This Rock Band Uses Actual Rocks To Create Music

A bunch of guys screaming over a fast guitar and ear-splitting drum beats are your very favorite rock bands. Neil Mendoza took the idea of rock music a bit too literally and designed a Rock Band, a set of electromechanical instruments that make music when rocks are thrown at them.

Mendoza designed the machine on the Autodesk software as a part of company’s artist-in-residence program at the Pier 9 digital fabrication workshop. The circular formation of some JF-1250B solenoids takes care of the main melody. The solenoids fire small pebbles through polycarbonate tubes at the aluminum keys of the Pinger module.

Close up of the rocks in the tubes of the Rock Band’s Pinger module
Source: Neil Mendoza

Explaining the design of the machine, Mendoza says,

“Inside each of the tubes is a small pebble. When the Teensy (similar to an Arduino but a more powerful) receives a note for this instrument, it triggers a solenoid (electromagnet) to launch the pebble up a tube and strike a key. For the design of this piece, I wrote a piece of software that calculated the size each key needed to be to produce the appropriate frequency and then cut them out using a water jet cutter.”

Building the Slapper component of the Rock Band
Source: Neil Mendoza

Two spinner modules are present at the back of the setup. Poles are attached to stepper motors to pick up the pieces of hematite using magnets. Then, these poles spin them around the circular tube to launch at the pieces of marble. Mendoza explained this as,

“When a note is received, the shaft spins and one of the rocks is guided away from its magnet and launched through the air. It lands on a piece of marble that has been cut to size to fit in the machine.”

The Rock Band comprises a Buzzer out front that provides fuzzy bass, two Slapper modules, a Pinger glockenspiel and two Spinner component.
Source: Neil Mendoza

The setup includes ‘slappers’ that slap larger rocks. Some buzzers are also provided that vibrate the solenoid against the marble pieces.

Close up of the Rock Band’s Slapper module
Source: Neil Mendoza

Mendoza has set up the Rock Band to play Here Comes the Sun by The BeatlesThe system, however, is controlled by a MIDI player that communicates with the Teensy developer board. So we can imagine that the system can add more songs to its playlist.

If you want to design your own Pinger mechanical glockenspiel module, Mendoza has shared the build instructions on Instructables.

Watch the Rock Band in action in the video below.

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