Let’s Get Small: Python for Microcontrollers

Let’s Get Small: Python for Microcontrollers

Elliot Inman

In the world of Big Data, some of the most prolific data generating devices are also the smallest – microcontrollers that gather data from sensors and pump out an always-on highspeed bitstream.  Traditionally, these microcontrollers would have been programmed using assembly language or C.  In the past couple of years, Python has been ported to the microcontroller world, providing Python programmers an opportunity to get much closer to bare metal and experiment with very small scale computing.  This talk is a quickstart overview of MicroPython and the BBC’s Micro:bit board, CircuitPython and Adafruit’s Circuit Playground Express and Trinket M0 hardware, and the Mu Editor, a small footprint interface for programming these devices.  The focus is on practical advice for how to get started and join the growing community of programmers using Python on microcontrollers.  

PyData Triangle, Wednesday, November 6, 2019, 6PM, Valassis Digital

Apologies to Steve Martin. Let’s Get Small. 1977.

~ WEI 11/2019

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High Speed Computing for Poets

Natasha Goldowski: Science, Cybernetics, and High Speed Computing at Black Mountain College

Elliot Inman

Paper presented at the Black Mountain College ReViewing Conference 2019 held on the campus of UNC-Asheville.

The success of any interdisciplinary curriculum often depends on a few individuals who are able to translate their expertise for a novice audience.  At Black Mountain College (BMC), Natasha Goldowski taught Chemistry to dancers, explained Cybernetics to poets, and published articles on “high speed computing” in the literary journal.  “When she lectured, her passion for the numerical mysteries of theoretical physics made it all momentarily clear to me… [T]he magic unrolled in a narrow band of clarity catalyzed by her marvelous intensity (Lyle Bongé).”

Born in Moscow in 1907, Goldowski earned a Ph.D. in Physics in France but fled the rise of the Nazi regime.  She immigrated to the US, taking a job at the University of Chicago and working as scientist on the Manhattan Project.  After World War II, with the rise of the Red Scare, she lost her security clearance due to the fact that she was Russian-born.  She taught at Princeton and then joined BMC in 1947.  Active in professional societies like the American Physics Society, Goldowski brought to BMC some of the most profound scientific ideas of the time.

Using the galley proofs from Norbert Wiener’s book on Cybernetics, she lectured and led a non-credit seminar influencing poets Charles Olson, Robert Creeley, and others.  At the same time, in the first issue of The Black Mountain Review, she wrote of high speed computers, long before the ascendance of modern AI:  “They can learn, they can invent, they can compute an extraordinary amount of data, and they have an almost unlimited memory.  Their behavior is analogous to human behavior…”     

After BMC, she continued her work as a physicist and educator until her tragic death from meningitis in 1966.  But her impact at BMC resonates in the work of students and fellow faculty inspired by Goldowski’s teaching.

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Deliberately Disorienting Design

Inman PS Getting Started

Deliberately Disorienting Design:  Using the Scientifically Sound Principles of Experimental Psychology to Create a Confusing Musical Instrument
Elliot Inman
Pint of Science at Indendiary Brewing, Winston-Salem, NC May 22, 2019

DeliberatelyDisorientingDesignAs we strive to optimize every aspect of our lives, we surrender ourselves to learning machines that attend to every intimate detail about us to make decisions for us.  In world of artificial intelligence guided by always-on precision ultraomnipotence, is there still a place for spontaneity and serendipity?

We can code a musical instrument that automatically generates an infinite array of pleasing melodies with acceptable harmonies.  We can autogenerate variations on rhythms and timbres found in the music human beings have written and recorded in the past.  But will such a machine ever produce anything more than a mildly amusing mutant clone of a clone, a shadow of a shadow of music?

What if, instead, we build a musical instrument so clumsy that it forces us to abandon our quest for perfection and rely only on inspiration and ingenuity?  In this talk, we will discuss how to use the science of the human mind to create musical instruments that have the power to confuse and delight us.


