About: I love tools and makign things, especially quirky constructions that might have been made if a particular stream of technology was pursued.

Let me introduce you to a new concept - Decotopianism

Whilst Steampunk is a well established movement yeilding some wonderful creativity, there is apparently little documenting the quantum shift of technology of 1925-1939 and most importantly the integration of art into that technology - This movement is Art Deco.

Art Deco I beleive was a hodge podge of inspirations which capitalised on new materials and new shapes and forms which were starting to crop up at the time.
For example, Egyptology from the discovery of the Pharoes tombs in Egypt (the inspiration for 20's ladies fashion), the huge upsurge in Aviation and how it broke down the walls of travel and gave people the excitement and optimism of what possibilities were around the corner for mankind.

Electronics were starting to become commonplace, 'Wireless' (or radio as we call it), huge broadcast ariels to beam the music, news and theater to these devices were becoming a common sight. These shapes were inspiring a whole generation with an icon to celebrate the technological progress and a step into the unknown. It seemed anything was possible in the Art Deco era - and people damn well had a jolly good go at experimenting in both styles and technologies!

The first mass production non-metallic moulded shapes were coming into fashion with the readily available Bakelite. Knobs and inlays could be made in any shape or size and at minimal cost and in pretty much any colour.

Art Deco in my mind is all about 'motifs' that is the featured lines that appear to poise the piece of furniture as if it is about to take off like a plane or rocket, like it is reaching out to the future. take a look at the Douglas DC3, or the AWA radio tower in Sydney - they just reach mankind sykward to the future.

Writers of the time were also experimenting, with drugs and with the future.... and the inspiration for my first Instructable comes from Aldous Huxley - who wrote the book 'Brave New World' - read it, even if it is the only book you ever will read - it will change the way you think about our society.

In the book Huxley talks about a drug called 'Soma' that was only available to the 'Alpha's' - a group of specially 'cultured' humans who were segregated from the rest of society as being the most intelligent of all of societies engineered casts.

Alpha's could go out and take Soma and listen to 'son et lumiere' (sound and light performances) in special theaters. The music consisted of many sounds but most prominently 'great creciendos of bass' that, with the Soma, warmed the soul and heightened perceptions and was used by the overseers to stop their intelligent minds from realising that they had been manifactured.

One can presume here that Huxley is talking about the feeling that most of us are lucky to have experienced with MDMA - a sensory rush.

So to honor Huxley and to make my two year old daughter a very cool first instrument. I decided that I would build the instrument that made these creciendo's of bass and style it in the Art Deco form. (cant seem to make video embed work! sorry)

This device uses the Arduino controller and the Pocket Piano Synthesizer keyboard add on from Critters and Guitari that I picked up at Maker Faire in SF earlier this year. I havent got the first clue about electronics and I am sure many of you don't have either, so what I did here is put together a collection of readily available household devices to make a single independant (and electrically safe) musical instrument and furntiture piece.

I am keen to indulge myself fully in the DECOTOPIAN style - the fashion, the technology, the naivety and 'chin up' nature of the common language at the time all inspire awe in me. If only we had stayed so exited and focussed.

I would love to hear from anyone who is interested in collaborating on DECOTOPIAN projects in the future or who is as fascinated as I am by this era.

Cheerio for now - I hope you enjoy the Instructable!


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Step 1: Getting the Components Organised

I knew that I was in under a lot of pressure at work and that I wouldnt have time to produce something with a high level of craftmanship, nor electrical standard - yet, I really needed to get my teeth into something fast.

So I drove to 'the Bower', a reverse garbage yard in Marrickville and found this hall dresser, which would have at some point had a mirror and hooks down the side for making onself look dashing in ont he way out to the races.

I was looking for a curved art deco veneered surface that I could make the centrepiece or 'motif' of the Somaphone.... this hall dresser was perfect and I knew from experieince that with a bit of french polish this would come up like knew as there was no water damage to the veneer.

