Touchpad Remote MIDI/Analog Controller Rocks

[acidbourbon] had some cool parts on hand, and a musician friend in need of a radio-controlled, touch-sensitive MIDI (and analog) controller. This being Hackaday, you can guess what happened next.

The remote expression controller is a sweet little hack. It starts with a touchpad bought from a German surplus shop, and some code that [acidbourbon] found on the biggest German embedded forum. A couple nicely home-etched circuit boards later, and he was writing code.

It’s all available here on his GitHub if you want to have a look. The transmission protocol is simplicity itself. It sends a two-byte header to detect the start of the message, and then it sends three bytes of data. The receiver turns this into MIDI and control-voltage output. Simple and useful.

We also admire the non-overkill (as well as the enviable battery life) of using straightforward radio transmitters rather than giving in and using WiFi.

We’ve covered some of Michael/[acidbourbon]’s hacks before, and the one that we think of the most, when we’re down in the basement drilling out holes in a PCB, is his semi-automatic drill press hack. Keep on hacking!

Autonomous Musical Soundscapes from 42 Fans and 7 Lasers

[dmitry] writes in to let us know about a new project that combines lasers with fans and turns the resulting modulation of the light beams into an autonomous soundscape. The piece is called “divider” and is a large, wall-mounted set of rails upon which seven red lasers are mounted on one end with seven matching light sensors mounted on the other end. Interrupting the lasers’ paths are forty-two brushless fans. Four Arduino Megas control the unit.

3Laser beams shining into light sensors don’t do much of anything on their own, but when spinning fan blades interrupt each laser beam it modulates the solid beams and turns the readings of the sensors on the far end into a changing electrical signal which can be played as sound. Light being modulated by fan blades to create sound is the operating principle behind a Fan Synth, which we’ve discussed before as being a kind of siren (or you can go direct to that article’s fan synth demo video to hear what kind of sounds are possible from such a system.)

This project takes this entire concept of a fan synth further by not only increasing the number of lasers and fans, but by tying it all together into an autonomous system. The lasers are interrupted repeatedly and constantly, but never simultaneously. Listen to and watch it in action in the video below.

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Very Clever 555 Bassline Synth/Sequencer

If we had a dime for every 555-based noisemaker circuit we see… But this one’s got a twist.

[Tristan] does two things that elevate his sawtooth-wave noisemaker above the norm. First, he gets a clean sawtooth wave out of it so that it sounds about right. Then he manages to make it more or less playable. It’s a refined version of a classic hack.


The first trick is a matter of putting a constant current supply upstream of the timing capacitor. The usual 555-timer circuit just charges the capacitor up from the power rails through a resistor. This is fine if all you care about is timing. But because the current is proportional to the constantly dropping voltage difference, the voltage on the capacitor is an exponential function over time.

A simple transistor current source linearizes the waveform in no time. Raw sawtooth waves are “rich in harmonics” which is synth-geek code for “a bit grating”, but it will surely do well with a little filtering. The Javascript suggests that he’s already thinking in that direction, but we’re going to need video proof!

The second cool trick up [Tristan]’s sleeve is the light-dependent resistor (LDR) that determines the pitch. Yeah, we’ve all made those before — the light-dependent “Theremin”. But [Tristan] took the extra step and wrote up a Javascript application that makes his monitor brighter and darker, enabling him to get musical pitches out of the gizmo.

We’ve always wanted to implement LED-to-LDR control while writing the Logic Noise series, but never found a reliable way to make it work. It’s cool to see [Tristan]’s efforts. Maybe we’ll pull a 555 out of the junk box in his honor.

CNC Upgrade to Guitar Pickup Winding Machine

The idea of winding inductive guitar pickups by hand is almost unthinkable. It uses extremely thin wire and is a repetitive, laborious process that nevertheless requires a certain amount of precision. It’s a prime candidate for automation, and while [Davide Gironi] did exactly that, he wasn’t entirely satisfied with his earlier version. He now has a new CNC version that is more full-featured and uses an ATMega8 microcontroller.

