Toa Mata Lego Band Actually Rocks

[Opificio Sonico] has been at the Lego-based robot music making business for a while now, and it shows. He’s released four videos on YouTube (all inlined below) and each shows a definite evolution of his style and the Lego ‘bots technical range.

Episode 4, a cover of Daft Punk’s “Alive”, is clearly the most polished. A sliding platform goes enables a Lego “Toa Mata” figure to play the melody on some kind of iDevice (?). The ‘bot playing the DS to hit its one note repeatedly with the stylus, and has an easier job thanks to Daft Punk’s compositional “efficiency”. Episode 3, Depeche Mode’s “Everything Counts” is fantastic, partly because he’s using piezo-miced junk as percussion (as did DM themselves) and partly because of the sliding stylophone. But watch them all.

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iPad Control for Guitar Pedals

[gutbag] is a guitarist. And guitarists are notorious knob-twiddlers: they love their effects pedals. But when your music involves changing settings more than a few times in the middle of a song, it can get distracting. If only there were little robot hands that could turn the knobs (metaphorically, sorry) during the performance…

Tearing into his EHX Pitch Fork pedal, [gutbag] discovered that all of the external knob controls were being read by ADCs on the chip that did all of the processing. He replaced all of the controls with a DAC and some analog switches, coded up some MIDI logic in an ATmega328, and built himself a custom MIDI-controlled guitar pedal. Pretty slick, and he can now control it live with his iPad, or sequence the knobs with the rest of their MIDI system.

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This wasn’t [gutbag]’s first foray into pedal automation, however. He’d previously automated a slew of his pedals that were already built to take control-voltage signals. What we like about this hack is the direct substitution of DAC for potentiometers. It’s just hackier. (Oh, and we’re envious of [gutbag]’s lab setup.)

This isn’t the first time we’ve covered [gutbag]’s band, Zaardvark, either. Way back in 2013, we featured an organ-pedal-to-MIDI hack of theirs. Keep on rockin’.

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Digital Wind Chimes

Quality wind chimes are not cheap. No matter how much you spend, though, they generally sound the same year after year. If that bothers you, maybe [sensatroniclab] can help. They’ve posted a simple design for a digital wind chime using the Ototo music generator.

The Ototo is reasonably priced and promises to let you make music from anything (well, anything conductive, anyway).  Because the Ototo handles all the music production, the only real building part of the project is the wind sensors. The sensors are made with conductive fabric with a marble at the end for weight.

In the video below you can see [Matthew Ward] talk about the device and actually play it like you might a harp. This would be a good school project owing to the simplicity of using the Ototo, although [sensatroniclab] is actually working on accessibility music projects.

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Toy Piano Gets Synth Overhaul

The Peanuts cartoon character Schroeder liked to bang out Beethoven a toy piano. Now, thanks to this hack from [Liam Lacey], Schroeder can switch to Skrillex. That’s because [Liam] built a polyphonic synth into a toy piano. It’s an impressive build that retains the look and feel of the piano, right down to a laser-etched top panel with knobs that match the glossy black styling.

The brains of the synthesizer is a Beaglebone Black using the Maximillian synthesis library. To capture the key presses, he used Velostat, a pressure-sensitive material that changes resistance under pressure. This is probably the only toy piano in the world with fully polyphonic velocity and aftertouch. The build also includes MIDI support, with two ports on the back. [Liam]’s build log is full of more details than we can even summarize here.

This beautiful build won [Liam] first place in the Element 14 Music Tech competition, and it is a well-deserved prize for a clean and elegant way to update a vintage piano.

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Smallest MIDI Synth, Again!

Not content with fitting a tiny square-wave MIDI synthesizer into a MIDI plug, [Mitxela] went on to cram a similar noisemaker into a USB plug itself.

Besides being physically small, the code is small too, as well as the budget. It uses V-USB for the USB library running on an ATtiny85, and a couple of passive parts. His firmware (apparently) takes in MIDI notes and spits out square waves.
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Curiously Delightful Things Done with Lasers and Projectors

Seb Lee-Delisle has built a career around large installations that use powerful lasers and high-end projects to make people happy. It’s a dream job that came to fruition through his multi-discipline skill set, his charismatic energy, and a mindset that drives him to see how he can push the boundaries of what is possible through live interaction.

His talk at the Hackaday | Belgrade conference is about his Laser Light Synth project, but we’re glad he also takes a detour into some of the other installations he’s built. The synth itself involves some very interesting iterative design to end up with a capacitive touch audio keyboard that is lit with addressable LEDs. It controls a laser that projects shapes and images to go along with the music, which sounds great no matter who is at the keyboard thanks to some very creative coding. As the talk unfolds we also hear about his PixelPyros which is essentially a crowd-controlled laser fireworks show.

See his talk below and join us after the break for a few extra details.

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The ATtiny MIDI Plug Synth

MIDI was created over thirty years ago to connect electronic instruments, synths, sequencers, and computers together. Of course, this means MIDI was meant to be used with computers that are now thirty years old, and now even the tiniest microcontrollers have enough processing power to take a MIDI signal and create digital audio. [mitxela]’s polyphonic synth for the ATtiny 2313 does just that, using only two kilobytes of Flash and fitting inside a MIDI jack.

Putting a MIDI synth into a MIDI plug is something we’ve seen a few times before. In fact, [mitxela] did the same thing a few months ago with an ATtiny85, and [Jan Ostman]’s DSP-G1 does the same thing with a tiny ARM chip. Building one of these with an ATtiny2313 is really pushing the envelope, though. With only 2 kB of Flash memory and 128 bytes of RAM, there’s not a lot of space in this chip. Making a polyphonic synth plug is even harder.

The circuit for [mitxela]’s chip is extremely simple, with power and MIDI data provided by a MIDI keyboard, a 20 MHz crystal, and audio output provided eight digital pins summed with a bunch of resistors. Yes, this is only a square wave synth, and the polyphony is limited to eight channels. It works, as the video below spells out.

Is it a good synth? No, not really. By [mitxela]’s own assertion, it’s not a practical solution to anything, the dead bug construction takes an hour to put together, and the synth itself is limited to square waves with some ugly quantization, at that. It is a neat exercise in developing unique audio devices and especially hackey, making it a very cool build. And it doesn’t sound half bad.

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