A Drum Machine You Play With Your Heartbeat

With Pieter-Jan Pieters’s clever gear, anyone with a pulse can make music.

There are some people out there who just can’t get the hang of musical instruments, unfortunate individuals whose disconnect from pitch or tone or tempo or all three is deeply encoded and utterly irreconcilable. For others, the ability is there, but the patience is not; there’s not much glamour in practicing scales in your underwear and socks. But aspiring musicians in both groups–the inept and the inert–will be able to play Pieter-Jan Pieters’s unusual instruments proficiently right from the start, zero practice required. All they’ll need to do, as Ringo put it, is act naturally.


The collection, which Pieters created for his graduate project at the Design Academy Eindhoven last year, consists of five simple instruments that make music from the most basic human movements. Collectively, the designer calls them Sound On Intuition. Some are more intuitive than others. If your musical glass ceiling has always been a deficiency of coordination, the device dubbed “Kick” might not offer much relief–it’s essentially a sensor you tape to your shoe, turning taps of your foot into beats of a digital drum. If you can tap your toe in time, you’ve got yourself a rhythm track. If not, you’re still out of luck.

Thankfully, the rest of the instruments are harder to mess up. “Wob” is a theremin-style piece of gear that uses an infrared sensor to transform even the wildest hand-waving into squeaks and squeals. “Fngr,” a little splint you wear on your index finger, generates a sound with every tap, the timbre determined by how much you’re bending your digit. The device dubbed “Scan” turns lines and dots, drawn on a sheet of paper, into a series of beeps and boops.

And then there’s “Heart,” the most intuitive of all, an instrument that literally anyone with a pulse can play. Hold the stethoscope-style cup to your chest, and it turns your heartbeat into a drum beat, simple as that. Despite an extended bout of arrhythmia, there’s really no excuse for not keeping good time with this one.

The designer first came up with the idea for the project when he was serving as an intern at Teenage Engineering, the design-forward Swedish outfit responsible for the delicious (and also less-than-conventional) OP-1 synthesizer. Most instruments, Pieters realized, require us to train our bodies to move in certain ways. He wondered why there wasn’t something that did the opposite, creating music from the movements the performer was already naturally making–“instruments where you skip the learning process,” Pieters explains, and simply play.

After working through the problem and settling on some designs, Pieters milled a handsome set of prototypes out of aluminum, which he says lends the feeling of “working with a real instrument.” The devices were all designed as MIDI controllers, so each can play any sound once it’s hooked up to a computer. That means your heartbeat can become a drum beat–or a succession of staccato violin stabs, or a bleary wash of synth notes, or whatever else you want, provided it’s repetitive and unmelodic.

Indeed, the greatly increased usability of these devices is counterbalanced by their distinctly limited musical range. But there are plenty of legitimate, limited instruments out there, like cowbells and tamborines and maracas, and Pieters’s devices make more sense if you think of them as something like maracas for the digital music age.


And just like there have been many a band member whose sole responsibility was to sing and bang on the tambourine (members no less vital than Stevie Nicks, I should point out), instruments like these could be just what the uncoordinated masses require to rekindle their inner rock god flames. If you’re going to take that route, though, maybe still strap on a guitar during your live shows, if only for appearance’s sake. It’s going to be hard to convey your fiery temperament, anguished soul, and overpowering sexual charisma playing that finger splint.

[Hat tip: Design Spotter]