Introduction: Build a BLOX!

About: Hi i'm James! I'm currently studying an MSc in Audio Technology at the University of Wolverhampton, UK. I also work as a visiting lecturer at the university and I co-manage two separate music studios, one in…

The BLOX is an interactive electronic musical device that allows the user to place objects of a variety of shapes and sizes into the BLOX to create a wide variety of soundscapes.

The BLOX can also be designed to interact with an ensemble of other electronic instruments.

Using this step by step guide, you will be able to build and develop your very own BLOX instrument!

Operating the BLOX can be easy and self taught. To create a sound simply place an object less than 6.6cm x 11cm in diameter on one of the six colours and the weight of the object will activate the note.

Disclaimer: This tutorial will show you how to make a BLOX using 2 x KNAGGLIG boxes from IKEA (2015).

If you do not have access to these materials then please see final section: Appendix.

BLOX Demonstration Video:

Useful Links:

Max patch
The Patch can be found here:

Any further questions please email me at:

Step 1: ​Step 1: What You Will Need

1 x Max 7 Software

1 x Laptop (for this demonstration we will be using a Macbook Pro running OSX 10.10) 1 x Arduino NANO (w/ USB) 1 x Potentiometer

2 x KNAGGLIG Boxes from IKEA Size: 23x31x15 cm

6 x Square Force Sensitive Resistors

1 x Soldering Iron

Shrink Wrap (1 Metre)

1 x Lead Free Solder

1 x Mini Solder Clamp

30 x Solid core jumper wires

1 x Potentiometer

1 x Hack saw

1 x Screwdriver (Philips)

1 x Screwdriver (Flathead)

Conductive wire (copper) (2 metres)

1 x Wood Adhesive

1 x 830-point Breadboard

1 x Mini-Breadboard

6 x Colour A4 Card (1 piece for each colour)

1 x Wire Cutter

1 x Super Glue

1 x A4 Fine Sandpaper

550 grams of Lavazza ground coffee

Step 2: ​Step 2: Carpentry

What you will need for step 2:

2 x KNAGGLIG boxes (with included screws)

1 x Hack saw

1 x Wood adhesive

1 x Screwdriver (Philips)

1 x Screwdriver (Flathead)

1 x Clamp

Unpack the first KNAGGLIG box and begin assembling the box. The instructions can be found here:

This box is to be assembled in the original manner with only one exception. Do not screw bottom piece as this must be left free to open and close when required.

The corners of the base section from box 2 must be cut at the corners. To do this measure 2.5cm x 2.5cm from each corner and cut the section off each of the four corners.

Once each corner has been cut off take each piece and apply adhesive to two adjoining sides of the piece. Then, place them inside box one against each of the four corners. The top of each piece needs to be placed 8cm up the height of the box. This is to allow the base of box 2 to sit in the middle of the inside of box 1.

Once dry place the base of box 2 inside box 1 so that it sits on the four pieces you just glued to the inside. You may want to add some adhesive to the bottom of the base section so that it 'sticks' the four pieces.

On the middle base you can now draw out your measurements for the top panels. Draw a line down the middle, width ways (as if the shortest sides are on your left & right). This will be your centre wall.

While you are waiting for this to dry, locate four wooden panels from box 2 (these should measure at 1 cm x 6.8 cm x 28.8 cm). You may need to use the flathead screwdriver or nail remover to 'break' free the wooden panels.

You will now, using the clamp and hacksaw, need to measure and cut off 8cm from one side of the panels so that they now measure as follows: 1 cm x 6.8 cm x 20.8 cm.

Once cut, apply a generous amount of adhesive to one of the 1cm sides (on the length of the panel) and place each panel on their side (1cm) across the width of the box. These should also be placed at equal distance from each other.

Now, take one of the wooden panels from box 2 that measures 1 cm x 6.8 cm x 22.8 cm and cut into three equal sections that al measure at 1 cm x 6.8 cm x 6.4 cm. Note: Two of the panels may have a contour so avoid using these.

Once cut, place a generous amount of adhesive onto the two longest sides that measure 1cm in width. These can now be placed in between the four panels that were placed earlier. Be sure to follow the measurements on the middle base and place the panels down the centre of the box.

Finally, take one of the support beams from box 2 (you may need to remove this by force) and glue it to the bottom of your main base. This will act as a handle for you to remove the base from the box.

You should allow twenty-four hours for the wood adhesive to dry.

The soldering iron can also be used to engrave your name onto the box.

