MIDI And Vintage FM Synthesis

FM

Before the days when computers could play and record audio that far surpassed the quality of CDs, sound cards were very, very cool. Most audio chips from the 80s, from the Commodore SID is pretty much a synth on a chip, but you can also find similar setups in ancient ISA sound cards. [Emilio] pulled one of these cards with an ADLIB OPL2 chip on it, and used a PIC micro to create his very own FM synthesis synth (IT, translatatron, although Google is screwing up the formatting).

The Yamaha YM3812 chip, otherwise known as the OPL2, was a fairly complete synthesizer in a very tiny package using FM synthesis for some very unique sounds. Once [Emilio] had the PIC sending commands to the sound chip, he added MIDI support, allowing him to play this vintage ‘synth on a chip’ with a keyboard instead of a tracker.

Judging from the video below, it sounds great, and that’s with [Emilio] mashing the keys for a simple demo.

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Tempo Keeping Drummer Leaves Viking Ship, Now Inspires Pedallers

Bike Controlled Drum Machine

[Serdef] wrote in to tell us about a project he has recently created. It’s a drum beat generator that changes tempo depending on how fast you pedal your bike. This flies directly in the face of using music to keep your pedal timing consistent and up to speed.

The project started out with a tap-tempo drum rhythm pedal that [Serdef] had previously built. This device will generate a drum beat at a tempo corosponding with the time between 2 input signals. This type of device allows someone, say a guitarist, to quickly and easily specify the speed of the drumbeat that they are playing along with.

With the meat and potatoes of the project already figured out, the next part was to make the speed of the bike trigger the tempo of the drum beat. For the signal input, a magnet mounted on the wheel triggers a reed switch mounted on the bike fork once per wheel revolution. This is the same method of information gathering that a bicycle speedometer/odometer uses.

The business part of this project includes an Arduino that measures the speed of the wheel via the magnetic switch, adjusts the speed of the drum beat, and then sends the drum beat to a synthesizer via MIDI protocol. The synthesizer converts the MIDI signal into drum sounds amplified through a powered speaker that the rider can hear. The entire system is powered by a 9v battery and housed in a project box strapped to the bike’s handlebars.

All of the design files and Arduino code are available via [Serdef's] excellent write up on hackaday.io in case you’re interested in making one for yourself.

C64 MIDI and Flash Cart

KerberosThe SID chip inside the Commodore 64 and 128 is arguably still the gold standard for chip tunes, and the C64 itself still a decent computer for MIDI sequencing. [Frank Buss] realized most of the MIDI cartridges for the Commodore computers are either out of production or severely limited, so he set out to create his own.

Unlike the few Commodore MIDI cartridges that are available, [Frank]‘s Kerberos has MIDI In, Out, and Thru, controlled by the 6850 ACIA chip, just like the old 80s interfaces. This allows the Kerberos to interface with the old Sequential Circuits, Passport, and Datel software. He’s offering the Kerberos cart up on a crowdfunding site, so if you’d like to grab your own, have at it.

Because the Kerberos is also a Flash cart, it also ships with some of this software; [Frank] got permission from Steinberg to install their Pro 16 software with the Kerberos.  SID Wizard is also pre-loaded on the cart, along with a few other fabulous trackers and sequencers. Of course, there’s no requirement for the Flash portion of the cart to only host MIDI and synth software. You can always upload a few games to the cart over a MIDI interface. Video of the Kerberos below.

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Rock Out With Your Ribbon Controller Bass

Ribbon-Bass

[Brendan Byrne] stripped this instrument down to basics and built himself a ribbon controller bass guitar. Details are still a bit sparse  on his website, but there are plenty of detailed pictures on his flickr stream. [Brendan] built his bass as part the Future of Guitar Design Course at Parsons the New School for Design. His goal was to create an experience in which playing the instrument and altering parameters of effects are triggered by the same gestures. He’s definitely succeeded in that effort.

