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Engineering students chime in with new electronic music system for Pulley Tower

By Mary Schrott
On March 11, 2014

Though there is no pulling actually involved in the operating of Miami University's Pulley Tower, over the past year, the tower has welcomed hands-on involvement from students in attempts to produce the best chime.

Senior Brian Breitsch, mathematics and electrical engineering major, was one of three students last year to get involved with the tower as he and recent graduates Aaron Pittenger and Brian Withrow redesigned the system's electronics for their senior electrical engineering capstone project.

With its new system "it sort of just operates itself," Breitsch said

The new system runs through a computer and is completely wireless; Breitsch is rarely physically in the tower.

The students were interested in finding a more effective way to operate the tower that was "really poorly designed," Breitsch said. "We went in [to the tower] and were shocked."

Many of the parts of the original tower were described to be old military surplus supplies.

"We are actually saving the university money," Breitsch said, "because they don't need to hire maintenance workers for [the tower] anymore."

In 2001, William Pulley gifted the university with the tower in memory of his late father, who was a 1925 Miami alum and former mayor of Oxford. Pulley Tower is a 50-bell carillon, located on Patterson Avenue adjacent to Bachelor Hall that plays for about 10 minutes, eight times a day.

The music the tower plays is manipulated completely electronically with its student-installed computer system.

"It's a great resource to learn," Breitsch said. "I really hope the university will continue to give design students the opportunity to work with the tower."

The tower plays songs ranging from classics like "My Heart Will Go On" to more popular songs like "Call Me Maybe."

First-year Kyle Guggenhiem said he personally enjoys hearing "Pirates of the Caribbean" medleys during his walk to class.

"It makes the walk better, especially on the really cold days," Guggenhiem said.

Though the tower has a diverse playlist, Pulley still likes to check up on his chimes.

"Mr. Pulley complained once that it wasn't playing classical sort of songs," Breitsch said.

Breitsch's involvement with Pulley Tower is one of the many instances in which he has been able to marry his two passions of music and engineering. In 2012, Breitsch spoke at TedXYouth@Columbus about his Kinect musical interface software he developed at his Summer At The Edge internship program under the AFRL's DiscoveryLab. His software produced music based on human movement, like dancing.

In fact, Breitsch is planning on returing to his Kinect music program at Miami's Kinetics Festival April 6 at Millet Hall. Miami's annual Kinetics Festival is a "celebration of people powered propulsion," according to its website www.oxfordkineticsfestival.org.

Now a senior, Breitsch is planning on attending the PhD program at Colorado State for electrical engineering. However, he said he appreciates his hands-on time with Pulley Tower, not only for the engineering experience but also for the way it has allowed him to become more in touch with his campus.

"Sometimes I'll have these moments, especially since it's my senior year, where I'll be walking around the tower and think 'Wow this is a really cool place to be' and sort of take in the moment," Breitsch said. "It's almost like walking around Disney World."


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