Pint of Science CoasterThanks to the Science of Winston-Salem for hosting the event and the other speakers: Dr. Paul Laurienti (Director and Co-Founder, Laboratory for Complex Brain Networks at Wake Forest University) who spoke on “Googling Dynamic Functional Brain Networks” and Shalisha Morgan (CEO/Founder, Geek in Heels, LLC) who spoke about “The Right to Repair.”


Inman Pint of Science 3


Matt Brady Pint of ScienceMatt Brady, our Master of Ceremonies, Founder of TheScienceOf and Author of The Science of Rick and Morty.

And Shalisha Morgan of The Geek in Heels and iSee Tech for Kids.

Inman with Shalisha Morgan Pint of Science 4

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CircuitPython for DIY MIDI Microcontrollers


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CircuitPython for DIY MIDI Microcontrollers
Moogfest 2019
Session 1:  11:30 AM – 1:00 PM | Friday, April 26, 2019
Session 2:  2:30 PM – 3:45 PM | Friday, April 26, 2019

For years, the Arduino, programmed in C, has been the standard platform for creating DIY MIDI hardware controllers. Now, a port of MicroPython to microcontrollers allows Python programmers to create their own DIY MIDI hardware, taking advantage of newer, faster, more powerful chips that include USB MIDI as standard. In this workshop, we will use the Mu code editor and CircuitPython to program a MIDI controller. We will cover how to load libraries, access digital and analog inputs, connect to external hardware like potentiometers and switches, and implement basic note and timing controls as well as control change messaging. Participants must bring a laptop for programming, but all other materials will be provided in the workshop. Led by Elliot Inman of Musical Circuits.

This zip includes all files loaded to TrinketMO, including the main and sensor programs as well as the adafuit_midi.py file necessary to run this code with the 4-23-2019 bootloader:  Moogfest_TrinketMO_Workshop_4-26-2019 .

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Sums of Squares Breadboard Synth


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Sums of Squares Breadboard Synth
4:30 PM – 5:45 PM | Saturday, April 27, 2019

A single digital square wave produces a buzzy musical tone. A second slow square produces a slow-rolling LFO. A third fast square produces a tremolo. And a stack of summed squares begins to sound like something entirely different. In this workshop, we will breadboard a square wave oscillator, generating multiple square waves that can be combined to create something beyond a basic bass buzz. This is a make-and-take workshop. No computer, no soldering, no electronics experience required. Please bring your own earbuds to listen to the output. All other materials will be provided and you can keep what you make. Led by Elliot Inman of Musical Circuits.



Note:  Be careful plugging earbuds into this as there is no volume control on the speaker.  Electrolytic capacitors have the long leg closest to the 40106 chip and the short leg attached to GND.


SoS Board 1

SoS Board 2   SoS Board 3


Pictures from the workshop…

SoS Workshop 2

SoS Workshop 4



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The Makerspace as 21st Century Bauhaus: A Black Mountain College in Every University

At the 10th Annual Black Mountain College ReVIEWING conference (September 2018), I moderated a panel with three innovative makerspace leaders — Adam Rogers (NCSU), David Romito (UNC), and Lauren Di Monte (U of Rochester).  We talked about how the modern university makerspace is a continuation of the interdisciplinary hands-on educational philosophy that guided the Bauhaus art school in Germany (1919-1933) and Black Mountain College in Black Mountain, North Carolina (1933-1957).  Responding to quotes gathered from BMC student and teacher interviews, memoirs, essays, and other artifacts, we connected the voices of the past with the voices of the present to discuss everything from the challenges of implementing Neo-Bauhaus pedagogical philosophies to whether a 3D printed pot is still pottery.

BMC Brochure NC Archives

Black Mountain College Brochure 1938/39:  The college also offers art courses…music courses…

The conference was hosted at UNC Asheville, September 28-30, 2018.  This year’s focus was the Black Mountain College Summer Art and Music Institutes, summer programs that brought together creative artists, designers, and happening makers like the composer John Cage, dancer Merce Cunningham, poets Charles Olson and Robert Creeley, designer R. Buckminster Fuller, painters Willem and Elaine de Kooning, and too many others to list here.  It was “galaxy of talent,” as painter Ray Johnson described it, gathered to, as Martin Duberman said, break down the false differentiation between “curricular” and “extracurricular.”

