I have a friend building a fantasy steampunk car for burning man. I'd like to create sounds so it sounds like a steam engine. He's got pistons attached to the wheels so it looks like a train.

I will be hooking up some sort of sensor to know where the piston is in its cycle. I'll be using that to trigger steam puff sounds. I'll have some kind of computer on board to be able to generate the sound.

I don't know if it is something I could completely synthesize in rhythm to the piston, or if I'll end up playing samples based on the piston position and speed. I'd love to have it sound a little erratic so it's more realistic.

I assume I'll have a rotary encoder or something equivalent to tell me what position the piston is at.

Seems like game designers would need to do this kind of thing all the time. I just don't have a clue where to start.

  • So is your problem about technical or creative issues? Mar 12, 2013 at 0:59
  • Both. Technical at first just to see what is possible, after which it will turn creative.
    – Monty
    Mar 12, 2013 at 15:33

2 Answers 2


Look at Pure Data (or the commercial Max/MSP) on the software front and Arduino or Raspberry Pi (or both) on the hardware front. You'll need to dig in a lot to understand how to get them to do what you want, but those are the tools most often used for this type of creative interaction projects (involving sensors).


Although not the exact sound you are after (???) this tutorial shows how to synthesis a stream turbine sound (http://audio.tutsplus.com/tutorials/production/essential-synthesis-part-1-synth-noise-effects/). Will not take much to turn it into a stream engine. As @Internet says above, if you want to trigger the sound to coincide with the physical action of a piston.

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