Final project for ENGN930 at Brown University


For an end-of-semester project, my team and I built an Ableton controller. I focused on the coding and hardware while my team member fabricated the casing. This project grew out of a desire to both simplify and introduce an aspect of play to sound synthesis. Modern digital VST synthesizers rely on extensive knowledge of sine wave and wavetable properties, creating a high barrier to entry. As opposed to most software synthesizers, the Soundtable was designed to allow anyone—including those without experience—to interface and, more importantly, play with sound synthesis.

Behind the scenes, Arduinos send capacitive touch data through a serial port to a Python program, which controls the parameters of Vital Basic.


The design is intentionally organic, placing it in direct contrast with the digital style popular in the field. The meanings of the controls are obscure on the first interaction. This is to encourage exploration and discovery, rather than the achievement of specific sonic goals. For those looking to have granular, precise control over their synthesis, a user can find a variety of tools. Instead, the Soundtable fulfills a different need: to have a fun and casual introduction to sound synthesis.

In the design process, we considered many divergent possibilities, ranging from a traditional piano layout to a haptic handheld option. We decided on this more furnished design. As an object looking to bridge the gap between the organic and the fabricated, the Soundtable's hard edges contrasted with the abstract interface and organic materials, gesturing towards this goal. While my ideas were sometimes constrained by my technical abilities I found an achievable design through initial experimentation.


Eager to create a tactile and touchable design without a digital aesthetic, I created an interface utilizing capacitive touch sensors and copper tape. My initial design consisted of overlapping sections of tape. However, the overlapping signals grounded each other and brought the outputs to zero.
As a result, I created an alternative design that, in the end, better suited the needs of the project. This iteration drew on the grid-like aesthetic I was intentionally subverting, while keeping the simplicity needed.

With the circuitry working, I wrote a program that received serial data from the Arduinos and utilized the pyLive library to control Ableton Live. You can find the GitHub repository here.

When creating the casing, we believed it was important for the achievement project's goals to create a natural-looking piece of furniture with organic materials.

In the end, the object accomplished its design goals. As a mixture of a UX and art project, the Soundtable's somewhat mysterious uses/controls were important to its thesis. If I were to make another iteration, I would focus on creating a less rigid, more organic shape to further signal its ideological departure from a traditional synthesizer ethos.

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