Step 3: ​Step 3: Wiring

What you will need for step 4:

1 x Soldering Iron

1 x Lead free Solder

1 x Wiring (2 metres)

1 x Shrink Wrap (1 Metre)

1 x Soldering Clamp

1 x Potentiometer

30 x solid core jumper cables

(Note: The Soldering Iron will get hot. Please take extra care when using this equipment.)

Note: Make sure you wire the Analogue inputs to their respective colours on the BLOX. They are as follows:

1 = Green

2 = Blue

3 = Yellow

4 = Black (BLOX Logo)

5 = Red

6 = Potentiometer

The breadboards can easily be attached with superglue or they may already come with peel back sticky adhesive.

Attach a solid core jumper cable form the Arduino's ground to one of the tracks on the breadboard.

Do the same with the 5 volt output.

If your Arduino has more than one ground, attach this to a separate track on the breadboard. This will be used for the Potentiometer.

First of all cut to size 12 pieces of wire each measuring 30cm. Now, attach your first sensor pad to your soldering clamp and 'tint' the two small pins with a small amount of solder. Be careful not to touch the plastic on the sensor.

Next, clamp one of the wires to the soldering clamp and 'tint' both ends. Once the solder is cool, move the clamps so that the wire is touching one of the pins from the sensor. Now, heat up both the wire and the pin so that the solder from the wire attaches itself to the solder on the pin. You may need to add more solder during this process.

Repeat the above for each pin on each of the six sensors.

With the other end of each wire, attach a solid core jumper cable to using the method of soldering explained above. This will enable you to attach the wires to the Breadboard easily. The shrink wrap can be cut to size and used to protect the solder joints.

Attach each of the right outlet pins form the sensors to one track of the breadboard. On this track add your 10kOhm resistors so that they connect to your ground track. Now, from the breadboard, use a solid core jumper cable to connect from the breadboard to the Arduino. Follow the schematics to properly insert each sensor to their relative analogue input.

For the Potentiometer, attach three wires to each of the pins. Run these wires down the gap that is left in between the middle base and the sides of the box (you may have to use the same gap that the Force Sensors are using). Then, attach a jumper cable to each wire using the method explained above. Once connected, insert the jumper cables to their relevant patch on the breadboard using the schematics. Again, you may need to patch multiple jumper cables around the breadboard in order to reach the Arduino. Use super glue to attach the potentiometer to the BLOX.

Once completed you can now cut pieces of coloured cardboard to shape and place them inside the slots. This is to cover the sensors form dust or debris.

Step 4: ​Step 4: MAX Patch

What you will need for step 6:

1 x Laptop or desktop PC

1 x Max 7

1 x Arduino Nano (clone)

Before we start here is a video explaining the patch in detail:

First: Before we truly begin, we must first prepare the Arduino Nano.

(The following is an excerpt from this guide:

Download the driver:

Double click the ZIP file and unzip it

Open the folder ~/Downloads/CH341SER_MAC

Run installer found in that folder If asked to restart, do not restart just yet.

This next step is only needed if you are on OS-X Yosemite. For older versions of OS-X you do not need it: Open Terminal Application (it's located in /Application/Utilities) and type this command once you see a prompt:

sudo nvram boot-args="kext-dev-mode=1"

Now restart your Mac

Second: Install the Firmata server

Download and install the Arduino Software: (The installation instructions are within the file)

Once installed, download ‘Maxuino v.007’ and save to a preferred location (we’ll need this later). Now, open the Arduino Software and connect your Arduino Nano to the laptop via USB. At the top go to ‘Tools’ and select ‘Board:Arduino Nano’. Then select ‘Processor: ATmega168’ Once connected, go to File: Examples: Firmata: ‘StandardFirmata’. Once loaded click ‘UPLOAD’ to load the code to the Arduino Close Arduino Software

Third: Get the Arduino to talk to Max Load file ‘maxuino.maxhelp’ Select ‘Print’ and select the Arduino from the dropdown menu. Turn on the ‘Analogue Pins’ As you press the force sensor pads the number boxes should display the output from the sensors (between 0.0 - 0.99). Save the patch. Note: You can delete all the other inputs and SERVO from the patch.

That’s it! The Arduino should now be fully operational with Max 7.

Max patch

The Patch can be found here:

Use the "MAIN BLOX.maxpat" for solo demonstration.

Use "BLOX final live ensemble .maxpat" for ensemble demonstration.

