How to Play the Bass With Marbles

Stringed instruments make noise from the vibrations of tuned strings, using acoustic or electronic means to amplify those vibrations to the point where they’re loud enough to hear. The strings are triggered in a variety of ways – piano strings are hit with hammers, guitar strings are plucked, while violin strings are bowed. Meanwhile, [Martin] from the band [Wintergatan] is using marbles to play a bass guitar.

[Martin] starts out with a basic setup. The bass guitar is placed on the workbench, while a piece of wood is taped to a tripod. The wood has a hole drilled through it, and marbles are dropped through the aperture in an attempt to get them to land on the string. Plastic containers are used to easily alter the angle the bass guitar sits at, relative to the bench, while an acrylic guide sits around the string to try to guide the marbles in the desired direction. These guides are important to make sure the marbles hit the top of the string, and bounce cleanly in the desired direction afterwards.

The initial setup is too inconsistent, so [Martin] places a notch in the wood and builds a lever system to hold the marbles and then release them in a controlled manner. [Martin] then checks that the system works by analysing footage of the marble drop with slow motion video.

The video covers the CAD design of an eight-slot guide so the four strings of the bass can be played more rapidly than in their previous build. Two guides per string allow each string to play two notes in quick succession without having to worry about marble collisions from playing too quickly.

It’s a great build, and we’ve seen [Wintergatan]’s work before – namely, the incredible build that was the original Marble Machine.

Thanks to [Tim Trzepacz] for the tip!

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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Burn Music On To Anything!

If at first you don’t succeed, try, try, and try again. This is especially true when your efforts involve a salvaged record player, a laser cutter, and He-Man. Taking that advice to heart, maniac maker extraordinaire [William Osman] managed to literally burn music onto a CD.

Considering the viability of laser-cut records is dubious — especially when jerry-built — it took a couple frustrating tests to finally see results, all the while risking his laser’s lens. Eventually, [Osman]’s perseverance paid off. The lens is loosely held by a piece of delrin, which is itself touching a speaker blaring music. The vibrations of the speaker cause the lens to oscillate the focal point of the laser into a wavelength that is able to be played on a record player. You don’t get much of the high-end on the audio and the static almost drowns out the music, but it is most definitely a really shoddy record of a song!

Vinyl aficionados are certainly pulling their hair out at this point. For the rest of us, if you read [Jenny’s] primer on record players you’ll recognize that a preamplifier (the ‘phono’ input on your amp) is what’s missing from this setup and would surely yield more audible results.

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Annoy Your Neighbors with MIDI Musical Siren

[Yannick], aka [Gigawipf] brings us this (mostly) musical delicacy: a 3D-printed siren that’s driven by a brushless quadcopter motor, and capable of playing (mostly) any music that you’ve got the MIDI score for. This is a fantastic quickie project for any of you out there with a busted quad, or even some spare parts, and a 3D printer. Despite the apparent level of difficulty, this would actually be a great quickie weekend build.

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Ardu McDuino Plays the Bagpipes

To “pipe in” the new year, [John] decided to build a bagpipe-playing robot. Unlike other instrument-playing robots that we’ve seen before, this one is somewhat anatomically correct as well. John went the extra mile and 3D printed fingers and hands to play his set of pipes.

The brains of the robot are handled by an Arduino Mega 2560, which drives a set of solenoids through a driver board. The hands themselves are printed from the open source Enabling the Future project which is an organization that 3D prints prosthetic hands for matched recipients, especially people who can’t otherwise afford prosthetics. He had to scale up his hands by 171% to get them to play the pipes correctly, but from there it was a fairly straightforward matter of providing air to the bag (via a human being) and programming the Arduino to play a few songs.

The bagpipe isn’t a particularly common instrument (at least in parts of the world that aren’t Scottish) so it’s interesting to see a robot built to play one. Of course, your music-playing robot might be able to make music with something that’s not generally considered a musical instrument at all. And if none of these suit your needs, you can always build your own purpose-built semi-robotic instrument as well.

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MIDI DAC for Vintage Synth Hacks

A lot of classic synthesizers rely on analog control voltages to vary parameters; this is a problem for the modern musician who may want to integrate such hardware with a MIDI setup. For just this problem, [little-scale] has built a MIDI-controllable DAC for generating control voltages.

It’s a simple enough build – a Teensy 2 is used to speak USB MIDI to a laptop. This allows the DAC to be used with just about any modern MIDI capable software. The Teensy then controls a Microchip MCP4922 over SPI to generate the requisite control voltages. [little-scale]’s video covers the basic assembly of the hardware on a breadboard, and goes on to demonstrate its use with a performance using the MIDI DAC to control a Moog Mother 32 synth. [little-scale] has also made the code available, making it easy to spin up your own.

We can see this project being indispensable to electronic musicians working with banks of modular synths, making it much easier to tie them in with automation in their DAW of choice. This isn’t the first MIDI interfacing hack we’ve seen either – check out this setup to interface an iPad to guitar pedals.

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Mechano-Robotic Flute Made From An Old Shotgun

If you take an object and turn it into something else, does that constitute a hack?  Can a musical robot call to question the ethics of firearms exports? If you take a disabled shotgun and turn it into a flute, does it become an art piece? Deep questions indeed — and deliberately posed by [Constantine Zlatev] along with his collaborators [Kostadin Ilov] and [Velina Ruseva].

The Last Gun — a mechano-robotic flute, as [Zlatev] calls it — is built from recovered industrial parts, played using compressed air, and controlled by an Arduino and Raspberry Pi. After graphing the annual arms exports from the United States, the installation plays a mournful tune for each year that they rise, and a jubilant theme for each year they fall.

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