Music Reading for Machines

“Dammit Jim, I’m a hacker, not a musician!”, to paraphrase McCoy Scotty from the original Star Trek series. Well, some of us are also musicians, some, like me, are also hack-musicians, and some wouldn’t know a whole note from a treble clef. But every now and then the music you want is in the form of sheet music and you need to convert that to something your hack can play. If you’re lucky, you can find software that will read the sheet music for you and spit out a MIDI or WAV file. Or, as with my hand-cranked music player, you may have to read just enough of the music yourself to convert musical notes to frequencies for something like a 555 timer chip. We’ll dive into both cases here.

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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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DIY Tiny Single-PCB Synthesizer

[Jan Ostman] has been pushing the limits of sound synthesis on the lowly AVR ATMega microcontrollers, and his latest two project is so cute that we just had to write it up. The miniTS shares the same basic sound-generation firmware with his previous TinyTS, which we’ve covered here before, but adds a lot more keys, an OLED, and MIDI, while taking away some of the knobs.

Both feature keyboards that are just copper pads placed over a ground plane, and the code does simple capacitive-sensing to figure out if they’re being touched or not. The point here is that you could pick up a PCB from [Jan] on the cheap, and experiment around with the code. Or you could just take the code and make a less refined version for yourself with a cheapo Arduino and some copper plates.

Either way, we like the combination of minimal materials and maximum tweakability, and think it’s cool that [Jan] shares the code, if not also the PCB designs. Anyone with PCB layout practice could get a clone worked up in an afternoon, although it’s going to be cheaper to get these made in bulk, and you’re probably better off just buying one from [Jan].

Hackaday Prize Entry: Electro-Magnetic Enabled Bagpipes

Bagpipes are an instrument at least a millennia old, the most popular of which, in modern times, is the Great Highland bagpipe. There are other types of bagpipes, some of which have a bellows rather than requiring the player to manually inflate the bag by breathing into it. The advantage of the bellows is that it delivers dry air to the bag and reed (instead of the moist air from the player’s breath) and this dryness means that the instrument stays in tune better and the reed lasts longer.

[TegwynTwmffat] has built his own Irish uilleann pipes, (one of the types that use a bellows) using a carbon steel chanter (the part with the finger holes) and a steel reed. The reed vibrates and a pickup is used to convert this vibration into an electric signal, similar to the way a guitar pickup converts a vibrating string into an electric signal. This means that the signal from [Tegwyn]’s pipes can be sent to an amplifier. It also means that the signal can be processed the same way as the signal from an electric guitar – through distortion, flanger, wah, or delay pedals, for example.

[Tegwyn] has put up a drawing of the chanter showing dimensions and locations of the holes and has posted a couple of songs so you can hear the pipe in action. The first has the pipes without any effects on them, the second with effects. The comments for the second say that there are no electric guitars in the song – it’s all the pipes! Bagpipes seem to be a (relatively) popular instrument to hack and we’ve seen a couple of them over the years, such as this one made from duct tape, and this one – an electronic version.

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Heavy Metal Detectors

Helsinki has a strong underground Heavy Metal scene, so what better way to show it off than to have listeners literally unearth the local sounds themselves with converted metal detectors that play, naturally, Metal? [Steve Maher] built these modified detectors and handed them to a bunch of participants who went on exploratory walks around the city. The tracks from local bands changed as the user moved from one concealed metallic object to the other to create the experience of discovering the hidden soundscape of the land.  Continue reading “Heavy Metal Detectors”

Musical String Shooter Makes Sound Visible

One reason we really like [Rulof]’s hacks is that he combines the most unlikely things to create something unexpected. This time he makes a fast-moving loop of cotton string undulate in time to music.

To do this he uses cotton string, hard drive parts, two wheels from a toy Ferrari, two DC motors, a plastic straw,  a speaker, and an amplifier.  The loop of string sits in the air by being rapidly rotated in between the two wheels. The hard drive parts, driven by the amplifier, give the string a tap with an amplitude, and at a time determined by the music. The result is music made visible in the air in front of you, or in his living room in this case. Check out how he made it, and see it in action in the video below the break.

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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!