Music you can touch?

The Tangible Sequencer is a simple musical instrument. There are 8 colored boxes each with a large triangular play button that lights up in time with music. Press play on any box and it will play a sound. Put boxes next to each other and they become aware of one another. The boxes take turns playing their sounds one after another just as you've laid them out. Just follow the arrows!

Create a composition by laying out the boxes. Make some different shapes and press play on a box to see how your composition sounds. Now pick up one of the boxes and move it to change your piece of music as its playing!

Compose, perform, improvise and play with others at the same time.


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How does it work?

Each box has a very small computer inside. In the prototype shown there's a white box that acts as a hub connected to the computer via USB. You use software on your computer to drag and drop sounds into the boxes, like putting files in a folder on your computer. When you press play on a box it signals to the computer over a low-power radio to play its sound. When the box is done playing its sound, it signals to any boxes next to it to play its sound using infra-red, the same technology in your television remote control. The boxes are each powered by their own small, coin cell battery. There's no on/off switch, the boxes just work. Battery life is approximately 1-2 years depending on how much you use them.


Inside each box there's a Freescale HCS08 low-power microcontroller; a low-power 2.4 GHz zigbee radio; a CR2032 coin cell; some infra-red communications electronics; and a big white LED. The white hub is the same as the boxes with some additional USB hardware.

The software that runs on the computer uses OpenGL, GLUT, and STK for the audio. Earlier software protoypes were made in Processing.

The boxes are made of laser-cut colored acrylic, sanded to be matte and then assembled by hand.


The Tangible Sequencer was designed and built by Jeffrey Traer Bernstein at the Sound Lab in The Princeton University Computer Science Department.

Many thanks are due to my advisor, Perry Cook and my labmates: Matt Hoffman, whom you see performing in most of the videos, Ge Wang, Ananya Misra and Phil Davidson as well Stan Allen and John Hunter at the Princeton School of Architecture.

The software includes code from the STK and uses GLUT.


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Put some blocks next to each other in a sequence. Press a play button and the block plays its sound. When the sound is finished, the block next to it, in the direction of the arrow, plays its sound. So if you put the blocks in a line and press play, the sounds play one after another.


Put the blocks in a circle and the sequence repeats forever, or until you remove a link from the chain. This is one way of repeating all or part of something you've created.

Beat Juggling

You can also repeat a sequence by "leapfrogging"; juggling the signal back and forth through the blocks. Then put blocks in parallel and use the same technique to repeat a more complicated sequence.


The signal can fork, playing multiple sounds at once.

Graphical User Interface

You can browse a collection of sounds on you computer and then drag them onto the boxes like putting files in a folder.