Media artist Yuri Suzuki specializes in making creations that bring music to everyone. Just look at his last invention, a robot train that lets you write music with magic markers and makes music notation more accessible to children, the illiterate, and dyslexics.
But that project doesn't hold a candle to Suzuki's latest, the Ototo. Created by Dentaku, Suzuki's creative design and invention company, the Ototo is a circuit board that can turn anything—books, toys, pots, garbage, plants—into a synthesizer. Best of all? You don't need to know a thing about music or technology to make it work.
The Ototo is like a musical Makey Makey, a very simple circuit board that works like a synthesizer. On the bottom third of the Ototo PCB, there are touch-sensitive sensors in a piano keyboard configuration that correspond to the 12 notes of the Western music scale. You can play music on the Ototo just by fingering these sensors, but that's only the beginning of what it can do.
You can transform the objects around you into musical instruments by linking them to the Ototo's sensors. For example, you could play "Mary Had A Little Lamb" by connecting the device to some pots and banging on them. You could make a working synth-guitar out of some cardboard and tin-foil. You could even string alligator clips between the branches of a houseplant and the Otaku to play a song just by touching the plant's leaves.
"I'd been dreaming for awhile of creating some kind of musical PCB board that didn't need a keyboard or programming skills to operate," Suzuki tells Co.Design. "Teaching at the Royal College Of Art, I've encountered many students who want to do special projects with computers and sounds, only to be frustrated by the technical difficulties. I wanted to make something that was so simple that even children could figure it out."
While it's easy for kids, there are also more advanced options, too. On the face of the Ototo are several other connectors, each labeled with a funny-looking anthropomorphic character (a triangle with legs and eyes, or a roly-poly circle in a party hat). These connectors represent variables such as volume, frequency, modulation, and so on. Just like the notes, they can be attached via alligator clips to any object, turning them into switches.
"The point of these characters is to make it easier for people to understand what the functions on a synthesizer do without any advanced technical knowledge," explains Suzuki. "Manuals for synthesizers tend to be very complicated, so what we want to do instead is do a picture book instead that tells a story about these characters, explaining in an easy-to-understand way what they do."
Right now, the Ototo has about 50 different sound samples, but the designers hope to double that number. The Ototo will also come with an SD card slot, allowing users to record their own samples, and maybe even record their songs.
The Ototo is still a work-in-progress, and when it hits market, Suzuki says they are targeting a price of under $100 per board."Some people are afraid to even touch electronics," says Suzuki. "With the Ototo, we wanted to make something electronic that could make music that no one was afraid to touch."
If you'd like to get updates on the Ototo, and be alerted when it becomes available for purchase, you can sign-up on Dentaku's Ototo website.