With a regular music box, a rotating cylinder covered in pins strikes the tuned teeth of a steel comb. The result is a plinky melody that can be either creepy or cute — depending on context. But with a digital music box, the pins are moveable magnets, the steel comb is a sensor that triggers any instrument, and the end result is, well, pretty much anything you want it to be.
a reimagining of the traditional pad controller
The music box itself — called the XOXX Composer — is comprised of eight wheels, each with 16 positions that hold small magnetic balls. These balls can be moved around, and whenever they pass a sensor at the bottom of the device they trigger a preset sound. Sliders underneath the cylinder can be used to tune pitch and volume, and users assign instruments to each wheel using custom computer software that connects over a standard MIDI connection. After all that you just set the wheel spinning, and move the magnets to create your custom beat or song.
The XOXX was developed by Axel Bluhme, a designer who built early prototypes of the device while studying at the Royal College of Art in London. It’s doesn’t appear that the music box is intended to be a commercial product (we’ve contacted Bluhme to find out more), but it’s fascinating instrument all the same.
At heart, the XOXX is really just a reimagining of the interface for a pad controller or beat sequencer. There’s no new sort of music you can make with it, but the physical layout would certainly change how you interact with the music. You could get a sense of the tempo by watching how fast the cylinder is spinning, and think about rhythm by comparing how busy or empty various wheels are. It would be a pretty ideal tool for children just getting to grips with digital music — or for more experienced composers who haven’t loss their sense of fun.