open source hardware for dance music made in China by westerners

Jon Phillips and Wolfgang Spraul are doing hardware hacking on dance music devices. They’re both westerners living in China.

One project is Milkymist:

It’s easy to create an entertaining video installation with the Milkymist One. No computer needed – everything is included in a small device that has it all. Connect a camera and a video projector, press the power button, and seconds later, everything you film becomes live psychedelic effects of color and light.

Another project is the Laoban Soundsystem:

a 6,000-watt massive soundsystem fabricated in China, designed by Matt Hope and produced by Jon Phillips.

The whole thing is so far ahead of me that I don’t know where to begin.

To begin with, a good rule of thumb for hardware development is to not do it. There be dragons. Like, you’ll have to manufacture the things you design, which means dealing with shops in the third world, which means being very far away from people who you are totally dependent on. Also there’s the issue that the factories are staffed by people who are brutally exploited. You’ll have inventory. Your latency will go through the roof.

Hang on, Jon and Wolfgang moved to China. So it’s ok, the factory is within reach, they can speak the language, etc.

Oh, wait, it’s ok, it’s open source. Whaa? Doesn’t it matter that you’re using atoms instead of bits? At the least there’s a whole new set of dynamics that apply to open source atoms. It affects inventory – you’re not actually the person doing the manufacturing, so you’re not paying for the stuff you made to sit in a warehouse. Whacky.

Our devices are open source hardware and software. In fact, we go great lengths to apply the open source principles at every level possible, and is best known for the Milkymist system-on-chip (SoC) which is among the first commercialized system-on-chip designs with free HDL source code. As a result, several Milkymist technologies have even been reused in applications unrelated to video synthesis.

Not that I have any idea what to do with this stuff except respect that it’s a whole new frontier. It’s the kind of over-my-head innovation that makes me love my chosen field. Inspiring stuff.