Arduino makers project - Mavis


Mavis is a print making, internet connected, musical keyboard to encourage hands-on play and teamwork.


What have you made?

MAVIS (Musically Articulated Visual Illustration System) is a print making, musical keyboard, that exhibition visitors play music on whilst also creating one-of-a-kind prints to take away with them.

What gave you the initial inspiration?

We had wanted to create something like this for a while and when we were asked to create a piece for an exhibition based around the theme “Play it”, it seemed like the perfect opportunity.

What is the original idea behind this project?

To build something that people could interact with, in a hands on way, but with a deeper level of interaction behind it. We did this by combining the musical and printed sides of the piece. All of the notes played would then be tracked on a specific website.

How does it work?

1. Play a simple tune (the overwhelming favorite seems to be the Jurassic Park piano intro)
2. As you push a key down, a friend spools the paper through with the handle on the side.

3. The pen imprints onto the paper as the note is played and a continuous colored line is drawn, if you hold more than one key down at a time, more lines are made.

4. Finish your tune, cut your print off from the paper roll and take it away with you to treasure forever more.

How long did it take to make it real?

Officially it took about 2 weeks of studio time, unofficially about 4 weeks of studio time with lots of late nights!

How did you build it?

We had to experiment with lots of various elements before getting them right. The keys are cut from wooden blocks, with slots drilled to hold Posca pens, which we decided on after a lot of trial and error with pens, pencils, brushes and crayons. The keys are hinged and sprung with a switch under each, hooked up to an Arduino Uno.

The Arduino takes on/off signals from the keys and sends them on to a web-accessible API we built, which logs the time and duration of each key press so that we can reproduce them on the MAVIS website. We used a Mac Mini to generate the audio on each key press, which gave us a quick way to test a variety of sounds — effectively using the Mac as a sample player.

The spooling mechanism was hard to get right, and thankfully, a very talented friend came to the rescue there, helping us experiment with various options until we found one that worked. We eventually got it right after realizing that the most important thing is being able to adjust the tension between the two rollers at each end — this way we could make fine adjustments once we had the paper in rolling.