paper, either. Cornelia and Stone want to expand it and investigate the potential of printed MIDI to transform all kinds of mundane surfaces into MIDI controllers—meaning walls, floors, stage objects and props, and clothing can all become integrated parts of the performance.

"Printed MIDI helps adding interactivity to everyday objects, we do this by combining printed conductive ink on paper, plastic or card and a silicon chip attached somewhere discreetly," explains Stone. "The printed conductive inks create very simple capacitive touch sensors (similar to a smart phone) anywhere on the surface, the silicon chip detects where has been touched, converts that into a MIDI command and sends it via Bluetooth to an iPhone or MacBook. We run the Apple BLE MIDI profile, so our PrintedMIDI controllers just appear as regular MIDI devices, working with any software such as GarageBand, Ableton etc. We can print these controllers in any size from post card size to over two meters."

You can listen to an exclusive stream of the album Balun below:

Click here to learn more about Cornelia's Balun Audio Poster.

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Creators
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paper MIDI controller