Introduction: Xylophorest: the Nature Xylophone
Today, more than half of the world’s population resides in cities. As the trend of urbanization continues, the population density of these centers will skyrocket. This means living in smaller spaces and decreased access to nature, leading to detrimental impacts on an individual’s quality of life and health. But here’s some good news: there are opportunities to integrate nature into everyday urban life. That’s where Xylophorest comes in.
Xylophorest is a touch-activated "xylophone" that plays different nature noises ranging from a light rainstorm to crashing ocean waves. It draws inspiration from sound and music therapy. When an individual listens to music, different parts of the brain are activated. However, when an individual plays a musical instrument, the result a “full-body brain workout,” which has long-term beneficial effects.
This product combines the interactive experience of playing an instrument with the therapeutic, soothing sounds of nature. It can be used at home when you need a meditative break or for other therapeutic reasons. See below what materials and tools you’ll need to build it and a step-by-step how-to guide on how to build this magical instrument at home.
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Step 1: What You’ll Need - Materials & Tools List
Touch Board by Bare Conductive
Computer with Arduino Software
Nature Sound mp3s via Bare Conductive
1/8” Thick Basswood (alternatively, you can also use plywood or balsa wood)
Sobo Wood Glue
Acrylic Paint (Blue, Black, White & Bronze) - Blick is an economical option
Hand Saw (or Band Saw/Table Saw if you have access to one)
Headphones or Speaker w/ Aux Cable
Step 2: Gather Your Materials
If you’re on a specific timeline, be sure to order your materials in advance. Bare Conductive, the manufacturer of the Touch Board and Electric Paint that you’ll need, is a small studio located in London. Overseas shipping takes a while; even priority shipping can take up to 1 full week. Adafruit also sells both of these components: Touch Board / Electric Paint at a higher cost—but when you factor in international shipping (if you're in the states), it more or less evens out.
Step 3: Measure, Mark and Cut Your Basswood
Measure your basswood pieces to be 20” tall and 2.25” wide. For the asymmetrical look, each piece will have a slightly varied height, but starting with 20” height will be fine.
Using a T-Square to make precise measurements, mark all of your pieces. Then, clamp your basswood to a sturdy surface and cut using a hand saw. You can also use other methods to cut your plywood, like a table saw, band saw, or CNC router —whatever is safe and readily accessible.
Step 4: Cover Your Basswood Pieces With Electric Paint
It’s time to cover your plywood pieces with Electric Paint. According to Bare Conductive, this paint slides on like acrylic paint, though the consistency is a bit thicker. If you want to use this paint sparingly (it is quite expensive!), you can dilute it with water—just be sure to follow Bare Conductive’s tutorial before doing so.
Note: This stuff is awesome! But electric paint does have a tendency to crack, so if you want to minimize this effect, be sure to put more on your paintbrush while painting. Painting in one direction also helps ameliorate this.
Safety Tip: Be aware that "Electric Paint has not been tested with a power source exceeding 12V DC or 50mAmps."
Step 5: Test Your Touch Board & Connection
Test your touch board before you put everything together. First, be sure to upload the necessary Arduino code to your Touch Board. If you have just purchased the board, you may not even need to use Arduino, as the board comes pre-programmed with an audio tutorial on it.
Plug the board into your laptop or power source with a microUSB cable. Next, plug in either headphones or a speaker into the audio jack.
Now, turn the board on and test each electrode. If you hear sounds, it means it is working. You can also tell if there is input/output by the flashing orange light on the board.
Step 6: Customize Sounds on Touch Board
The process for customizing the sounds on your touch board is simple. First, remove the microSD card from your board and plug it into your computer. If you're using a computer without a microSD drive (like me), you'll need to get a microSD card reader.
Second, once the drive appears on your computer, open the folder. You'll be able to see a series of tracks labeled Track000, Track001, Track002, Track003, etc.
Third, download the sample sound library from Bare Conductive here. Technically, you can use any mp3 file though. If you're inclined to use a different sound, just be sure it's in an mp3 format. Also check out freesound.org for some more options.
Fourth, rename the mp3 file to follow the same naming convention (i.e. Track001). The number of the track will correspond with the number of the electrode on the board. Be sure to not overlap though. And remember that there are 12 electrodes; you do not have to use them all.
Step 7: Paint Basswood Xylophone Pieces the Desired Color
Here’s your chance to add some color and differentiate your xylophone keys. Using acrylic paint, you can paint over the electric paint and it will still be conductive.
Note: Be aware that because of the materiality of the electric paint, some of it may come off with certain acrylic paints. I personally had some trouble with certain paint that I was using. Painting in one direction helps this though.
Step 8: Put Together Xylophone Pieces
Here's where everything comes together. Put together all of your xylophone pieces using the basic template above. If you feel like doing something different, by all means!
Because basswood is a very lightweight, we'll be using wood glue to put them together. Line up all of our pieces and then mark where the glue should go. Then, go ahead and glue. Let dry for at least an hour.
Step 9: Customize Volume & Touch Responsiveness With Arduino (Optional)
If you're feeling inclined, you can program various options into your Bare Conductive Board. The default code for the board is available on Github.
In this code, you can adjust volume and touch responsiveness. Note that "volume" output will vary depending on which audio device you hook up to your board (i.e. Volume 40 will come through differently on standard Apple headphones vs. a large Bang & Olufsen speaker).
Step 10: Attaching Alligator Clips to Board & Xylophone
Get out those alligator clips you've been waiting to use and hook each xylophone key up to the corresponding electrode with the sound you'd like the key to make. Plug in your headphones or speaker, turn the board on, and make sure everything works.
Step 11: Enjoy Some Peaceful Quality Time Surrounded by Nature Sounds.