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The Music Box Gets An Update For The Digital Era

The XOXX Composer allows you to mix tracks the same way music boxes play songs.

Music boxes can be hypnotic. Open one, and you'll usually see a metal barrel with raised bumps, turning round and round to pick away at the musical teeth of a comb. Captivating as music boxes are, though, there's no way to compose music on a music box: it only plays it back.

The XOXX Composer is a music box for the digital age. Designed by Swedish interactive designer Axel Bluhme, the XOXX Composer uses the basic principle of a music box—a rotating cylinder with bumps that plays notes—and transforms it into an instrument any aspiring DJ can use to mix new tracks.

A traditional music box has one rotating cylinder. The XOXX Composer has eight spinning platters, each one making a full cycle every second. These discs are magnetized, so you can stick ball bearings to them; as the cylinder spins, a sensor detects where the ball bearing is, and triggers a beat as it moves past.

Where things get digital is that "beat" can be assigned to any digital sound: a tick, a chiptune bleep, a sample, or whatever. The more steel bearings you attach to a plate, the more times that sample plays per second. Meanwhile, a separate knob allows DJs to adjust the volume and pitch of each track, allowing the XOXX Composer to function as an analog interface for digital sound.

The XOXX Composer is MIDI compatible, so you can use it for nearly any audio workstation or software suite, like Garage Band or Logic Pro X. Having first won a Bill Moggridge design award, it is now on display until July 3 as part of the Royal College of Art London's graduate exhibition. Musicians who want to send Xs and Os to the XOXX Composer, meanwhile, can sign up for a mailing list, telling them when it's available for sale.

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