Research & Innovation

Stevens Senior Invents All-in-One Music Technology Controller

Stevens senior Robert May can spend more time making music and less time setting up. He has combined music with mechanics to create a fully modular MIDI controller. The working prototype allows May, a Music & Technology major in the College of Arts and Letters, to control multiple kinds of software and hardware from a single easy-to-use device.

Like many inventions, the modular MIDI controller was born of necessity. May describes himself as a multi-instrumentalist producer, DJ and mix engineer.

"I was having trouble finding a software controller that could adapt to my many skills and talents," he said.

Available tools on the market each used their own design, format and layout, requiring users to spend time mastering a different interface for each gadget. Besides the learning curve and time commitment, each device came with its own hefty price tag.

May looked for a way to simplify the process.

"I came up with the idea of a controller with movable input controls," May said.

Instead of using different equipment for individual functions, his controller can be adapted to perform each task.

"The innovation in my project comes from the different approach to the overall design," May said. "I have not created any additional input methods or controls; only changed the way that a performer uses them."

The device uses the MIDI interface, the industry-standard communications protocol. Nearly all music software and hardware use the MIDI protocol, and May's controller can interface with any other MIDI device.

Simplicity is May's goal.

"Instead of buying and learning multiple interfaces, the user can adapt a single controller to any task in a cohesive way," he said.

Indeed, the device looks deceptively simple. It comprises of two buttons, two sliders, four tuners and multiple wires attached to a circuit board.

However, May – who created the controller for his senior design project under the guidance of Stevens professors Robert Harari and Joyce Mullan – sees the far-reaching potential of his invention.

"Touring musicians and DJs can have only the controls they need for their performance at their fingertips, allowing them to have a more expressive performance,” May said. “Home studio operators can adapt to any project they're working on at any time, increasing their output and the quality of their work. The concept could even be expanded in size to create full-size recording consoles, giving recording engineers a way to reorganize and feel at home in any studio they use."

There is no device currently on the market that duplicates the functions of May's MIDI controller.

"The freedom, leading to greater expression, is what sets my controller apart from the rest," May said.

May hopes to develop both the capabilities of the MIDI controller as well as its marketability after he graduates from Stevens.

"I'd love to be behind this concept as it takes over the industry," he said.