Four Chords Should Be Enough For Anyone

You might be surprised at how many pop songs are exactly the same. Cat Scratch Fever is the exact same song as Smoke on the Water. Even one of Yeezy’s songs is strikingly similar to a weird 90s French electronic group. Musically, though, there are an incredible number of songs that follow a I-V-vi-IV progression. Let it Be is one of them, as is Beast of Burden. Lady Gaga’s Poker Face is another. Now, finally, we have automated most of the pop songs you know and love. [Sven] has created a small MIDI device that only plays a I-V-vi-IV progression, and it’s everything you could ever imagine.

The idea for this build comes from an Axis of Awesome routine demonstrating the fact that hundreds of pop songs follow the same progression. After the idea, the implementation, like the music all those millennials are listening to, is simple.

The 4chord MIDI is a small board with an old Nokia display, four buttons, a single USB port, and an ATMega328 microcontroller. Using MIDI over USB, it plays the I-V-vi-IV progression in any key. It plays in chord mode, arpeggiated mode, or mixed mode at any sensible tempo.

You can check out a video of the 4chord playing several hundred songs simultaneously below.

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How To MIDI Interface Your Toys

There’s a great number toys in the world, many of which make all manner of pleasant or annoying noises for the entertainment of children. If you’re a musician, these toys may be of interest due to their unique or interesting sounds. However, due to their design being aimed at play rather than performance, it may be difficult to actually use the toy as a musical instrument. One way around this is to record the sounds of the toy into a sampler, but it’s not the only way. [little-scale] is here to demonstrate how to MIDI interface your toys. 

[little-scale] starts out by discussing the many ways in which one can interface with a toy. The article discusses how a simple button can be replaced with a relay, or a multiplexer, and be interfaced to all manner of other devices to control the toy. This is demonstrated by using a mobile phone toy which makes sounds when buttons are pressed.

A Teensy 3.6 is used to run the show, acting as a USB-MIDI interface so the toy can be controlled by music software like Abelton. It’s connected to the toy’s buttons through a multiplexer. The toy’s speaker is cut off and used as an audio output instead, allowing the toy to be easily connected to other audio hardware for performance or recording. It’s also fed through a digital pot so MIDI commands can control the volume. A resistor is used to control pitch in the toy, so this too was replaced with a digital pot as well, to allow sample pitch to be controlled.

The project is incredibly well documented, with [little-scale] first tearing down the toy and highlighting the points of interest, before stepping through each stage of interfacing the toy to the digital world. We’ve seen some of [little-scale]’s work before, too – namely, this MIDI DAC for controlling vintage synthesizers. Video after the break. Continue reading “How To MIDI Interface Your Toys”

FabricKeyboard Is Piano, Theremin And More

Two researchers of Responsive Environments, MIT Media Lab, have put to together a device that is an amazing array of musical instruments squeezed into one flexible package. Made using seven layers of fabrics with different electrical properties, the result can be played using touch, proximity, pressure, stretch, or with combinations of them. Using a fabric-based keyboard, ribbon-controller, and trackpad, it can be played as a one-octave keyboard, a theremin, and in ways that have no words, such as stretching while pressing keys. It can also be folded up and stuffed into a case along with your laptop, and care has even been taken to make it washable.

The FabricKeyboard layers
The FabricKeyboard layers

Layer one, the top layer, is a conductive fabric for detecting proximity and touch. The twelve keys can work independently with a MPR121 proximity touch controller or the controller can treat them all as one, extending the distance the hand can be and have it still work. Layer two is just a knit fabric but layers three to six detect pressure, consisting to two conductive layers with a mesh fabric and a piezo-resistive fabric in between. The piezo-resistive fabric is LTT-SPLA from eeonyx, a knit fabric coated with the conductive polymer, polypyrrole (PPy). Layer seven consists of two strips of knitted spandex fabric, also coated with PPy, and detects stretching. Two strips of this are sewn on the bottom, one horizontal and one vertical. You can see and hear the amazing sound this all produces in the video below.

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A MIDI Harmonica

MIDI, or Musical Instrument Digital Interface, has been the standard for computer control of musical instruments since the 1980s. It is most often associated with electronic instruments such as synthesisers, drum machines, or samplers, but there is nothing to stop it being applied to almost any instrument when combined with the appropriate hardware.

[phearl3ss1] pushes this to the limit by adding MIDI to the most unlikely of instruments. A harmonica might seem to be the ultimate in analogue music, yet he’s created an ingenious Arduino-powered mechanism to play one under MIDI control.

