“… Every great inventor and creator failed a hundred times before they succeeded. The person that created that amazing thing was probably banging their head against the wall until they got it to work.”
We spoke with Ramon Yvarra, Maker extraordinaire, about his amazing “Amelia Mouse” piano that he will show off at Maker Faire San Diego on October 3-4. Run by electronics, “Amelia” is a player piano controlled wirelessly by computer, and has a large LCD screen which makes music visible in patterns and color.
So what inspired you to build a player piano?
I was in an antique store and saw a collection of old player piano rolls. I wondered: have these been digitized to play today? After some research, I found entire catalogs of digitized rolls, and I decided to build something to play these files. I’ve always wanted live piano in my home, and I figured I could spend half a lifetime learning to play or a year building a machine to do it.
Why do you call it “Amelia Mouse”? And why visualize the music with lights and LED?
I bought the piano from a seller on Craigslist, and while I was cleaning it I found an empty mouse’s nest under the minor keys. So I created a backstory about a mouse that loved music so much, that she made her home in a piano. Listening to people playing a piano is engaging, but watching one play itself not so much. Adding the display allows multiple senses to be engaged. It’s more interactive that way.
What’s on the horizon?
I’ve been working on full scale replica of No. 5 from the movie “Short Circuit,” for many years, and I recently started to think about atmospheric photography – balloons and drones and things like that, creating photographic scenes with the earth as the background.
It sounds like you have a lot of projects going on. What inspires you? What drives you?
I think what’s driven me most in my life is the need for expression – finding ways to express myself with art and technology, and solving problems for myself and others. Also about three years ago I was diagnosed with a rare heart condition, so I try to constantly fill my calendar with projects and activities. I ask myself every night: If I die tonight, will I have made the most of today? If the answer isn’t yes, I will work harder to make it “yes” the next day.
Were you always something of a maker?
As a child I had a clubhouse in my backyard that was just FILLED with electronic parts that I’d collected. Those were my toys. I would take out all the screws and springs and wires and build and rebuild for hours and hours.
Do you have any advice for burgeoning makers?
Don’t be afraid of failure. Every great inventor and creator failed a hundred times before they succeeded. The person that created that amazing thing was probably banging their head against the wall until they got it to work. It’s also quite possible to learn a lot on your own, the information is out there. It’s ok to do it on your own, just know that people are there when you need them. Internet forums, teachers, parents, other makers — there are tons of other people out there who are also trying.
For parents who want to help their kids succeed – let them get their hands dirty. Let them try something a little dangerous — under controlled circumstances. If they’re afraid, they’re more likely to hurt themselves in the future. Teach them how to do dangerous things safely.
What’s the best part about being a Maker?
The people. Watching people interact with what you’ve made. Everyone is really excited when I bring the piano around. It plays anything from old classics to “Everything is Awesome” from the Lego movie. Kids get really excited when they recognize the songs. Everyone just wants to hit the keys, so I added some new circuitry that will allow people to play the piano and see the visualization change. I’ll be debuting that feature in San Diego.