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I saw a presentation by composer and performance artist Laurie Anderson at the University of Missouri while I was an undergraduate student. In preparation for her residency, I learned about some of her past work, including an instrument she created, the tape-bow violin. I thought that it sounded like a really amazing thing, and I decided then that I would one day make one.

When I came to Michigan State University, one of the first student composer concerts I saw included Nate Bliton performing a work on an electronic instrument of his own creation, the Bovalve. I had never before considered that regular people like me, with no specialized electronics or computer training, could design and build a computer peripheral (or that this could be done for cheap).

A little over a year ago, I cooked up the idea for a digital version of Anderson’s tape-bow violin. I wanted to be able to switch sounds on the fly using buttons, switches, and knobs on the instrument itself (unlike the tape-bow violin). I called it the Sampolin. With lots of help from Nate, who taught me about Arduino microcontrollers (open source electronics hardware/firmware) and Puredata (open source media creation platform), and Sam Merciers, who shared his fabrication expertise, the Sampolin became a real thing!

Last Friday, in celebration of the birth of the Sampolin, Nate and I created a piece for our respective original creations. We made a video recording of Sampolin Jam, for Sampolin and Bovalve.

If you’re curious about how Sampolin works or what it is I’m actually doing in that video, here’s a video of me demonstrating how it works.


  • Yeeeah! Get it!

  • That’s too cool, congrats on the Sampolin!

  • David MacDonald

    Thanks, mnemosyne. I’m glad you like it!