Basically, the bass is a four channel ribbon controller. The frets were removed to make way for four graphite strips. [Brendan] followed [Iain's] excellent tutorial to create his own graphite strips using soft artist’s pencils. The ribbons essentially become potentiometers, which are then read by a teensy. [Brendan] expanded the instrument’s sonic palette by adding several buttons and potentiometers mapped to MIDI control codes. He even included a triple axis accelerometer so every movement of the bass can be mapped. The MIDI data is sent to a PC running commercial music software. Analog sound comes from a piezo pickup placed under the bridge of the bass.

The results are pretty awesome. While we can’t say [Brendan's] demo was music to our ears, we definitely see the musical possibilities of this kind of instrument.

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The Tannin DIY MIDI Controller

tannin-ctlr

[Shantea] needed a DJ controller. While there are commercial controllers out there, none of them fit what he was looking for. He solved the problem by building the Tannin DIY MIDI controller. Tannin features 19 buttons, 16 potentiometers, and 4 LEDs. Buttons can send different MIDI messages for short presses and long presses. Pots can send 6 note on/off messages as well as MIDI control messages depending on their position. The LEDs blink in beat with the MIDI in clock. Everything is programmable and can be mapped thousands of different ways. The heart of the system is an Arduino Nano. [Shantea] used the hairless-midi library to convert MIDI to serial. The Arduino interfaces to a PC via serial over USB. On the host PC side, he ran loopbe30 to create a virtual MIDI cable to Traktor, his DJ software.

We love a build that looks just as good on the inside as on the outside, and Tannin doesn’t fail to impress in this respect. The frame is MDF, and the control panel is laser etched plastic on 3mm of Plexiglass. We really like Tannin’s flavone flair. Inside the case, wiring is kept organized and neat by zip ties and strips of wood below the button grid. [Shantea] had some noise issues connecting pots to flying wires, so he used a custom printed circuit board with a ground plane to gang the pots into 2 banks of 8. The results are something any controllerist would be proud of. Click past the break to see Tannin in action.

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Musician On A Budget MIDI Bass Pedals

bass_pedal1

Organ pedal boards have been around forever — they’re an easy way to multitask while playing the piano, organ, or even the guitar. [Ville] plays the electric guitar and wanted to give bass pedals a shot — the only problem is, the commercial versions are pretty pricey. So he decided to make his own temporary solution using an old MIDI keyboard he had lying around.

The beauty of this hack is it’s completely non-destructive — although you might find you like it so much you won’t want to take it apart! [Ville] started by marking out spacer keys using green cardboard. He then grouped together other sets of keys using tape and polystyrene sheets, which he recycled from a plastic waste bin. He then marked off each set of keys with the range of notes to program into the MIDI receiver — on a 49 key keyboard you get just a bit more than an octave of bass pedal keys! It’ll certainly do until you get your hands on a proper organ pedal unit.

From there it was just a matter of re-mapping the keys on the software end of things, and disabling the other unused keys. He offers a few different methods of doing this, including using VST plugins, and Pure Data — to which he’s provided a patch he made to simplify the process.

To see it in action, stick around after the break and hear [Ville] play One Hour Backwards on electric guitar.

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The Most Beautiful Floppy Disk Jukebox Ever

Playing music on floppy drives is something that has been done to death. [kiu]‘s RumbleRail is something else entirely. Yes, it’s still a collection of floppy drives playing MIDI files, but the engineering and build quality that went into this build puts it in a class by itself.

Instead of the usual assemblage of wires, power cords, and circuits that accompany most musical floppy drive builds, [kiu]‘s is an exercise in precision and modularity. Each of the eight floppy drives are connected to its own driver with an ATMega16 microcontroller on board. The microcontrollers in these driver boards receive orders from the command board over an I2C bus. Since everything on the RumbleRail is modular, and the fact [kiu] is using DIP switches to set the I2C address of each board, this build could theoretically be expanded to 127 voices, or 127 individual floppy drives each playing their part of a MIDI file.

The RumbleRail can also operate in a standalone mode without the need for a separate computer feeding it data. MIDI files can be loaded off an SD card by the main controller board, and decode them for the floppy drivers.

If you’d like to build your own RumbleRail, all the board files, schematics, and firmware are up on [kiu]‘s git. There are, of course, a few videos below of the floppy jukebox in action.

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