DIGITAL LUTHIER, Northwestern University EECS 495-050 (SAI 402-0-21) spring 2018

Loctation: The Garage


Typically, Mondays, 2:30pm - 5:30pm (1st class is Wed April 4 2:30pm - 5:30pm) PLUS all day 9am - 5pm on Saturday May 5 and Sunday May 6

Instructor: Bryan Pardo

Office hours: Thursday 1-3pm. Ford building, room 3-323

TA: Ethan Manilow

Office hours: Friday, 2 - 4pm. Ford building, room 3-210

Course Description

Digital Luthier studies Human Computer Interaction through the lens of artistic creation. The course lies at the intersection of design, engineering, and musicianship. This course will introduce students to fundamentals of creating their own musical instruments using modern technology. We will explore the influence and feedback between the tool (e.g. an instrument), the tool user (a musician/producer), and the creative output (the music). Along the way, we will learn about user interaction design, embedded computing (using arduino), sensor technology, signal creation and interpretation (using Max/MSP or PureData), and musicality (using your sensibilities as a musician). Students will create a new musical instrument by the end of the course and the final examination will be a performance using their instrument. NOTE: As a requirement of the course, students must attend a 2-day all-weekend hardware hacking for music workshop in May.​


Week 1: Wednesday April 4, 2:30 - 5:30pm

In class

2 points: Introduce yourself & pick an instrument
Overview of course Music Instruments & Music Culture
Try toy instruments


6 points: Critique 3 DIFFERENT instruments (one common, one rare, your toy)
4 points: Record 2 DIFFERENT one-minute pieces on your toy instrument

read Push Turn Move excerpt

Week 2: Monday, April 9 2:30 - 5:30pm

In class

3 points: Students each give a 2 minute toy instrument critique & demo

Max tutorial: Installing Max. Making a drum sound.


9 points: Review of the following readings:

Overholt - Musical Interface Technology Design Space

D. Birnbaum, R. Fiebrink, J. Malloch, M. M. Wanderley - Towards a Dimension Space for Musical Devices

Morreale, De Angeli, O’Modhrain - Musical Interface Design: An Experience-Oriented Framework

Week 3: Monday, April 16 2:30 - 5:30pm

In class

3 points: Discussion of readings assigned in Week 2. Speak up or you don’t get the points!
Max tutorial

Makey Makey set up


6 points: Your instrument evaluation framework 4 points: make a video of yourself playing a new instrument

Week 4: Monday, April 23 2:30 - 4:00pm + Alternate time TBA

In class

1 point: discussion of the important considerations when designing an instrument Max tutorial
2 points extra credit: Attend workshop on sonification of images for art by Robleto and Feaster (see Canvas)


3 points: Design an instrument
3 points: review the following Reading:

Sergi Jordà, Günter Geiger, Marcos Alonso, Martin Kaltenbrunner - The reacTable: Exploring the Synergy between Live Music Performance and Tabletop Tangible Interfaces

Week 5: Monday, April 30 2:30 - 5:30pm

In class



3 points: Brainstorm an idea for something you might build at the workshop.

3 points: Pick any one of the following papers and review it Fyans & Gurevich - Perceptions of Skill in Performances with Acoustic and Electronic Instruments
Fyans, Gurevich & Stapleton - Examining the Spectator Experience
Gurevich - Digital Musical Interactions: Performer–system relationships and their perception by spectators

Gurevich - Skill in Interactive Digital Music Systems

HARDWARE HACKING WEEKEND WORKSHOP: Saturday & , May 5 & 6, 9:00am - 5:00pm

The workshop will provide arduino hardware, sensors of many kinds and the instruction needed to put a controller together. You will need to provide your own computer, have some knowledge of programming and a lot of energy and creativity. Together we will make amazing interactive installations and instruments! (note 10 points per day for full attendance and participation)

Week 6: Monday, May 7 2:30 - 5:30pm

In class

GUEST SPEAKER Prof. Michale Gurevich


5 points: Initial instrument design for your final project.

1 point: read Elaine Chew on musical structure

2 points: Read At the Guthman Competition, innovative instruments just might predict the future of music. Watch the videos on the 2017 winners. Give your opinions about the strengths and weaknesses on your two favorite winners.

Week 7: Monday, May 14 2:30 - 5:30pm

In class

GUEST SPEAKER Prof. Elaine Chew

3 points: Pitch your instrument ideas in class


5 points: Updated instrument design

Week 8: Monday, May 21 2:30 - 5:30pm

In class

5 points: in class report progress on instrument GUEST SPEAKERS: Chris Mercer and Rodolfo Viera


Week 9: Monday, May 28 2:30 - 5:30pm

In class


Week 10: Monday, June 4 2:30 - 5:30pm

Reading: none

In class

10 points: Final performance & demo.

Final exam: Wednesday, June 13: 3PM-5PM

10 points: Final website and video due at 3pm