Pianeau - a Water Instrument




Introduction: Pianeau - a Water Instrument

The Pianeau is a piano like instrument that is operated with water. We invented it for a school assignment on product design (at Howest Industrial Design Centre) for Bolwerk. The goal was to prototype an interactive installation with 'water' as the main theme, to be used on festivals and other gatherings.

In this instructable you can see how we prototyped a version of it using cheap materials and connections. Since this was just a 'proof of concept' prototype, it is not durable for real use. In real life you should use waterproof materials and strong connections of course. The purpose of our making was just to stand a short test for a demo.

The Pianeau was selected by Bolwerk for an expo on prototypes in Kortrijk in 2016.

We hope you enjoy the instructable and making your own quality version of the Pianeau.

Siemen Wauters, Jules Sledsens & Ellen Comhaire

Step 1: What You Need


(Please note that there are better materials to use, we name what we used)

  • an old cupboard (width 1m)
  • a water pump (ensure a high enough flow rate in proportion to your installation)
  • a large plastic bag or canvas
  • a plastic box
  • 3m thick tube (like for a garden hose)
  • 8m see through thin tube (about 1 cm diameter)
  • 1m PVC drainpipe (10 cm diameter)
  • 30cm of metal tube (1,5 cm diameter)
  • 4 wooden planks of 1m and 1 of 0,5m
  • 6 glasses (or different instruments)
  • a 1m axis
  • a tube that just fits over the axis (and still moves easily)
  • 12 cable ties
  • 6 small planks with 6 screws and bolts (or metal spoons)
  • 1 plastic sheet of 10cm diameter
  • a bit of rubber (eg. a bicycle tube)
  • drills (of the same sizes as the widths of the tubes you use)
  • a hot glue gun & sticks (or silicone and 6 T-connections)
  • glue clamps
  • wood glue

Step 2: Build the Collecting Reservoir

We started by searching a framework to which we could add all components. An old cupboard served this purpose in our case. You need 4 levels on top of each other. From top to bottom: you need a level for

1. the tubes holder

2. the instruments and handling area

3. the collecting reservoir

4. the pump reservoir

The two reservoirs are seperated so you can accoustically filter out the sound of the pump if you like by completely closing that one.

At first we made the collecting reservoir by drilling 4 holes at the size of the garden hose. 3 in the middle for the drains to the pump reservoir, 1 at the side for the tube connecting the pump to the handling panel. We glued a plank in the front to stop the water from flowing right out.

To get at least some waterproof reservoir we then glued a plastic bag (you could use a stronger canvas instead) to the bottom and the sides and finished the edges with plastic tape. We made holes in the plastic bag at the drilled holes. Fit 3 shorter tubes in the ones in the middle for draining and keep the space at the side open for the tube to connect the pump with the instrument panel. To connect the tubes we now quickly fixed them with hot glue. (No need to say that a stronger fixation and finishing with silicone would be more durable and water proof.)

Make sure your draining volume exceeds your pumps flow rate so the water can never pile up in the collection reservoir.In this way you don't only prevent overflowing, but you have more control on the sound of the falling water by adjusting what 's on the bottom. Water on water sounds louder (and thus could be louder than the instruments being hit) than water on some softer materials or plants as moss for instance.

Step 3: Make the Instrument Panel

To make the instrument panel with which you will actually play the instrument, cut the PVC tube in two halves along its full length. One half will serve as the panel, the other half will drain the water flowing out of the instrument panel.

To finish the drain pipe, drill two holes at the sides (again with a higher flow rate than the pump for proper draining), connect the holes with two longer tubes that will end in the collecting reservoir. Cut the plastic sheet of the same diameter in two and attach a piece at each side of the pipe to stop the water from escaping at the sides.

Drill 6 holes - evenly spread - in the other half to create the instrument panel. Test at which height you can best put it according to your target group. Hang it a little beneath an average elbow height for your target group for ergonomic and easy handling.

Now that you know the proper height for playing the instrument you should attach the drain pipe a little lower so the water flows from the panel straight into the drain pipe. Screw or glue a small support construction (made out of the shorter plank) for the drain to the sides of the frame. This should be quite strong since there will be a lot of water in there at times and it will have lots of physical contact with the instrument players. Somebody should be able to lean on it a little, bump it, etc. Make sure there is a small overlap so the water can't escape between the two panel and the drain.

