Video

The Percussion Kitchen is an electronic rhythm instrument that uses household cooking items as its drums and cymbals. A durable arcade button controller triggers a servo motor plus an array of solenoids that strike the various objects to produce acoustic, percussive sounds.

It was designed and built by New York-based artists/designers Devin Curry and Ben Gullard, who are graduate students at NYU ITP.

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DESIGN

Our goal was to create a whimsical noisy instrument out of ordinary objects, and to combine that with an intuitive controller configuration that would allow it to be used as a serious musical tool.

The Percussion Kitchen idea started with the cheese grater, which we discovered was capable of producing several interesting sounds when struck or scraped in different parts of the tool.

BELOW: (top row, left to right) Concept sketches for the Percussion Kitchen in chronological order. (bottom row) The final sketch and foamcore mockup that preceded fabrication of the finished piece.

After settling on three cheese grater sounds - the mid frequency side of the grater’s “bell,” the high frequency cross piece, and the Latin-inspired scraping sound of dragging a fork along the grater’s ridge pattern - we expanded upon the kitchen theme with the addition of Tupperware containers, pepper shaker, and the wooden surface of the box itself. Our goal in selecting these sounds was to provide the user with a drum kit’s worth of textures (kick drum, snare drum, high hat, ride cymbal, etc.) that could be used to play musical beats in a new sonic context.

ABOVE: The first working prototype. The controller design remained unchanged for the final version.

The frame went through several iterations in order for us to find the ideal arrangement for the motors and “drums,” as well as the best mechanisms for keeping everything stable and sounding crisp. Our first working prototype was a four-column design with the cheese grater suspended inside the frame. We used recycled wood pieces to construct it. After testing it extensively, we decided to stay with the four columns but to refined the top of the frame to improve the stability of the cheese grater. We also moved the “scraper” servo from the frame to a separate piece (a thematically-appropriate wooden ladle); this allowed the angle of the scraper to be fine-tuned in order to perfect the texture of the sound. The other major adjustment was to change the material of the dampeners from soft foam to firmer wine corks. This adjustment greatly improved the dampeners’ ability to reduce the resonance of cheese grater. Finally, we housed all of our wiring inside the wooden box.

To design the controller, we researched beatmakers and their finger drumming techniques on such MIDI controllers as the Midifighter, Novation Launchpad, and Akai APC series. From the very start, we chose the Sanwa arcade buttons as the input devices because of their durability, responsiveness, and proven success with the existing Midifighter product. We mocked up two ergonomic controller layouts - nicknamed “The Bearclaw” and “Jesus Fish” based on their shapes - and play tested the prototypes with our colleagues. We ultimately settled on the symmetrical “Bearclaw” design, which allowed for both one and two-handed playing, as well as better versatility in mapping the buttons to different sounds. We found the perfect-sized cutting board to keep the controller aesthetically linked to the kitchen theme.

BELOW: (top) Foamcore mock up of the “Jesus Fish” controller layout, used in playtesting. (bottom) The foamcore and final versions of the “Bearclaw” controller design.

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CIRCUITRY

All wiring is run through an Arduino Uno, which receives input from the buttons and sends output to the motors. While it is conceivable to control the solenoids using current without the Arduino, we opted to use the Arduino to allow the inclusion of the servo motor in the instrument and to keep our options open for expanding the Percussion Kitchen’s functionality in future iterations.

Initially, we thought we would need to use an Arduino Mega to accommodate all the digital inputs and outputs the solenoids required, but we were able to work around this by programming the analog ports to work in a binary fashion without affecting performance. Adding any more motors to the Percussion Kitchen, however, would require upgrading to the Mega.

The solenoids are rated at 24v and, to ensure all 8 solenoids could deploy at once, we used a benchtop power supply to provide the full 24v. The servo is rated for 5v and was controlled by a separate circuit board, powered by the Uno’s 5v power supply.

The Uno and circuit boards sit inside of the wooden box, a recycled shipping crate for liquor bottles that we sanded down to expose the natural wood grain.

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ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

Special thanks to Benedetta Piantella for her invaluable guidance and support. Also, much gratitude to our colleagues Kina Smith and Kelly Saxson for their generous and timely assistance.

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CONTACT

LEFT: devin(at)speakofthedevin.com     RIGHT: bengullard(at)gmail.com

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PRESS

Here are some articles that feature the Percussion Kitchen:

Forbes.com - “ITP’s Winter Show - A Peek Into The Future” by Steven Rosenbaum

Make Magazine - “Trends in Tech and Other Highlights from ITP’s 2013 Winter Show” by Nick Normal

Synthtopia - “Kitchen Items + Robotics + Arduino Control = The Percussion Kitchen”