I wasn't too fussed about getting good veneered timber for the sides and back until I built a complete unit. The motif piece was most important to get right.


I unscrewed the dresser and saved all of the screws - I recycle everything and most of my projects contain noting but recycled materials - even the finishes are second hand from garage sales etc.

Once I had the main face I trimmed off the bottom to make it the right height off the ground(about 45cm)

I then went on the Critter and Guitari website and downloaded the hole guide (template for drilling the holes for the keys and dials).

I had to upscale it using paint as good the much troubled VISTA screws up TIFF files making them print out smaller than they actually are. (C&G; boys - you could sort this out with a PDF file version????)

I taped it where I wanted it and eyed it up for form.

Step 3: Building the Frame and Drilling the Holes

Before drilling the holes I build a basic base and back support frame as I didnt want to damage the flimsy veneer curve.

So by recycling some of the timber out of the dresser and using those screws I saved I made a very strong base.

I then found some 8mm dowel that I thought would be good for the keys and drilled out all of the holes to 9mm (after checking that the dowel moved freely in the holes)

I also drilled out the wholes for the dials, on/off switch and the on-light with the same drill, just for location.

I also test fitted the Arduino board underneath and noticed that the Pots supplied for the dials would not be long enough to get through the timber - grrrr - deal with that one later. Nothing can't be fixed!

Step 4: Getting the Electronics Ready

Now I had a frame I had to see what I could fit in it... I found a pair of old (high)powered computer speakers which had oodles of bass and could hit pretty low frequencies.. the holy grail for me being 10 Hz

The great thing about these speakers is that they are 240 Volt, they are wired with a plug.... no electronics knowledge required!

I then got a powerboard and a small adaptor to run the Arduino.

Too easy!

Step 5: Fit the Electronics Into the Cabinet

I decided to only use one of the speakers (Arduino is Mono and I didnt have a splitter)

So I screwed them into the base and then used cable clamps to secure the cabling.

I did the same with the powerboard, using its screw locator holes (on the underside) to fix it firmly in place

The Arduino and Pocket Piano was fitted to the underside of the top by using some standoffs that I made from bits of chopped up irrigation tubing/ I also cable clamped this in place, taking care to not have any dangling cables that put undue stress on the PCB connections.

Electronics fitted!

Step 6: Make the Sides and the Back and the Speaker Grate.

In the absence of having any decent veneered timber, I chose to go for the old favorite of flat black on MDF. Flat black was used quite a lot in old gramaphone sets to make the 'wood look' dissapear.

Thus stage was very quick and easy, I just made up some batons out of the old dresser frame and put two holes in each, I then countersunk the holes to about 1" deep so that the old screws could be used.

I screwed these batons around the top and bottom three sides leaving a 13 middle gap to the edge (this allowed for 10mm for the MDF, then a few mm to give a nice overhang.

The speaker grate was made by drawing a circle on the one side and then making three strips withing the circle by drawing around a coin and joining the lines.

I then drilled a 10 mm hole in each of the sections that I wanted to cut out to fit the jigsaw blade in.

final finishing was made with a dremel with a sander drum on it.

Once again - poainted it flat black and then stapled some spare mesh I had lying around on the inside.

I also fitted some nice old bronze handles that I got from an old cupboard on each side.... these look really good

Step 7: Make the Keys

I am really annoyed, I dont seem to have any photos of my button making process which was quite ingenious I thought!

I chop sawed up as many buttons as I needed, each one being about 25mm long. I then put them in the chuck of my rechargeable drill and rotated them against the dremel sanding drum which I held in the other hand.

After a bit of trial and error it was really easy to get a nice domed button top in less than 1 minute for each one.

I then dipped the top of each button in its appropriate colour, I used Tamiya Exhaust bronze for on/off, some old gold paint for the piano's black keys and the flat black for the white keys.

Knowing that these keys would have to be pretty hard wearing I gave them all two coats (top only) of gloss varnish and let them dry.