The harmonica itself is mounted on a drawer slide coupled to a wheel taken from a pool sweeper and powered by a motor  that can move the instrument from side to side with a potentiometer providing positional feedback to form a simple servo. The air supply comes from a set of three bellows driven via a crank from another motor, and is delivered by what looks like a piece of PVC pipe to the business end of the harmonica.

The result is definitely a playable MIDI harmonica, though it doesn’t quite catch the essence of the human-played instrument. Judge for yourselves, he’s posted a build video which we’ve placed below the break.

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The Smallest Wave Blaster Card

In the early 90s, the Creative Sound Blaster was the soundcard. It wasn’t the absolute best sounding card on the market, but it quickly became the defacto standard and delivered good sound at the right price. It relied primarily on the Yamaha OPL-3 FM synthesis chip, but if you were feeling spendy, you could pimp it out with a Wave Blaster add-on card, which essentially bolted a sample synthesis engine onto the card. This gave the card a broad palette of sampled instruments with which to play MIDI tunes all the sweeter, so you could impress your grade school chums who came over to play DOOM.

It’s now 2017, if you hadn’t checked the calendar, and Sound Blasters from yesteryear are only going to go further upward in price. It goes without saying that add-on daughterboards and accessories are even rarer and are going to be priced accordingly. So, if you’re building a vintage gaming rig and are desperate for that sample-synth goodness, [Serdashop] are here to help with their latest offering, the Dreamblaster S2.

It’s reportedly the smallest Wave Blaster add-on board available, which is awesome. If you’re sticking it on top of your Sound Blaster 16, yes, it’s pointless – you’re not exactly short on room. But if you want to integrate this with a compact microcontroller project? Size matters. Yes, you can feed this thing MIDI signals and it’ll sing for you. A hot tip for the uninitiated: MIDI speaks serial, just like everything and everyone else. Your grandma learned to speak it in the war, you know.

Your options for hooking this up are either slotting it into a Wave Blaster compatible card, or buying the carrier board that allows you to use it with a Game Port, in addition to custom-wiring it to your own hardware. We’d love to see this as a HAT for the Raspberry Pi Zero. Do it, send it in and we’ll write it up.

We’ve seen [Serdashop]’s hardware here before – namely, the earlier Dreamblaster X2. Video below the break.

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MIDI Drawings Paint with Piano Keyboards

Musician [Mari Lesteberg] is making music that paints pictures. Or maybe she’s making pictures that paint music. It’s complicated. Check out the video (embedded below) and you’ll see what we mean. The result is half Chinese scroll painting, and half musical score, and they go great together.

Lots of MIDI recorders/players use the piano roll as a model for input — time scrolls off to the side, and a few illuminated pixels represent a note played. She’s using the pixels to paint pictures as well: waves on a cartoon river make an up-and-down arpeggio. That’s a (musical) hack. And she’s not the only person making MIDI drawings. You’ll find a lot more on reddit.

Of course, one could do the same thing with silent pixels — just set a note to play with a volume of zero — but that’s cheating and no fun at all. As far as we can tell, you can hear every note that’s part of the scrolling image. The same can not be said for music of the black MIDI variety, which aims to pack as many notes into a short period of time as possible. To our ears, it’s not as beautiful, but there’s no accounting for taste.

It’s amazing what variations we’re seeing in the last few years on the ancient piano roll technology. Of course, since piano rolls are essentially punch-cards for musical instruments, we shouldn’t be too surprised that this is all possible. Indeed, we’re a little bit surprised that new artistic possibilities are still around. Has anyone seen punch-card drawings that are executable code? Or physical piano rolls with playable images embedded in them?

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Neural Network Composes Music; Says “I’ll be Bach”

[carykh] took a dive into neural networks, training a computer to replicate Baroque music. The results are as interesting as the process he used. Instead of feeding Shakespeare (for example) to a neural network and marveling at how Shakespeare-y the text output looks, the process converts Bach’s music into a text format and feeds that to the neural network. There is one character for each key on the piano, making for an 88 character alphabet used during the training. The neural net then runs wild and the results are turned back to audio to see (or hear as it were) how much the output sounds like Bach.

The video embedded below starts with a bit of a skit but hang in there because once you hit the 90 second mark things get interesting. Those lacking patience can just skip to the demo; hear original Bach followed by early results (4:14) and compare to the results of a full day of training (11:36) on Bach with some Mozart mixed in for variety. For a system completely ignorant of any bigger-picture concepts such as melody, the results are not only recognizable as music but can even be pleasant to listen to.

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