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3D Printed E-Drum and sensor system

This is a build document for a large array of E-Drums I am making to support a VR hyper-instrument project. All of the 3D printed objects, Arduino source code and instrument files will be made available through this website with appropriate copyleft licencing, mostly dependent on the most permissive possible licence of the source materials I am using. The hyper-instrument itself will be covered later in a separate series of posts after the construction of the physical instruments has been completed.

One piece shell and one piece rim printed in ESUN ABS+. The skin is a Remo Silentstroke 6″. Tension Bolts are 75 or 80mm M6. The shell is modified from a set published by RyoKosaka on Thingiverse under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike licence. In accordance with that licence my modifications and my sensor mount design are licenced similarly.

Get a good printer.

After several years of mostly solid performance, I decided to upgrade my 3D printer. My old refurbished Wanhao Duplicator (Sold as Cocoon through Aldi) had seen me through the construction of the Ambsonic dome, but was unable to reliably print ABS or run overnight. Temperature variations would always detach print jobs from the build plate no matter how much glue stick or hairspray I applied. It was also far too slow for the big, dense prints I needed to create drum shells. I needed a cheap, fast, fully enclosed printer.

The Creality K1 has mixed reviews and comes with many warnings from the cognoscenti of Reddit about poor build quality and recurring print issues. I considered myself experienced enough to fix whatever went wrong and bought one at a good discount. It has jammed only once in several months of hard use. It is fully enclosed and reaches temperatures of up to 50°C internally with heat from the build plate alone. This is not always desirable, so leaving the door open when printing PLA in hot weather is a must.

Printing the drums

I found several sets of designs for drum shells on Thingiverse (a site with a huge selection of free-to-use ready-made 3D print designs) and quickly settled on this collection of shells deconstructed for printing on 20cm print beds. The shells and rims are printed in sections and held together with M3 screws. The K1 is just big enough to print the 6″ shells in one piece, taking 6.5 hours in fine mode. The 6″ rim also prints in one piece, taking 2 hours. Shells printed using both ABS and PLA have held tension with skins installed for around a week with no signs of structural problems. Larger rims, such as the 8″ and 10″ sets have distorted (shown below) but are working well enough and are not losing tension.

Printing a one piece shell in rainbow silk PLA from ESUN.

Making the sensors

E-drums use a type of pressure sensor called a piezo. These are usually sold as flat discs that may have wires already attached. In the type of sensor I am using, force from the drum stick impacting the mesh head is transmitted to the piezo through a cone of soft material. The piezo is sandwiched between the cone and another disc of the same material that insulates the piezo from the frame of the drum. Multi-sensor drums that can detect playing on the rim often mount another peizo directly to the drum frame.

Completed cone sensor for the 6″ Drum. The cone is made from 3 layers of 12mm self-adhesive EVA foam sheet.

The mounting plates for the internal sensors included with the downloaded files made no sense to me, so I quickly designed a new friction-fit sensor sled that allowed for another jack to be installed underneath the drum, to be used for tight arrangements where the sides of the shell might not be accessible. The sensor is patterned after the Roland cone sensors used on their V-drum products. Although ready-made cones are available from aftermarket manufacturers, they are easy to make from materials available from Bunnings, for a fraction of the price

I experimented with several types of foam when developing the cones, including hybrid cones that used softer material for the top half. It didn’t really matter – every foam I tried gave good results, but a cone with a pointed tip such as the one shown above will need to be constructed from a firm material. Having a small point is especially desirable for drums with a centrally mounted sensor as it makes the foam cone harder to hit directly with the drum stick (which usually results in a very, very loud hit that stands out from regular playing). The sensor sled is a tight friction fit inside the drum but is secured with 20mm M3 bolts to keep it in place when plugging leads into the integrated Cliff jack.

Making the cones

I use a 3D printed cone shaping jig and a reciprocating scroll saw to shape the cones. Firmer foams, such as this EVA, can be shaped with a powered wheel sander. Soft foams have a tendency to grab blades and sanding discs/belts and can be dangerous to work with if you are using high-speed equipment, so I would recommend shaping those materials by hand with a scalpel. The jig is designed to replicate the 66° slope of the original Roland cones.

Assembling the sensor sled.

The sensor sled mounted to the 6″ shell. The Cliff jacks are simply wired with the red wire from the piezo to the tip of the inserted 6.5mm jack.
The tip of the cone should ~2-3mm proud of the height of the shell, allowing it to make good contact with the mesh drumhead. The cone described above comes out at exactly the same height. Take care when tightening the drum head as high tension may cause the sensor to stop working. If a satisfactory tension cannot be reached without stressing the cone, trim a very small amount from the top, taking care to leave a flat, smooth surface.

