For decades, inventors and innovators have tried to create electronic musical instruments that could do many things well. The Fairlight CMI, a sampling and synthesis computer and keyboard released in 1979, came remarkably close, allowing people to create all sorts of instruments and even record entire songs. Later, a number of companies like Ensoniq, Yamaha, and Roland created sample-based keyboard workstations that allowed players to do similar things, but with higher fidelity and better portability. Inventors Ravi Ruparel and Jakub Benacka decided to take a slightly different approach to the multi-purpose electronic instrument. With Cuebe, the duo designed and 3D-printed a small cube that allows users to learn and play over 100 instruments.
Cuebe’s 3D-printed chassis allows players to touch one of 37 keys that trigger a note from a library of over 100 sound samples that includes pianos, harpsichords, electric guitars, synthesizers, and various types of percussion and orchestral instruments. The basic version generates these sounds through wavetable synthesis (samples tweaked to create natural sounds), and features 128 GM (General MIDI) worth of sounds, while the Pro version allows users to load their own samples at a 16/44.1 bit rate.
Cuebe’s three-octave scale is laid out across its six sides, and each key is linked to acoustics and electronics designed to be played and heard clearly while rotating the cube. Both versions support polyphony up to 64 keys, meaning users can play as many keys as humanly possible. Cuebe also features a USB host MIDI IN so players can also use it as a sound module with a built-in 10-watt speaker.
How to unlock subconscious creativity
Ruparel, who created a number of immersive experiences for brands and artists in the music industry, including a project that featured mobile app sensors that capture heartbeats for mixing music, says Cuebe has its origins in an imagination session he undertook to unlock subconscious creative thoughts.
“I am passionate about new things and inventing, and the initial thoughts about Cuebe were that music is a beautiful way to positively connect people,” he says. “A challenging instrument goes further and provides entertainment to yourself and those who watch you as you grapple with something new and conquer it.”
To help realize Cuebe, Ruparel enlisted the help of Benacka, a sound designer, sound engineer, and interactive audiovisual artist, who recreated the Collidoscope synthesizer, an open-source, interactive electronic instrument. With the help of a software developer, Ruparel and Benacka created the code through open-source and native coding.
“We started simple with the initial idea of a toy instrument from sketches and visuals, and step-by-step we added features,” adds Benacka. “After a while you realize you have created something quite addictive–a new type of instrument.”
The current iteration only allows one instrument to be played at a time. But Ruparel says it isn’t a big leap to make Cuebe multitimbral, or able to trigger multiple sounds simultaneously. As he explains, there are many moving parts, from the chassis itself to the electronics, acoustics, display, buttons, battery, and so on.
Ruparel says that most cube-based products on the market reserve one side for things like mounting holes, screws, and other features meant to be out of sight. Cuebe, on the other hand, is a spatial object, viewable from all angles or faces. This complicated the end-to-end process from design through production. As a result, Ruparel and Benacka used HP’s Multi Jet Fusion (MJF) 3D printer to keep the production costs low.
“The ability to design for [a 3D printer] and produce industrial-grade final parts were the key advantages that made this project feasible,” he says. “I honestly cannot imagine bringing Cuebe to life in any other way.”
3D-printing Cuebe allowed Ruparel and Benacka to iterate quickly and accurately. In just a few hours, they could create a new physical prototype, which is something major hardware and toy companies can do easily, but which smaller companies quite simply cannot afford. Ultimately, the finished product will be 3D-printed just like the prototypes.
As for the user base, Ruparel and Benacka envision all sorts of people playing Cuebe. The basic model is aimed at families and people across the world who like both music and challenge games, while the Pro version is envisioned for use in recording studios and for live performance.
“The key here is that this is something new, a new way to connect to sound, notes, and frequency,” says Ruparel. “It taps into curiosity and discovery processes and gives you a novel way to solve something and play music.”