Below is the abstract for our panel and brief bios of our panelists with links to the makerspaces in which they carry on the work of providing students an open opportunity to pursue interdisciplinary projects in the tradition of Black Mountain College.

The Makerspace as 21st Century Bauhaus: A Black Mountain College in Every University

The modern university makerspace carries on the mission of Black Mountain College and its Bauhaus roots by providing a space where students and faculty can explore interdisciplinary projects both as part of degree programs and in shorter, non-credit workshops and project-based programs. Makerspaces provide students an opportunity to learn traditional crafts like sewing and woodworking, modern methods like 3D printing and digital design, and the creative use of microcontrollers and other computer technologies – providing a combination of art and science, theory and hands-on skills. In this discussion with members of three university makerspace programs, we will highlight the similarities between the modern makerspace and BMC from the challenges of finding a space (and then, sometimes, having to find another), how to engage faculty and students from multiple disciplines, how to build a sustainable community of interdisciplinary studies, the relationship between the business of making (or sustaining such a place) while retaining the freedom to pursue esoteric aesthetic adventures, and even how some modern technologies like 3D printing are more like hands-on crafts like pottery than people may imagine. We will discus similarities and differences in the well-established makerspaces at NC State (NCSU Makerspace) and UNC (BeAM makerspaces) and a newer space at the University of Rochester (TinkerSpace) with three people working in those programs whose own backgrounds in visual arts, biology, and cultural anthropology are as diverse as the cultures they help to create.




Adam Rogers
Head of Making & Innovation Studio, NC State University
North Carolina State University Libraries Makerspace

Adam Rogers is an innovative, user-focused librarian who works at the intersection of public services and new technologies. In his role as Head of Making & Innovation Studio for the NCSU Libraries, he directs the library’s Makerspace program, which includes spaces at the James B. Hunt Jr. Library and the D.H. Hill Library, and makes 3D printing, 3D scanning, laser cutting, and electronics prototyping tools accessible to all at NC State.



David Romito
Science Librarian, University of North Carolina (Chapel Hill)
Kenan Science Library, BeAM Makerspace

David Romito is a science and makerspace librarian at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He works with students, faculty, and staff in all disciplines, helping them enrich their research and learning experience with technologies such as 3D printing, electronics, and virtual reality.

Lauren Di Monte
Director of Research Initiatives, University of Rochester Libraries
River Campus Libraries TinkerSpace

Lauren Di Monte is the Director of Research Initiatives at the University of Rochester where she works to engage and support faculty in interdisciplinary research. In 2017, she founded the library’s TinkerSpace with workshops that included such diverse skills as creative coding with microcontrollers to basic electronics skills like soldering and data science skills like data visualization and creative coding projects. In the 2018 academic year, the TinkerSpace program will expand from the River Campus Libraries to include workshops in the Rettner Fabrication Studio, part of the new Roland Rettner Hall for Media Arts and Innovation.



Elliot Inman

Elliot Inman
Musical Maker / Experimental Psychologist / Data Scientist
Musical Circuits (aka, where you are now)

Elliot Inman has led workshops in electronics and creative coding on topics ranging from basic electronics and Arduino programming to Fast Fourier Analysis, 8-bit chip synths, MIDI controllers, and the Internet of Things. He developed and led the “Musical Circuits” series as Maker-in-Residence at UNC (spring 2016) and “Quantification: The Art of Making Data” workshop series at NC State (fall 2016). At Moogfest (2017, 2018) and Knobcon (2016), he led workshops on experimental musical instrument design. He is an active participant in the maker faire scene, having participated in Burlington, Charlotte, Greensboro, Raleigh, and Rochester. He earned his undergraduate degrees in English and Psychology at North Carolina State University and his PhD in Experimental Psychology at the University of Kentucky, completing his masters thesis on text processing and a dissertation on visual perception and learning. He works for a leading analytics software company designing data mining and data visualization software. He first encountered Black Mountain College as an undergraduate at NC State when he discovered the Black Mountain Review and, in particular, the work of Cage and Cunningham — surprised to discover that such a utopia had once existed so close to home.

