The Insectitron project is a type of interactive audio art installation. The idea is to break a song into chords that can be played by objects in physical space. The listener then hears the song as they traverse the space, giving them control over the tempo, rhythm, and arrangement (to some degree).

A music staff with a right-pointing arrow and text that reads Time, but also Space.

In 2011, I wrote a simple ambient drone named "Spirit" for my slowwavesleep project. The song is a chromatic piece that consists of eight dyads. Over the next several years I occasionally considered how I would present it as interactive art, and after a few failures I finally made a working prototype in 2019. With the testing phase complete, I decided the future realization of this project would require 3D modeling skills I did not have and a 3D printer I did not own. Eventually I got serious about finalizing it in early 2022 and finished in spring 2024... an embarrassing thirteen years after I thought of the idea.


A gif showing the insides of a prototype

I decided to stick with the beetle design from version one prototype, but try to make them more friendly and inviting and cuter. My 3D modeling skills have always been weak, mostly because other hobbies would always get in the way of dedicating serious time to learn Blender. I'm still a novice, but at least now I can make models with decent topology. I also had basically no experience with 3D printing. I bought a Prusa MINI in 2020 but didn't get around to doing much with it until 2022. I certainly learned a lot from this project though, it took hundreds of hours of printing over several weeks to complete. Originally I was going to to paint the models but found this really cool blue-green silk filament from MatterHackers, and while the effect isn't quite what I expected it's still pretty great.

A gif showing the insides of a prototype

Inside each beetle is a battery-powered 1W amp attached to a pair of small speakers and a AA battery holder. Connected to that is a small mp3 player that runs on a single AAA battery. In the head of each beetle is a sound-activated LED kit for the eyes. It's a remarkably simple construction, basically a tiny stereo inside an attractive case, but it took several weeks to design the housing because everything needed to be super compact in order fit my print area. All components were measured and fit to within ~1mm tolerance. Originally I wanted the LEDs to play a bigger role in the overall look and illuminate parts of the shell, but the effect wasn't great and to make it better would have required too much work that I felt was out of scope for this project.

The audio took longer than expected to generate. Several days were spent playing keyboards and soft-synths through the prototype's speakers until I found sounds that felt close to what I was looking for. Those then needed to be stacked and mixed in a way that didn't distort when turned up to full volume and would sound good at quiet volumes.


Here is the song the beetles play. The synth sound is rich and combines four separate patches from a Korg N5ex with some equalization, filters, and slight amplitude modulation.

a bug