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Aetherharp Plays Notes Out of Thin Air

Aetherharp Plays Notes Out of Thin Air


The Aetherharp by maker XenonJohn is neither a harp nor a keyboard, but unique MIDI input device that shares elements of both. It fits nicely on a keyboard style stand, but as seen in the video below, one doesn’t actually touch the device to activate it. Instead, a musician simply places a hand in the proper position above the instrument to play a selected note.

There are eight possible hand positions, with three possible height positions, for up to 24 note possibilities. Additionally, a small joystick enables the user to pitch bend the notes one's second hand, allowing for additional musical expression.

Inside this non-contact musical controller are eight SHARP GP2Y0A41SK0F infrared sensors that tell sense hand presence and distance from the device. The Aethereharp is controlled by a Teensy 3.5 dev board, which communicates with a digital instrument or PC via USB-MIDI for audio output.

Electronics are housed inside a wooden enclosure, and the SHARP sensors are are covered up by a layer of clear-red acrylic. Per trial-and-error, this doesn’t seem to interfere with the sensing operation.

The build is loosely inspired by Jean-Michale Jarre’s laser harp, which is definitely worth checking out as well. On the other hand, the Aetherharp should be a more straightforward build (and perhaps more eye-safe) if you want to make one yourself, given the instructions and components used!

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