DIY-Controller Instrument

…for the love of performative electronic music

For the past year I have been working with a self-made controller that I connect to my laptop to control various sounds and processes during performance. Every so often, I make improvements to the instrument based upon what I learn during concerts and what I can glean from the “maker” community. The whole purpose of the controller is to make electronic more performative.

The instrument itself is nothing more than a series of Arduino connected sensors, mounted to a hiking stick. None of the elements on the controller actually create sound. Data is sent from an Arduino-nano to a laptop running Max. This data is mapped in whatever fashion fits the particular piece we are working with. For example, video playback rate can be mapped to the dial.

Current sensors mounted to the stick include:

  • 2 buttons
  • 1 dial (potentiometer)
  • 1 3-axis accelerometer


Past sensors have included:

  • Pressure sensor
  • Additional Dial
  • Bend sensor

The decision to include and exclude certain sensors onto the controller had more to do with the shape of the stick itself. It was more idiomatic to receive motion data from an accelerometer than from numerous other sensors. Two buttons and a dial were simply the absolute minimum necessary for controlling the sounds/scenes. Rather than focusing my attention as a performer on various buttons and distracting sensors (bend, pressure, distance), the accelerometer provides a clear and flexible form of data input that does not require anything more than my movement of the stick. In some ways, moving the stick to control the sounds seems more natural.

The evolution of the instrument extends to the quality of the wiring to the mounting of the sensors to the stability of the circuit board. The most recent version uses a Arduino Nano and much smaller circuit board which is more firmly mounted to the stick than previous versions had been. During many a rehearsal, components often went flying because of all the movements the stick undergoes for every piece.


Some examples of the instrument in use, along with those of my colleagues.