Bill of Materials

PartMaterialsCost
6″ Drum shellABS or PLA filament55m/165g$4.62
6″ Drum rimABS or PLA filament22.3m /67g$1.86
Sensor sledABS or PLA filament3m/9g$0.18
37mm Piezo In a pack of 25 from Ebay1$0.30
6.5mm Cliff jack Bulk order of 30 from Element142$3.70
37mm disc of EVA foamCut from 400 x 500 x 12mm Adhesive Rubber Mat4$0.80
Hookup wireAnything lying aroundTo taste??
Double sided tapeSomething thin – not foamTo taste??

Files (will be linked soon)

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Making an instrument from a scan of my own teeth.

My dentist recently mapped my mouth with a 3D scanner. I asked if I could have a copy of the file, promising to create a bespoke instrument from the scan.

The information arrived as an STL file. The scan had a good level of detail, but some problems needed to be addressed before I could turn this into a printable model. It has been many, many years since I last used Blender, so I decided to use this project as a re-introduction. I looked for ‘Blendercam‘, the modified version I used to use for creating cutting files for my CNC mills, but there were no valid downloads that would run on my Mac. Vanilla Blender it is then, with Ultimaker Cura as the 3D printing processor.

The raw model was inside out – the inner surface of the model was on the outside, preventing me from turning it into a printable object. I used Autodesk’s Meshmixer to clean up the edges of the mesh and ‘flip’ the faces so the outside was properly outside. I am aware that Blender has similar tools but using Blender is very similar to using Avid’s Pro Tools – it is filled with a seemingly random mix of useful and esoteric functionality that is not navigable until you have spent a few weeks unraveling the interfaces and learning the hotkeys. It is often quicker to use another, simpler tool that is focused on the task you want to achieve. Meshmixer can also turn a surface, like my scan, into an solid object. It does a good job but I was unhappy with the loss of detail in the final model. I imported the fixed mesh back into Blender and manually extruded the scan into an object.

Rough scan of teeth.
The original state of the scan mesh in the raw STL file.
Meshmixer: The pink faces are inside out – they show the ‘outside’ of the object.
Meshmixer’s ‘Make Solid’ command does a good job, but will take away some detail.

In Blender I used the circle select tool to separate the teeth into objects. I have a very old 3D Connexion Space Navigator that is still supported, even in Monterey on an M1 Mini. Flying around the object with the left hand and controlling selection with the right makes Blender so much easier to use than just a mouse/keypad/keyboard combination. After isolating the teeth I used ‘Fill’ to create new faces, filling the open mesh holes in the teeth and in the gums. Blender’s sculpting tools filled the faces with a dynamic mesh that I could push and pull into shapes that I felt comfortable printing. I added rods to the teeth and subtracted them from the gum object – they will allow me to mount the teeth and run wires into them from underneath the gums.

Removing the teeth from the gums in blender.
All of the teeth as separate objects
Using Blender’s sculpt tools to fill in holes in the gums after removal of the teeth.
Posts for mounting teeth and routing wires through the gums.
Tooth mounted on a post.
Test print after turning the mouth scan into an object.

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DIY 26 Speaker Ambisonic Dome – Part 5

This small Ambisonic dome is, by design, a one-person experience. These works combine the immersion of Ambisonic audio with interactive augmented and virtual reality, creating very personal worlds that cannot be experienced through 2 dimensional media. Each work gives the audient different levels of agency, discovery and immersion. The VR headset views and projections are all generated in real-time with MAX. The audio content is a combination of Ambisonic processing in MAX, Cherry Voltage modular synthesiser and Native Instruments Reaktor.

These pieces were made to be experienced, not watched. Watching an immersive experience from the outside is like eating the menu at a restaurant – but below is a collection of short clips showing the system in action. ‘Coil’ and ‘Living Room’ use the Vive controller as an exploratory tool.

‘Coil’ places you inside a gradually intensifying map of the electromagnetic radiation emitted from consumer devices in a kitchen & lounge room. Discovering the unseen topology of the fields we live with every day is surprisingly visceral.

‘Living Room’ scales Australia down to 3 meters inside the dome. Dynamic maps of bushfire, rainfall and temperature variation can be selected via a bluetooth footswitch. Although you are inside the data projection, an FM modular synthesiser controlled by the position of the Vive handset is your only feedback, growing more discordant as time passes and the maps intensify. Areas without change are the only respite but they grow fewer and smaller as change accelerates.

‘Workspace’ is a subset of tools designed to make a complete VR mixing environment. The spherical audio emitters can be placed in 3 dimensional space, adjusted for volume and given animation paths that they will repeat until reset. Evaluating the efficacy of my DIY Ambisonic dome when combined with immersive headset VR in this manner was the subject of my thesis.

‘Drown’ is simple, largely passive and surprised me with the nasty intensity of the conveyed experience. This work is entirely dependent on the power of visual and audio VR immersion. Seated in the centre of the dome, over several meditative minutes your mind accepts the reality of the undulating wireframe ocean and drifting sound emitters. Then you realise that the level is rising. The moments when the water surface is just at head height and the waves are higher than you can crane your neck are genuinely disturbing.

A slightly redacted version of the artist statement can be downloaded here.