Certain among our readership will no doubt remember attaching a playing card to the front fork of one’s bicycle so that the spokes flapped the card as the wheel rotated. It was supposed to sound like a motorcycle, which it didn’t, but it was good, clean fun with the bonus of making us even more annoying to the neighborhood retirees than the normal baseline, which was already pretty high.
[Garett Morrison]’s “Click Wheel Organ” works on much the same principle as a card in the spokes, only with far more wheels, and with much more musicality. The organ consists of a separate toothed wheel for each note, all turning on a common shaft. Each wheel is laser-cut from thin plywood, with a series of fine teeth on its outer circumference. The number of teeth, as calculated by a Python script, determines the pitch of the sound made when a thin reed is pressed against the spinning wheel. Since the ratio of teeth between the wheels is fixed, all the notes stay in tune relative to each other, as long as the speed of the wheels stays constant.
The proof-of-concept in the video below shows that speed control isn’t quite there yet — playing multiple notes at the same time seems to increase drag enough to slow the wheels down and lower the pitch for all the notes. There appears to be a photointerrupter on the wheel shaft to monitor speed, so we’d imagine a PID loop to control motor speed might help. That and a bigger motor that won’t bog down as easily. As for the sound, we’ll just say that it certainly is unique — and, that it seems like something [Nicolas Bras] would really dig.