Carnegie Mellon University School of Art

Course:         60-439/739 - Advanced SIS/ETB: Building Hybrid Instruments

Times:                MW         6.00pm - 8.50 pm

Location:         Doherty Hall-D200

Facilities:         CMU ArtFab: ArtFab Lab, ArtFab Shop, Hunt Library Fabrication Facilities

Contacts:        Instructor: Ali Momeni (, Assistant Professor


This course introduces students to the theories, practices, aesthetics and communities surrounding the design, building and using hybrid interactive instruments.  We espouse an expansive definition of the word instrument that includes “a device for the production of sound/music”, as well as “a means whereby something is achieved, performed, or furthered” (from  We specifically study the process of translating gesture into another sensory medium (e.g. sound or light).

Our approach to instrument design will depart from the double meaning embedded in the notion of composing instruments: first, consideration of instrument building as an act of composition; second, instruments that compose of their own right.  While emphasis is placed on musical instruments, coursework will also encompass instruments that produce light, image, movement, etc.

We interpret hybridity as a mix of physical and digital, hardware and software, utilitarian and playful, informative and inquisitive.

This course focuses on three themes; final project for the class are expected to depart from one of these prompts:

This course unfolds in two phases:

  1. literature review and rapid prototyping exercises
  2. group projects 

The first half of the course will introduce students to a wide range of relevant projects from contemporary music and composition, installation art and human-computer-interaction, tangible interaction design and socially engaged interventionist practices that utilize hybrid instruments.  Students will study theoretical and computational frameworks for working with gesture in instrument design.  Topics of interest include: gesture data acquisition, data analysis, and mapping gesture data to hybrid-software-hardware computational systems that generate sound/image/movement.  We will investigate the software and hardware technologies underlying the design and fabrication of hybrid instruments with electronics, sensors, signal processing, digital fabrication.

While learning about the repertoir, four rapid-prototyping assignments introduce students to the facilities and cover a broad range of physical computing and interaction design skills.  The assignments are as follows:

  1. enchanted object: one-in-one-out
  2. immersive experiential: many-in-many-out
  3. out in the world: embedded and wearable
  4. what’s out there: distributed systems, sensor networks, data scraping

The second half of the course will allow teams of students to choose a focus area, develop and proposal for an instrument, then design and fabricate a functioning instrument.  The course culminates in an event where all students demonstrate their final instruments in a performance setting.

This course will make extensive use of Cycling ‘74’s real-time programming environment Max, the Arduino micro-controller platform, as well as the computer aided design (Rhino) and machining tools (RhinoCam) in use in the school of art and architecture.  Students are expected to have familiarity with these environments, or be prepared to gain familiarity independently and swiftly.  The instructor will provide learning resources and consultation as needed but the course curriculum does not include introductory level teaching of physical computing or programming.


During the course of the semesters students will gain training on various fabrication machines.  Upon completing training, each student will gain access to an online reservation system that allows him/her to book hours on various machines.


Our primary goal in this advanced studio course is to propel the personal creative agenda of each student by allowing him/her to create a final project that is born of his/her practice. Each student is therefore required to create a project proposal and timeline, to be presented to the class on the second class meeting.  This presentation will cover the project’s artistic and technical considerations, and influences, as well as a concrete timeline for accomplishing the task at hand.

Class meetings will be split between lecture and demonstrations on Mondays, and work sessions on Wednesdays.  The first class critique will serve as a mid-semester review; a final critique will conclude the class during the last week of the semester.  Assignments during the semester will include exercises on introduced topics as well as meeting the milestones of the timeline set by each student’s project timeline.


Consistent attendance is mandatory.  Students are allowed two unexcused absences; further unexcused absences will lower your grade for the session by one letter for each additional absence.  Attendance will be taken at the beginning of class.  If you arrive later than 15 minutes into the class period, you will be counted as absent.  Every three occurrences of arriving to class more than 5 minutes will count as an absentee.

If you have a class or work schedule issue & anticipate being somewhat late on a regular basis, please see the instructor during the first week of the semester.

During class time, students are expected to be completely present.  While students are free to chose how they spend their time during class (including non-work related emailing or social media), non-class related activity is considered a form of absence and marked accordingly for the entire class period.


Attendance on critique days is absolutely essential.  Failure to attend will impact both your class participation grade and your project grade.  On critique days, all students are expected to be set-up & ready to participate at the beginning of the class period.


Attendance is mandatory; inadequate attendance will lower your final grade.  Class participation is based on conduct and contribution to class blog, presentations, discussions, and critiques.  Please note that your contributions to the blog (sharing resources, references, example works, relevant research, etc.) is the most concrete metric by which your participation grade will be assessed.

Each of the first four assigned projects from Units 1 to 3 will be graded on a scale of 0 to 2 (0 = incomplete/insufficient, 1 = adequate but uninspired, 2 = good).  Late assignments are not accepted.

The final project will be graded on a scale of 0 to 10, with 10 representing excellence in conception and execution.

The final grade for the course will be calculated based on the following formula:

Attendance:                         mandatory

Class participation:                 20%

Assigned projects 1 to 4:        40% (10% each)

final project:                        40%