We’ve got to admit, we don’t have any idea what to call this hack. Artist [Graham Dunning] refers to it somewhat dryly as the “Mechanical Techno method”, but that doesn’t quite do it justice. We’re thinking “Turntable-sequencer-synthesizer-beat-box-dub-stepper thingy. With cowbell.”
Call it what you will, but [Graham] has really gone the distance in extracting as much sound as possible from the humble turntable, which is used as more of a synchronizer than a sound source. Although it does play records too – at least part of them; [Graham] masks the grooves and anchors the tone arm so that only part of a track is played. Other records are masked with conductive film over which wiper contacts are placed, providing triggers for various synthesizers. Particularly clever is the mechanical percussion section; a record is cut radially to form cams that mechanical followers trip over periodically to hit either the cone of a woofer for bass notes, or a cowbell for – well, cowbell.
It may not appeal to everyone, but you’ve got to admit there’s something mesmerizing about watching this rig in action. The beat is pretty catchy, and as you can see in the live performance video after the break, there’s a lot of room for [Graham] to express himself with this instrument. We wouldn’t mind seeing how Compressorhead would put this rig to work in their performances either.
Imagine if you played all the keys on a piano at once. What would it sound like? Now imagine that you’d like to transcribe that music. What would it look like? So many notes that you could hardly see the paper underneath.
Which is why the people making such “impossible music” are calling themselves the Black MIDI Crew: if you wrote the music down, it’d look like a big black blob. Or at least, that’s the joke. Amazingly, though, it doesn’t sound like a big mess. Check out “Pi, The Song With 3.1415 Million Notes” below the break to see what we mean.
Play the demo video below and try not to let the rhythm worm its way into your brain. What you’re hearing is the sound of a bunch of clocks, amplified. None of them are keeping wall time, but all of them are playing together.
The video looks like eight identical version of the same module. The input takes a voltage and converts the rising and falling edges into pulses to drive the coil of an el-cheapo clock. The LEDs pulse as the poles of the clock switch to the incoming beats. The output comes from an amplified piezo sensor stuck on the back of each clock. That is, what you’re hearing is each clock ticking, but amplified. And if you watch the dials spin, it doesn’t look like any of them are telling time.
So far so good, and it matches up with the schematic. But what’s up with that switch on the front? It doesn’t show up anywhere.
And what’s driving the show? [Gijs] tantalizes us with a master clock module (on the same page) that looks like it does keep time, and outputs subdivisions thereof. But that would be too slow to be what’s used in the video. Has he swapped the crystal to make it run faster? It’s a mystery.
It used to be that you had to spend real money to get an alternative controller for your electronic musical arsenal. These days, with cheap microcontrollers and easily-accessible free software libraries, you can do something awesome for pocket change. But that doesn’t mean that you can’t make a sexy, functional piece of art along the way! [Jan Godde] did just that with his cleverly named Wooden Sensor Box With Two Rotary Disks. (If you’ve got a better name for this thing, toss it in the comments.)
From what we can see, the box has two potentiometer sliders, two touch-sensitive potentiometers, two force sensitive resistors, a slew of knobs, and a whole bunch of (capacitive?) touch points. In short, a ton of continuous controllers of all sizes and shapes in an aesthetic case. But stealing the show, and giving the device its name, are two platters from old hard drives that serve as jog wheels.
As shown in the video below the break, the two jog wheels are covered with alternating stripes on the underside. Each platter has a dedicated pair of IR LEDs and photodetectors underneath serving as a quadrature encoder that allows [Jan] to tell which direction the platters are rotating, and how far.
If you’re at all interested in synthesizers, but haven’t gotten as deep into programming them as you’d like, you absolutely need to check out the old “Synth Secrets” column from Sound on Sound magazine. Across 63(!) articles, the author [Gordon Reid] takes a practical approach to learning synthesizers: trying to copy the sound of one real instrument at a time, with concrete examples built up on one particular synthesizer.
[Gordon]’s approach to synthesis is straightforward, but that’s exactly what makes it useful. After the first couple articles, which introduce you to the common functions of many synthesizers, most articles follow a simple pattern: listen to the instrument’s characteristic sounds, look to the physics behind how it produces them, and then figure out how to replicate as much of the sound as is necessary (or possible) to capture the essence of the instrument. Sometimes when the instrument’s sounds are particularly complex, as in this series of articles on the violin, he’ll break this simple formula up across multiple articles.
Now you might complain that you don’t have a Korg MS-20 or an ARP Odyssey or whatever particular old synth is being used in any particular article. But the “Secrets” are actually so fundamental, and by-and-large worked out on such simple analog synths, that even if you can’t make exactly the same sounds as [Gordon] does, you’ll understand how he got where he got, you’ll probably get pretty close, and you’ll have tuned up your ears along the way.
Plus, you’ll learn a tremendous amount about the character and capabilities of your synthesizer by trying. Working through the “Synth Secrets” examples would be a great way to get to know a new synth in your rack, even if you’re only into space noise and not interested in reproducing real instruments.
But if you are into space noise, also check out our own Logic Noise series. You won’t learn anything about real instruments, but you’ll learn a heck of a lot about the 4000-series logic chips and the abuse thereof.
Thanks [Greg Kennedy] for reminding us of this gem, and for re-installing the “Synth Secrets” bee in our bonnet!
Making sound with digital logic usually calls for a Digital to Analog converter. Building one can be very simple, and the sound quality out of an R-2R Ladder is actually pretty good.
In the last edition of Logic Noise, we built up a (relatively) simple VCO — voltage-controlled oscillator — that had roughly one-volt-per-octave response. I even demonstrated it working mostly in tune with another synth’s keyboard. But what if you don’t have a control-voltage keyboard sitting around or you want to combine all of the logic-based circuits that we’ve been building with other circuits under voltage control? That’s where the digital to analog (DAC) voltage converter comes in.