Additive manufacturing is becoming a highly influential force in a number of industries, from food production to fashion and health care. Fantastic 3D printed projects are popping up in the visual arts as well, but very little has been said about how musicians are using 3D printing to enhance their work. In this Maker Tale we will explore Fello - a project that mixes the creative genius of electronic music composer Andi Otto with great engineering skills and 3D printing.

Meet Andi Otto

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Andi Otto is a composer and electronic musician from Hamburg, Germany. He has been performing internationally under the name Springintgut for over 12 years. Though he is a classically-trained cellist and drummer, Otto decided to test the limits of traditional instruments using new media early on in his career. His first live shows featured a self-built drumkit with books and contact microphones. Most recently, he’s been experimenting with “Fello,” a modified cello made with an accelerometer and a pressure sensor attached to the bow.

How does Fello work?

Fello is a performance instrument that exists somewhere between a cello and a laptop. It uses an accelerometer and a pressure sensor on the bow to measure arm movement and finger pressure, and interact with live-sampling audio software. This sensory input is amplified and transmitted to the audio software using a minibee. The sensor data is then mapped to filters and delay units. Delays are heavily used in dub music and other forms of electronica and can repeat sounds at different speeds. Andi uses them to play timbral music or create rhythmical patterns.

Fello also includes an LED feedback system. The LED is hard-wired to the accelerometer and provides visual feedback about the angle of the sensor in RGB color. This allows Andi to play different notes with bow gestures and identify pitches by color. Incidentally, it also makes clear to the audience that Andi’s cello is a hybrid between a traditional instrument and digital technology.

The project has been in development since 2005 and a number of enhancements has been made across the years. Recently, a lightweight removable case was printed through 3D Hubs in order to attach the sensors, battery and LED to the bow. This made it possible to make the device function without damaging the bow with glue or making extensive modifications.

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The latest improvements to Fello were made with the help of STEIM engineer Marije Baalman and systems designer Chi ha ucciso il Conte?. STEIM (the Amsterdam-based Studio for Electro-Instrumental Music) helps artists like Andi in the design of their projects’ physical components. STEIM’s Chi ha ucciso il Conte? is no stranger to 3D printing, having used the technology before to produce other unique objects. In his own words: “3D printing enables me to produce refined parts and products (nearly industrial quality) on demand. Fitting handcrafted circuits into a device can also be very tricky, with 3D modelling and printing I have almost complete freedom in shaping my designs. The technology was of great help in Fello and other projects.

With Fello, Andi is able to create playful and experimental compositions while re-learning how to master an instrument with his entire body. “I prefer sweat and aching muscles over a headache after a day of making music,” says Andi. “Most electronic music that we hear is the result of brain work on a screen, not instrumental. I wanted to create something with no manual, which would enable me to discover new ways to play and compose electronic music. Sometimes the playing really starts when I lift the bow off the strings and play in the air. Fello also adds a more expressive, almost dramatic, tone to my performances. In fact, many choreographers have asked me for collaborations since I’m making funny moves on stage.”

Springintgut: Live in Kyoto from Fello on Vimeo.

Where does Fello stand now?

After playing live on stage with Fello for a number of years, Andi finally took the device to his studio in 2013. It appears on many tracks of his latest Springintgut album, Where We Need No Map. “For a very long time, I thought that Fello was only suitable in a live performance context, where people see and feel how the sound is being produced through my motions. Making recordings has been really rewarding. I have used ideas which I collected on tour through India (listen to “Bangalore Kids” below) and Japan (listen to “Ode To Yakushima”), and composed Fello tracks around that material. The project is always taking me to new places.”

Like Andi’s page on Facebook to learn more and follow his upcoming tour in Japan!