Performing music in open spaces can be a real challenge. The acoustics of the space can play spoil-sport. Now imagine trying to play an instrument spread out over tens of kilometres. The folks at [LimbicMedia] wrote in to tell us about the project they worked on to build the The World’s Largest Musical Instrument.
The system consists of wirelessly controlled air horns deployed at remote locations. Each air horn is self contained, driven by a supply of compressed air from a scuba diving tank and battery powered electronics. The wireless link allows the air horns to be placed up to 10kms away from the base station. Each air horn is tuned to a specific note of the piano keyboard which, in turn, is configured to transmit its note data to the air horns.
Currently, they have built 12 air horns, enough to let them play the Canadian and British anthems. The horns are built out of PVC piping and other off-the-shelf plastics with the dimensions of the horn determining its note. The setup was installed and performed at the Music by the Sea festival recently, by mounting the air horns on 12 boats which were stationed out at Sea in the Bamfield Inlet in Eastern Western Canada. But that was just a small trial. The eventual plan is to set up air horns all around Canada, and possibly other places around the world, and synchronise them to play music simultaneously, to commemorate the 150th Canada Day celebrations in 2017.
There aren’t many details shared about the hardware, but it’s not too difficult to make some guesses. A micro-controller to operate the air solenoid, long range radio link to connect all the air horns to the base station, and another controller to detect the key strokes on the Piano. The limiting issue to consider with this arrangement is the spatial separation between the individual air horns. Sound needs about 2.9 seconds to travel over a kilometer. As long as all the air horns are at approximately the same distance from the audience, this shouldn’t be a problem. See how they did in the video after the break. We do know of another project which handled that problem brilliantly, but we’ll leave the details for a future blog post.
This isn’t the first time [LimbicMedia] was commissioned to create audio-visual public installations. A couple of years back they built this Sound Reactive Christmas Tree in Victoria, British Columbia.
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.
What do you do when you want to rock out on your keytar without the constraints of cables and wires? You make your own wireless keytar of course! In order to get the job done, [kr1st0f] built a logic translator circuit. This allows him to transmit MIDI signals directly from a MIDI keyboard to a remote system using XBEE.
[kr1st0f] started with a MIDI keyboard that had the old style MIDI interface with a 5 pin DIN connector. Many new keyboards only have a USB interface, and that would have complicated things. The main circuit uses an optoisolator and a logic converter to get the job done. The MIDI signals are converted from the standard 5V logic to 3.3V in order to work with the XBEE.
The XBEE itself also needed to be configured in order for this circuit to work properly. MIDI signals operate at a rate of 31,250 bits per second. The XBEE, on the other hand, works by default at 9,600 bps. [kr1st0f] first had to reconfigure the XBEE to run at the MIDI bit rate. He did this by connecting to the XBEE over a Serial interface and using a series of AT commands. He also had to configure proper ID numbers into the XBEE modules. When all is said and done, his new transmitter circuit can transmit the MIDI signals wirelessly to a receiver circuit which is hooked up to a computer.
Using over 20′ feet of PVC pipe, a whole bunch of 2 x 4’s and a few nuts and bolts, [Jeremy] and his cousin put together a rather unique percussion pipe organ.
[Jackson], his cousin who is a musician is always looking for different ways to make music. They had a rough idea of what they wanted to do with a few sketches, but after a day of tinkering, they ended up with something completely different — but it sounds awesome.
The frame is made of a combination of 2 x 6’s and 2 x 4’s which hold the PVC tubes in place. PVC elbows and varying lengths of pipe create a wide range of rather deep bass notes. It can be played with just your hands, or even a pair of sandals for better effect. You’d be surprised how good it sounds.
[Atdiy and Whisker], collectively known as [The Tymkrs] have been busy honing their luthier skills. They’ve created a 10 part YouTube series about the construction of their new cigar box guitar. Instead of a cigar box though, they’ve substituted a 1920’s tin cigarette box. The Omar Cigarette company gave “Project Omar” it’s name. Like [Tymkrs] previous guitar, Omar is a three string affair. The neck was cut from Black Palm, which really shined when polished with a mixture of orange oil and beeswax. They also threw in a couple of new tricks on this build. Omar is an electric guitar, with a pickup custom wound by [Bob Harrison]. Omar also has frets, which creates a whole new set of complications. Frets are generally installed by cutting slits in the guitar neck with a fret saw. Rather than buy a new tool, [Tymkrs] created a simple jig for their mini table saw. The jig held the guitar neck perpendicular with the saw blade. This made quick work of the many fret slits to be cut. Installed frets must also be dressed and leveled, which is a time-consuming process.
The tin cigarette box also created a new set of problems. The thin tin proved to be a bit on the weak side when the strings were tightened down. A bit too much pressure on the box while playing would cause notes to bend, much like the tremolo or whammy bar on a standard electric guitar. [Tymkrs] were able to counteract this by adding bracing inside, and a couple of black palm braces to the back of the box.
Hum was also a problem. When [Tymkrs] first plugged in, they found they had more 60Hz mains hum than signal from their strings. Omar uses a classic single coil guitar pickup. Single coils will pick up noise from any magnetic field, including the field created by the studio electrical system. A humbucking pickup uses two coils to counteract this effect. Humbuckers also have a slightly different tone than single coils. [Tymkrs] wanted to stick with their single coil tone, so they counteracted the hum by raising the pickup closer to the strings. Higher pickups receive more signal from the strings, so this is basically a free signal to noise ratio improvement. They also grounded the entire tin box, along with Omar’s metal tail stock. The final build sounds great, as evidenced by the jam session toward the end of Video 10.
Brass, beaten and molded can be a thing of beauty. Watch as this craftsman puts together a very nice looking tuba. The tools of the trade in this case are somewhat automated, with that mechanical hammer, but it looks like much of this is still done by hand.
A [Hank Drum], as explained here, is a steel drum-type instrument made out of a propane tank. The name comes from the [Hang] or [Hang Drum] which is significantly more expensive than that $40 or so an empty propane tank costs. Of course, you’ll have to do some work to get it to play beautiful music, which can be seen in a time-lapse construction video after the break.