Onde Magnetique Will Wow And Flutter Your Ears

[Scott Campbell] built a cassette-based synthesizer that sounds exactly like everything you’ve heard before. The sound generation comes straight off cassettes, but the brainbox of this synth varies the volume and pitch. It’s called the Onde Magnetique, and it is what you would get if you combined a Mellotron and Ondes Martenot.

The key component for the Onde Magnetique is a Sony cassette recorder that conveniently and inexplicably comes with a ‘tape speed input’ mini jack. By varying the voltage sent to this input jack, the speed of the tape, and thus the pitch of the sound being played, is changed. Build a box with a touch-sensitive button for volume, and a few tact switches for different speeds, and you have an electromechanical bastard child of a Mellotron and an Ondes Martenot.

By itself, the Onde Magnetique produces no sound – it only controls the pitch and volume of whatever is on the cassette. [Scott] produced a few single-note cassettes for his instrument, with ‘voice patches’ including a flute, choir, and a synth. With the CV and Gate input, these sounds can be sequenced with outboard gear, producing the wonderful sounds heard in the video after the break.

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MIDI Sampling Off Magnetic Tapes

Ever heard of the Mellotron? It was a British made audio sampler that used the most cutting edge technology available back in 1963… Magnetic tapes. You could record different sounds, music, beats or rhythm onto these magnetic tapes, and then play it back with the keyboard, much like a MIDI Sampler keyboard today. Well, someone has gone and made a newer version of one.

He calls it the Crudman, and it’s the same concept of a Mellotron, but uses slightly more modern components. Specifically, audio cassettes.

A MIDI keyboard sends output commands to a series of cassette players outfitted with Teensy microcontrollers. Depending on the settings, pressing a key can speed up or slow down a tape in order to generate a note. If it sounds simple, trust us, it’s not. The project has been a labor-of-love for the unnamed creator, who has spent nearly 10 years designing it. He now sells them (but demand is pretty high) — you’ve gotta take a listen — they produce some of the most unique sounds we’ve ever heard.

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The Melloman, Mk. II


Way back in the 60s, strange electronic instruments were all the rage. The most famous of these made before the era of the synthesizer was the embodiment of musique concrète, the Mellotron. This instrument had an incredibly complex arrangement of magnetic tape that allowed a performer to play a keyboard and have the sound of any instrument come out of a speaker. This system was prone to failure, and there has been a lot of technological improvements in tape over the last fifty years, leading [Mike Walters] to build a new version of his famous Walkman-based Mellotron, the Melloman.

This build is an upgrade over the previous Melloman made in 2009. Like the original, this build uses 14 portable tape players, each loaded up with a continuous tape for each note. The tapes contain two octaves of the same note, one each on each channel, which are routed to the output whenever a key is pressed.

There are a few improvements over the old Melloman. Instead of transistors, [Mike] is using optocouplers to send the recorded sounds to the output. This build is also a whole lot cleaner, with the wiring looking very professional. As for a sound demo, you can check out the video below.

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Magnetotron is an armonica mellotron mashup

[Michael] is a huge fan of old media formats. There’s something special about quarter-inch thick 78s, fragile blue cylinders holding music, and thin strips of mylar that preserve the human voice. He’s had an idea for a tape-based instrument for a while, and now that the Magnetotron is complete, we’re in awe of this glass harmonica and Mellotron mashup.

The Magnetotron is a large rotating cylinder that has dozens of strips of audio tape attached to it. The cylinder rotates with the help of a small motor. As the strips of tape rotate in front of him, [Michael] presses two tape heads up to the instrument, making some sort of sound.

Each strip of tape contains a recording of one note, like the venerable Mellotron. Instead of physical keys, the Magnetotron is played in a much more tactile fashion like the glass harmonica. The output of the Magnetotron is interesting with a whole bunch of wow and flutter. Check out the demo of [Michael] playing his instrument at NIME in Brooklyn after the break.

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Melloman tape-looping keyboard

[Michael] tipped us off about an incredible build from back in 2005. The Melloman is a keyboard that uses a different tape loop for each key. The instrument is generally known as a Mellotron, and consists of a different looping tape for each key. When a key is depressed, the head comes into contact with the key and plays the sound sample.

This particular implementation uses 14 Walkmans to supply the tape loops. The Walkman units are constantly playing but the audio output is not enabled until a key is depressed. The main description of the instrument is on the final project page linked above but there are many construction photos available in the build log.

Update: After the break we’ve embedded a video that will take you on a tour of the components of the Melloman. To clear up the looping issue: a Mellotron uses tape loops, but the Melloman uses tapes that are 30 minutes on each side instead of loops.

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