Lake_Eden_Drawing by Gropius and Breuer 1939

A Coney Island of the Mind… The Lake Eden Campus as drawn by Gropius and Breuer (1939)



This year’s ReVIEWING conference was held at the University of North Carolina Asheville campus.  While Google can provide perhaps more detailed views of Asheville from street-level to satellite, no one has illustrated Asheville more accurately than Willem de Kooning.

Asheville by Willem de Kooning 1948

Asheville, Willem de Kooning, 1948


~ WEI 2018


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Musical Circuits Goes to Moogfest 2018

MF18 Moogfest 2018 Screenshot v2

From Digital Bits to Analog Waves:  Breadboarding an 8-bit Synth

Using only digital logic and handful of wires and resistors, we will breadboard a circuit that creates complex analog sounds.  Theoretically speaking, we will wire an R2R (resistor to resistor) ladder to smooth the output of a Walsh function generator, experimenting with the auditory effects that result from altering those connections.  Practically speaking, we are going to breadboard a circuit and poke it with wires to hear what happens.  This is a make-and-take workshop.  No computer, no soldering, no electronics experience required.  Please bring your own earbuds to listen to the output.  All other materials will be provided and you can keep what you make.

MF18 Circuit Diagram


Ciani Versus Buchla:  An Audacious Experiment in Sound Design

“[W]e played tennis frequently.  He was a very good tennis player, and we shared that passion.”  Suzanne Ciani talking about Don Buchla (Electronic Musician, May 2017).  What would that have sounded like?  Using Audacity, we will create an imaginary auditory narrative of a game of tennis played by two of the greats of synthesized sound.  We will model the sound of Ciani’s serve, Buchla’s return, a racquet hitting a ball, the bounce of a ball back and forth on the court, and the roar of a crowd.  No experience with Audacity or sound design (or tennis) is required, but participants must bring a laptop (MAC or PC) of their own.  Please download Audacity before the workshop.


Elsewhere at Moogfest 

Musical Circuits Moogfest

Herb Deutsch Playing the First Moog Modular Prototype

MF18 Team Buchla

Team Buchla Tells It Like It Was

MF18 Tlacael Esparza Sensory Percussion

Tlacael Esparza Explains Sensory Percussion as Midori Takada Leans In

MF18 Ben Gebhardt of Moog Explains Electronics

Ben Gebhardt of Moog Explains a Circuit

Musical Circuits Moogfest

AI Design Workshop

MF18 KRS-One Teaches

KRS-One Teaches Everything You Didn’t Learn in School

MF18 Moog by Shanahan

Bob Moog

And then, back into a world too much with us, late and soon…

MF18 Resist


MF18 Wristband


Thanks to Lorna-Rose, James, Megan, and everyone who came together to share a few magic days of electronic sound.

— WEI 2018

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Four Four Time @ CDI

Four Four Time

An interactive, collaborative constellation of four MIDI sequencers, each of which can play four notes in its own time with variable pitches, note lengths, and tempos. Participants can join in the real time creation of complex musical patterns working at one of the four sequencer stations or just listen in to the results of a crowdsourced quartet.  Presented by Elliot Inman of Musical Circuits as part of MUSICnight at the Center for Design Innovation, November 1, 2017.

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Circuit Bending for Beginners

Circuit BendingBecause unmaking something is a great way to make something new.

Circuit Bending for Beginners
Unmake a musical keyboard and discover how plastic parts connect with electronic circuits to make music. See how the piano keyboard actually works, how a power supply is wired, and how the speakers are connected to the circuit. Find out what happens when we trick the circuit into doing things it was never intended to do. With nothing more than a Phillips screwdriver and a handful of wires, we will dismantle a keyboard and turn it into an experimental orchestra of synthesized sounds. No soldering, no high voltage, no computer — only reckless good fun. Workshop lead by Elliot Inman of Musical Circuits as part of the Charlotte Mini Maker Faire hosted by Discovery Place, 10-14-2017.


Circuit Bernding for BeginnersPhoto from Twitter:  CLTMakerFaire, 10/14/2017
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Musical Circuits Goes to Moogfest 2017


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