Meet Axoloti

Posted on 2015-01-02 by Jan Vantomme
Tags: music

I started making electronic music in 1996, first with the crappy General Midi sounds on a cheap sound card before moving to ReBirth. In 1999, I started playing with decent hardware synths, samplers and drum machines. I spent a long time making music with Ableton Live, and recently I’ve started combining software with hardware again.

Last year, Johannes Taelman invited me to play with the beta version of a new open source hardware/software music platform for he was building. He just launched a crowdfunding campaign, so it’s a good time for me to review the Axoloti for you.

Axoloti Core

Let’s take a look at the Axoloti Core first. This board is the hardware part of the platform. If you are familiar with electronics prototyping: think of it as an Arduino on steroids, for creating music. This is what the board looks like.

Axoloti Core board.

From left to right:

  • Stereo audio input and output with 24bit sampling.
  • Headphone jack.
  • Micro USB port to connect the board to your computer so you can program the board.
  • Micro SD Card slot to store patches and samples.
  • Midi input and output.

At the other side of the board, there are a lot of holes where you can attach other electronic components like faders, knobs or buttons. This makes the board really interesting because it allows you to create your own personal hardware instrument. The board is quite small, so it’s also ideal to hide it in an interactive installation.

Axoloti Patcher

The software for the Axoloti allows you to model your own sounds by connecting small objects with patch cables. It’s a bit like building a modular synth. What’s really great is that you can decide for yourself in which order these objects are connected. If you need eight oscillators, each with a ADSR envelope and a filter, you can build it. With commercial software or hardware synthesizers, this isn’t possible as their specifications are fixed. They are usually designed to generate a certain kind of sound, so you aren’t free to do with them what you want. The Axoloti Patcher comes with over 400 different objects. Here’s a screenshot showing some of them.

The Axoloti Patcher environment showing a lot of objects

Programming the Axoloti is a bit like using PureData or Max/MSP. You connect some objects with virtual cables. Once you’ve created a patch, you can push the “Live” button. The software will then compile the patch to C code and upload it to the Axoloti board.

A great feature in the software is subpatching. You can easily create a polyphonic synthesizer by loading a monophonic synth patch and telling the software how many voices you need.

Axoloti isn’t limited to create synthesizers. So far I’ve used it to create guitar effects, synths, drum machines and even a small sampler. The fun part is that you don’t need your computer after you’ve programmed the board. You can use it as a standalone instrument. Just plug in a MIDI keyboard/controller and focus on the music!

Axoloti Needs Your Support

If you are into making electronic music, you should support the Axoloti crowd funding campaign on Indiegogo. For only €60, you will receive an Axoloti Core board so you can create any musical instrument you like. That’s really cheap compared to small standalone music boxes from Korg or Roland. And those commercial boxes usually only do one thing, whereas the Axoloti can be multiple things at the same time.

Your money will be used to create the first batch of Axoloti boards, and to continue developing the firmware and software. The goal is to build a small community of music enthusiasts around this piece of open-source hardware/software.

Free Patches for Everybody!

I’ve open sourced some of the patches I made so far on GitHub. There’s only three of them right now, but I’ll publish more of them soon.

If you want to know what they sound like, you can find some more info about each patch and an audio file on this page I’ve created on


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