[Davide Gironi]’s previous version took care of winding and counting the number of turns, but it was still an assisted manual system that relied on a human operator. The new upgrade includes a number of features necessary to more fully automate the process, such as a wire tensioner, a wire guide and traverse mechanism (made from parts salvaged from a broken scanner), and an automatic stop for when the correct number of turns has been reached.


All kinds of small but significant details are covered in the build, such as using plastic and felt for anything that handles the wire — the extremely fine wire is insulated with a very thin coating and care must be taken to not scratch it off. Also, there is the need to compute how far the traverse mechanism must move the wire guide in order to place the new wire next to the previously-laid turn (taking into account the winding speed, which may be changing), and doing this smoothly so that the system does not need to speed up and slow down for every layer of winding.

This system is still programmed by hand using buttons and an LCD, but [Davide Gironi] says that the next version will use the UART in order to allow communication with (and configuration by) computer – opening the door to easy handling of multiple winding patterns. You can see video of the current version in action, below.

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Marvelous MIDI Button Box

Most DJ tools are just ripe for DIY rework. Everything at least speaks MIDI, and the firmware side of the equation that makes a physical interface for your laptop can be downloaded and flashed with minimal effort. And this means that there’s no time better than the present to wire up a ton of buttons to a Teensy and call it a controller.

[UmamiFish]’s build goes the extra mile, though, with a nice laser-cut box and holes for display LEDs as well as the 22 arcade buttons that are packed tightly into the enclosure. A 74HC595 shift-register IC handles the LEDs, but there’s no getting around a bunch of wiring in a build like this. It pays to be neat, and using ribbon cable helps keep some of the chaos under control.

Browsing around Instructables will turn up myriad similar controllers, should the exact configuration of this one not suit your needs. And if you want something with a little more of the real-disk feel, have a look at this controller that uses hard disk platters, or this log of a timecode-vinyl-to-MIDI build.

World’s Tiniest Violin Uses Radar and Machine Learning

The folks at [Design I/O] have come up with a way for you to play the world’s tiniest violin by rubbing your fingers together and actually have it play a violin sound. For those who don’t know, when you want to express mock sympathy for someone’s complaints you can rub your thumb and index finger together and say “You hear that? It’s the world’s smallest violin and it’s playing just for you”, except that now they can actually hear the violin, while your gestures control the volume and playback.

[Design I/O] combined a few technologies to accomplish this. The first is Google’s Project Soli, a tiny radar on a chip. Project Soli’s goal is to do away with physical controls by using a miniature radar for doing touchless gesture interactions. Sliding your thumb across the side of your outstretched index finger, for example, can be interpreted as moving a slider to change the numerical value of something, perhaps turning up the air conditioner in your car. Check out Google’s cool demo video of their radar and gestures below.

Project Soli’s radar is the input side for this other intriguing technology: the Wekinator, a free open source machine learning software intended for artists and musicians. The examples on their website paint an exciting picture. You give Wekinator inputs and outputs and then tell it to train its model.

The output side in this case is violin music. The input is whatever the radar detects. Wekinator does the heavy lifting for you, just give it input like radar monitored finger movements, and it’ll learn your chosen gestures and perform the appropriately trained output.

[Design I/O] is likely doing more than just using Wekinator’s front end as they’re also using openFrameworks, an open source C++ toolkit. Also interesting with Wekinator is their use of the Open Sound Control (OSC) protocol for communicating over the network to get its inputs and outputs. You can see [Design I/O]’s end result demonstrated in the video below.

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Life-Size Vu Meter Gets the Party Started

There’s nothing better than making a giant version of one of your hacks. That is, other than making it giant and interactive. That’s just what [Est] has done with his interactive VU meter that lights up the party.

The giant VU meter boasts a series of IR detectors that change the colors and modes of the meter based on where the user places their hands. The sensors measure how much light is reflected back to them, which essentially function as a cheap range finder. The normal operation of the meter and the new interactivity is controlled by a PIC16F883 and all of the parts were built using a home-made CNC router. There are two addressable RGB LEDs for each level and in the base there are four 3 W RGB LEDS. At 25 levels, this is an impressive amount of light.

[Est]’s smaller version of the VU meter has been featured here before, if you’re looking to enhance your music-listening or party-going experiences with something a little less intimidating. We’ve also seen VU meters built directly into the speakers and also into prom dresses.