A Robotic 808 Drum Machine

If you spent the 1980s hanging out at your local record store, and you don’t have a hankering for spandex and bouffant rock-god hairstyles, the chances are you’ll have more than a few pieces of electronic music from the period in your collection. The proliferation of electronica during that era came through the arrival of relatively inexpensive mass-market digital polyphonic instruments, edging out the sounds of monophonic analog synthesisers for a subsequent generation to rediscover in a later decade. Individual instrument models became icons and entered the musical vernacular of the day, the Ensoniq Mirage sampling synthesiser, the Yamaha DX7 FM synthesiser, or the Roland TR-808 drum machine.

It is the Roland TR-808 that inspired today’s subject, the MR-808 robotic drum machine, from [Moritz Simon Geist]. A percussion sequencer featuring real instruments all built into a cabinet styled to resemble a huge Roland 808. Originally built as a performance instrument, but since reinvented as a piece of installation artwork that visitors can program for themselves.

Block diagram of the MR-808
Block diagram of the MR-808

There is a comprehensive description of the machine’s design and build on the creator’s website, as well as a more high-level introduction. A significant amount of effort was put in to creating mechanical instruments as close as possible to the Roland sounds, with each instrument being operated by solenoids driven by a MIDI-controlled Arduino Mega. A second Arduino, this time an Uno, controls lighting that follows the instruments.

The interactive part of the installation comes from a sequencer front-end running in a web browser on a Nexus 7 tablet, this appears to be served from a Raspberry Pi which supplies MIDI to the MR-808.

The results can be seen in the video below the break, and judging by the reaction of the audience the machine is rather popular.

Continue reading “A Robotic 808 Drum Machine”

Digital synth for the non-chiptune inclined

Chiptunes are great, and we can’t imagine a world without the Mega Man 2 soundtrack, but sometimes we all like a more 70’s style synth. This is where the Roninsynth steps in. It’s an Arduino shield that puts the basic components of a wall of synth into your pocket.

Unlike the analog oscillators of yore, the Roninsynth is based on a single dsPIC33F chip. It has all the waveforms we would expect from its big brother – sine, saw, triangle, square, and noise – and a couple modulation options.  What’s really interesting is the GUI the Roninsynth team put together. Instead of going with the knobs and buttons approach of the MIDIbox SID, the Roninsynth does everything with software. Think of it as a hardware-based softsynth.

Of course, there isn’t support for looping and phrases like what we saw yesterday, but there’s a ton of neat sounds that can be made and the capability for analog input. If you’ve ever wanted to sound like Radiohead, we can’t think of an easier way to build an Ondes Martenot.