Step 4: Wire the Tubes and Connect Them to the Playing Panel and Top Tubes Holder

Prepare the wiring by drilling holes in a wooden plank at the same positions as in the instrument panel. This plank will serve to hold the tubes in place and help support the playing panel. In each hole you will insert a piece of the smaller PVC tube untill it fits the hole in the instrument panel, and connect those.

To work at speed we connected all the tubes in this installation with hot glue, but applying T-connections and other small sanitary connections with rubber and silicone would be more durable.

Divide the thin PVC tube in about 10 cm long pieces. Drill a hole in the side (more at the end of the tube) at the size of the diameter of the smallest see through tube (with a diameter of about 1cm). In this hole, fit a small tube in that is as long as you want it to be to reach from the instrument panel up till the tube holder at the top. This will transmit the water from the instrument panel till it falls down on the hammer that hits the instrument. Ours needed to be about 1m long. The difference in diameter between these two tubes is necessary to regulate the pressure. You want the water to flow softly on the instrument panel (wider tube), but still build enough pressure to get it upwards (smaller tube).

Cut off a piece of garden hose that is long enough to reach from underneath the entire instrument panel, through the hole in the collecting reservoir, to the pump. This will get the water back in the system and divide it with even pressure over the tubes in the instrument panel. Close off the garden hose at one end. Use a cork, screw it to the side, bend it strongly or use other McGyver solutions as needed depending on what you have at hand. Make holes at that end on the same positions as the tubes for the instrument panel.

Connect the wider tubes from the instrument panel to the garden hose. The garden hose will serve as a divider. We connected the two with a smaller tube to regulate the pressure. We used rubber from a cut bike tube to bridge the diameter difference between the tubes by rolling it around the smallest tube until it could firmly fit in the wide tube.

At this point you should have the garden hose connected to the 6 tubes (through the support plank) in the instrument panel, and those 6 tubes should be tapping to a thinner, long see through tube at the side. Mount the plank with the instrument panel to the frame (cupboard). Finish the holes of the instrument panel: make sure no tubes stick out and seal the space between the tube and the instrument panel so no water can run away at the back. The first running direction of the water should be straight into the instrument panel. When you block that hole with your hand/finger, the water will go into the smaller tube at the side.

To finish the wiring, drill 6 holes with the diameter of the small tubes in a 1m plank. This will be the top tubes holder. Spread these holes according to the space needed for each instrument. The water coming out here will fall straight onto the hammer that will hit the instrument. Put the tubes in the holder and attach it to the frame. We chose for the water to fall down on the hammers instead of being sprayed from the side because the location of the beam of water is not pressure sensitive in this way.

Step 5: Construct the Hammers to the Axis

Now that all the tubes are in place, you can make the hammers. We used MDF leftovers, but clearly there are better options when playing with water. A metal spoon should work just as fine and saves you some extra tuning.

Cut a plastic tube with a diameter slightly wider than the axis (so smooth movement turning over the axis is possible) into 6 pieces at the size of the hammers. Glue the hammers (or spoons) on, slightly off the center, so they naturally lean over to one side. At the longest side, insert a screw. This is to have a louder and clearer contact sound. The side with the screw will now be down through gravity, but by water falling on the other side, it will come up to hit the instrument.

Insert the axis in the frame (we drilled holes in the side of the cupboard) and shove over the hammers. At this point put the plastic box that serves as the pump reservoir in the bottom part and attach the pump to the garden hose. You will need to have the water flowing to calibrate the place of the hammers. Assure that each hammer is directly in the water beam. As you might use the installation outside in windy conditions, it's important to have this quite right so that even with some wind the water will still hit the right hammer. To fix the hammer position we tightened two cable ties at both sides of each hammer tube, so they can't move along the axis any more.

Step 6: Add the Glasses/instruments and Play a Tune!

The closing part is attaching the instruments. We used simple wine glasses. You could have glasses of different sizes and materials or have actual instruments or objects to get different sounds (eg. drumming sounds work real great as well) and tones. Drill holes in the last 1m plank to put in the glasses at the positions according to the hammers. Saw the plank in 2 along the length so you can actually put in the glasses. Connect the two halves and mount the plank to the frame just a little above the hammers. Test for the right distance to get the sound you want.

Now everything is into place, switch on the pump and play a tune!

We hope you have a lot of fun playing your personal Pianeau!

Step 7:

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    7 years ago

    Video please! Would love to see and hear your instrument being played!

    Spink design
    Spink design

    Reply 7 years ago

    It's in the intro page. :-) don't expect a lot of music yet. It's a prototype showing the working principle.