Michael Cohen
Patricia Adler

Borealis – Midi Controller

A 3x3 grid of wood framed acrylic panels respond to touch through light and sound. A central unit controls a variety of midi effects. The transparent nature of the Borealis creates a unique performer/audience experience.


Introduction to Physical Computing

To give a sense of scale, this 3x3 grid is overall 42 x 42 inches big.

The eight outer panels are wired up with piezo sensors, which detect when the panels are being touched. In response, the selected panel is edge illuminated with LEDs and triggers a MIDI sound loop, via a Max/MSP patch and Abelton Live. This loop will continue until the panel is touched once again, at which point the lights will also switch off.

The central panel utilises three, horizontally mounted, acrylic rods to control a variety of midi effects. Two of the rods can be turned along their axis, for which we have used 12 step rotary switches - to sense the movement and position of the rod, and consequently trigger the desired effects. The middle rod is stationary and may be controlled by sliding ones finger along its length - we have used a resistor ladder to read the position of the touch.

To give further control we have incorporated separate switches for each of the eight outer panels so that the user can determine which of the loops are effected by their interaction with the central controller unit.

Aesthetically, we felt that the combination of the dark wood and clear acrylic is very strong. To maintain as much of the airy feel of the acyclic, and to allow the audience maximum viewability of the performer behind this large controller we have only applied a minimal design of frosted vinyl film to the panels to pick up the edge illumination - otherwise the clear acrylic would allow all the light to escape and would actually not light up. We have used morse code symbols to spell out the word LOVE, on the eight outer panels.