Its important that you mop up any drips or runs at the time or you will have to go back and sand them again so that they move freely int he sockets (I found this and it took a frustrating while to do!)

Step 8: Making the Knobs for the Dials

I purchased some vintage style knobs. This is the only bit of the entire project that I bought new... but at $.79 cents each - It wasnt too painful!

I had to work out some way to extend the shafts from the 'Pocket Piano's' variaqble resistors.

So I experimented with a few things and then found something that was unbeleivably hardwearing considering how flimsy it looked.

I took some wall-plugs (the plastic things that you hammer into walls so that screws have something to bite into) and I chopped them to length. I then cut a little slit into the top of the variable resistors and the wall plugs (about 3mm in each). This was easy with a dremel cutting disc (this was finer than a junior hacksaw and didnt require any additional clamping)

Then i cut some tiny strips of .5mm plate aluminium and made these into little 6mm x 5 mm 'joiners'

Then I got some good ole superglue and joined them together. I let these get absolutely rock hard overnight and then screwed on the knobs.


they havent broken yet and my Daughter gives them plently of hard use.

Step 9: Finishing Touches and Epilogue

So finally I had got all of the componenets worked out and stuck them together. I then french polished the veneer section (5 coats) and put it all back together.

Its the talk of all our visitors... they either think it is spooky (which is a good sign - that 30's electric instrument mystique like a Theramin)or they think its amazing that a little inconspicuous box can churn out some serious sound.

I will be upgrading it as I find peices here and then. I am thinkign I will make a matching drum machine and theramin to make a set - any other suggestions?

My only complaint is that the 'Pocket Piano' doesnt seem to octave properly? is this normal?

You could easily form a little band with this gear and even do shows with it.

I am excited about the possibilities here... I think I am also goign to make a refridgerator and a robot in this style...!

I'm keen to hear from people who want to do similar!

Step 10: Video



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    Got the exact same speakers, but with doodles all over 0_o awesome.

    I've still got those speakers in the attic somewhere :) Nice use of them. Love the smooth design.

    Dang, Jeremy---I was just wondering how on Earth I could construct a Decotopian Somaphone... How did you know?? :?)


    I love the somaphone. Regarding the discussion of terms Decopunk and Decotopia and their implications: have you seen the film La Antena? It's Argentinian but almost silent so if you view a trailer here - - you can get a bit of the atmosphere without speaking Spanish. It was on BBC tv recently with English subtitles The film is definitely dystopian but has a hopeful ending and is one of the best I have ever seen. The somaphone would look right at home here.

    Very nice! You've done a beautiful job of re-creating the Art Deco aesthetic. it's a lovely thing! However, Decopunk isn't exactly new. I coined the term myself in 2005, and brought it up on some forums I'm on. As a result of which there's Decopunk music been written, Decopunk art made, and a Decopunk LJ community made earlier this year, which admittedly needs a bit more work on it, but I've been busy.:) It's lovely to meet someone else who had the same idea, and is as enamoured of the aesthetic. Cheers!

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    Hats off to you, my friend - you totally beat me to the punch! Here I was poised to champion a movement, and you've already done it!

    well lets get cracking! what next.... in true competitive style I set the guantlet at a decotopian R2D2. There is scope for beautiful curves and inlay work some 30's whirring noises and a that smell of 30's electronics. I suggest that any decotopian device be fitted with radio valves (the old glass transistors) wether they do anything or not, it is essential for the replication of the 30's smell. I have my eyes set on an eight foot tall DecoMan sculpture, I kind of beautiful veneer and inlaid 'the day the earth stood still' type robot. any other ideas - airships? refridgerators? I think the general theme for the decotopian style is a regular object transformed to be made out of wood/veneer and inlays - I am also thinking that it is compulsory to have a red light signifiying its electrical status. Robotrix - how do you fancy collaborating on 'the decotopian mandate' a set of style guidelines for the movement

    I'll take you up on that - a decotopian manifesto? shoot me an email at chriskasurak at gmail point com and we'll talk more there.

