The MakerBot, like most CNC devices, uses stepper motors to control the build platform and Z axis. Stepper motors work by turning on and off to precisely control positioning, which means they make noise. The noise generated depends on the motion, so if you move the motors just right, you can control the pitch and duration – meaning, you can make music.
On a three-axis machine like the MakerBot, you can actually play three notes at a time.
CNC movement is controlled by a standardized CNC programming language called G Code. It’s all trigonometry, so computers are useful if you want to calculate multi-part harmonies. Tim Gipson made a Python script to convert MIDI files to G Code, though it’s written for a standard 3-axis CNC mill and apparently doesn’t work properly on MakerBots. This is only a problem because I do not have a 3-axis CNC mill.
I do have access to a MakerBot, so fortunately, TeamTeamUSA modified the Python script to work with the MakerBot. So now there is a group of MakerBot operators who use their MakerBots to make music.
We have three MakerBots at Crash Space, so for the upcoming Handmade Music L.A., we will be having a MakerBot orchestra.