Here is a video of the Max patch being constructed:

Step 5: Future Development

With BLOX there are many ways in which to adapt the design and functionality of the product in order to suit a variety of different means. There are many different applications that the BLOX can be adapted for including educational, recreational, or performance as part of an ensemble or concerto. Future development ideas include attaching an accelerometer to the inside of the box and using it to manipulate the sounds by picking up and moving the box around. Another idea would be to use it as an educational device in which to teach learners a variety of skills and enhance sensory development.

The idea behind the BLOX is that it needs to be both engaging and simple at the same time. The interface must not be complicated and it must not take the user long to gather the skills and knowledge of how to operate the equipment.

As Ullmer and Ishii (2001) suggest, a "tangible user interface" is not an input device, there is no distinction between "input" and "output". Instead, the device serves as a manipulable physical representation of values and operations. With the BLOX system, we can determine its use as a tangible device by describing the object as a manipulable physical representation of the operations. As the user places an object onto the surface of the pressure pads, they activate the notes that are assigned to that section of the box. This can then be manipulated using more pressure (heavier object) or using the potentiometer to change the values of the effects or timbre of the note.

The Reactable (Jorda, 2004) is a good example of how the BLOX can be developed to allow camera input to read certain aspects of the object placed. For example, in place of the force sensor pads, a small webcam could be implemented under perspex glass. This will then read certain features such as colour or symbols. As an educational tool this will enable the learner to develop cognitive skills related to sound.

As Jordà (2004) suggests, playing and creating music with the help of digital tools can be a social and collective experience that integrates both collaboration and competition. The key phrases here are collective experience and collaboration which implies that the use of this particular tool could be utilised as an educational tool.

Froggies (Nimoy, 2004) is another device that can influence future development of the BLOX. With Froggies, a table with a screen embedded into the surface acts as an arena for virtual life. Children can then react with the virtual life by placing various symbolic markers on the table and sliding them around. This is an educational tool that engages the user and enhances the collaborative experience of the learner. With BLOX, a similar approach can be developed using the slots as numbers that generate a variety of sounds. For example, the learner can be given a math question with each possible answer displayed, using an LED display next to each sensor, which the learner then has to press (or place and object) onto in order to give their answer.

Ullmer and Ishii (2001) firmly believe that tangible user interfaces and table based tangible interfaces in which digital information becomes graspable with the direct manipulation of simple objects available on a table surface, can fulfil many of the special needs brought by the new live computer music performance paradigms. The BLOX serves as a table based interface that can enable the user to learn new ways in which to develop and interact with a human-computer interaction device.

The BLOX is open to further development.


Jordà, S. Kaltenbrunner, M. Geiger, G. Alonso. M (2007) The reacTable: Exploring the Synergy between Live Music Performance and Tabletop Tangible Interfaces [online]. [Accessed 21st May 2015]. Available at:

Nimoy, J (2004) Froggies: New York University, Interactive Telecommunications Program [online]. [Accessed 21st May 2015]. Available at:

Ullmer, B. Ishii, H. (2001) Emerging Frameworks for Tangible User Interfaces [online]. [Accessed 21st May 2015]. Available at:

The pictures attached to this step were taken during a live performance with the BLOX. The BLOX was performed as part of an ensemble of four different instruments. The score was projected onto the back wall as an alternative visualisation of the notation. The performers responded to this and the piece was performed without any major issues. The performance took place at the University of Wolverhampton on May 21st 2015. This is an example of how the BLOX can be used as part of a live performance.

Step 6: Appendix

If you do not have access to 2 x KNAGGLIG Boxes from IKEA, then you will need to obtain the following. A larger piece of wood (pine recomended) can easily be cut to size if necessary.

The following measurements are what you will need if you wish to build the BLOX from scratch.

4 x 1 cm x 6.8 cm x 22.7 cm Wooden Panels (pine)

4 x 1 cm x 6.8 cm x 28.8 cm Wooden Panels (pine)

4 x 1 cm x 6.8 cm x 20.7 cm Wooden Panels (pine)

3 x 1 cm x 6.8 cm x 6.4 cm Wooden Panels

4 x 2.5 x 2.5 x 2.5 cm Wooden Blocks (Middle base support)

1 x 2.3 cm x 8.6cm x 21 cm (Base)

1 x 2.3 cm x 7.6cm x 17 cm (Middle Base Section)

4 x 2.5 cm x 2.5 cm x 12 cm (Inside Support Beams)

1 x 12 cm x 2.5 cm x 1.5 cm (Handle)

2 x 20.5 cm x 2.5 cm x 1.5 cm (Feet)

32 x Nails