    Vary nice, but we really need to hear or see it being played!

    1 reply

    okay okay - firstly sorry for the crappy photos, my trusty casio Exlim is starting to have a few issues, also it doesnt seem to pick up and of the sub bass when I use the video function. I will upload a short video I made until I get a window to do a full demo (by the way I can't play piano!) My efforts for gettign a video up have been further hampered by my apprentice who is not very good at handling technology yet.... Im onto it

    That looks like a really fun project! I've never seen that arduino pocket piano sheild before - looks like a fun gadget! It's a shame the macro photos didn't come out as amazing as this project deserves :S Still, 5 from me!

    Very cool! Not a fan of *punk though-- why not just "deco"? What does the "punk" suffix denote? It's all just FUTURETRO anyway...;)

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    the -punk suffix is used to imply that there is an opression against which the protagonist of a story might be battling. Typically steampunk and cyberpunk lit is set in a dystopian milieu, and even if the protagonist does achieve their goal, one might see that the greater framework of the society remains depressingly unchanged. so /there/, art school!

    Thanks for all the great feedback guys. Yes I have to admit that I was scraping the barrel a bit with 'Decopunk' - I think Decotopian is the right phase as is captures the style, vision and the optimism of the era. So I have changed the instructable accordingly. [thanks jcomtois/robotrix and Morgan303!] Lets try and re-inforce the phrase and get some cool projects happening.

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    I like the sound of it. I think a lot of the typewriter based projects i've seen around probably fit better under the framework of Decotopian than steampunk, actually, since the typewriter we recognize today wasn't around until 1910-ish. Let's bond together to get this movement off the ground!

    well thought out comments about decopunk. The only critique I might offer is that with the established styles of steampunk and cyberpunk, there is a definite dystopian feel. The idea is one of unbounded progress, yes, but it also hinges on a pessimism and a struggle against controlling powers. The mood you're capturing here, "the fashion, the technology, the naivety and 'chin up' nature of the common language at the time ..." are more suitable for a post-cyberpunk sort of story that deals with more optimistic themes of change. What I'm getting at is that while you have done an incredible and ingenious job of capturing the Art Deco feel with your classy instrument, calling it Deco-punk adds a bit of a downward drag to the feeling of exploration and optimism that was embodied in that period. Unfortunately I can't really think of a social movement that could neatly be tacked on to the end of your name like punk was for the other styles. Any Ideas?

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    Cyberpunk and steampunk in my view have an exciting balance of both the boundless optimism of a world that still had frontiers to be challenged, and a pleasing naivety, as well as the hint of a darker, dystopian future. I think any speculative society or culture will have this balance/dichotomy, and for Decopunk the balance is the more oppressive, militaristic aesthetic that grew up at the same time as all the jazz'n'flappers. Remember we're dealing historically with an aesthetic that evolved during WW1, and continued to grow through the rise of Communism, the Great Depression and WW2. I love the sense of hope, of pride in the power of human capability, and trust that the future will be a better place, but at the same time, the journey leads to some very dark places. It's as much of a balance as any of the other 'punks, because no society, even a speculative one, is complete without both its light and dark sides. Decopunk as subset of cyber- and Steam- punk deals with the birth of modernism and of futurism, revelations about war, and total societal breakdown through recession - as well as greater gender equality, optimism, all-night jazz parties and Louise Brooks.:) That contrast of naivety and dystopia is quite poignant, don't you think?

    I can't say I feel the same way about the weighting of positive and negative feeling in cyberpunk, but I definitely appreciate what you're saying about Decotopia. There is a real joie de vivre that stands out in stark contrast to the ambient opression and depression of the day. It was a powerful time, and one that really does deserve to be recognized every bit as cultishly by the internet as that age of steam and the future have been.

    How about just "Decotopian?"