Retrofitted Retro Radio

In a world full of products that are only used for a brief time and then discarded, it gives a lot of us solace to know that there was a time when furniture was made out of solid wood and not particle board, or when coffee makers were made out of metal and not plastic. It’s hard to say exactly what precipitated the change to our one-time-use culture, but in the meantime there are projects that serve to re-purpose those old, durable products from another time so that they can stay relevant in today’s ever-changing world. [Jose]’s new old radio is a great example of this style of hack.

[Jose] had a 1970s-era single-speaker radio that he found in a thrift store. The first thought that he had to get the aesthetically pleasing radio working again was to install a Bluetooth receiver into the radio’s amplifier. This proved to be too time-consuming of a task, and [Jose] decided to drive the Bluetooth module off of the power circuit for the light bulb. He built a 6V AC to 4.2V DC circuit, swapped over the speaker cable, and started listening to his tunes. The modifications he made aren’t destructive, either. If he wants, he will be able to reconnect the original (and still functional) circuitry back to the speaker and pretend he’s back in 1970.

While this isn’t the most intricate hack we’ve ever featured, it’s always refreshing to see someone get use out of an old piece of technology rather than send it off to the landfill with all of our Pentium IIs or last year’s IKEA shelves that have already fallen apart. And even if the 70s aren’t your era of choice, perhaps something newer will inspire you to bust a move.

Three Arduinos, Sixteen Square Waves

[Folkert van Heusden] sent us in his diabolical MIDI device. Ardio is a MIDI synthesizer of sorts, playing up to sixteen channels of square waves, each on its separate Arduino output pin, and mixed down to stereo with a bunch of resistors. It only plays square waves, and they don’t seem to be entirely in tune, but it makes a heck of a racket and makes use of an interesting architecture.

Ardio is made up of three separate el cheapo Arduino Minis, because…why not?! One Arduino handles the incoming MIDI data and sends note requests out to the other modules over I2C. The voice modules receive commands — play this frequency on that pin — and take care of the sound generation.

None of the chips are heavily loaded, and everything seems to run smoothly, despite the amount of data that’s coming in. As evidence, go download [Folkert]’s rendition of Abba’s classic “Chiquitita” in delicious sixteen-voice “harmony”. It’s a fun exercise in using what’s cheap and easy to get something done.

Ever Buy Music From Apple? Use Linux? You Need This Tool

Sure, you’re a hardcore superuser, but that doesn’t mean you don’t enjoy the finer things in life — like shiny squircles and getting every new app first. But, what’s an OS-indiscriminate person like yourself going to do when it comes time to purchase music? That’s where the recover_itunes tool shines, and if you’re a Linux user with an iPhone, it might just be your new best friend.

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Nirvana Like You’ve Never Heard Them Before

If you were an early 1990s youth, the chances are [Nirvana]’s Smells Like Teen Spirit is one of those pieces of music that transports you straight back to those times. As your writer it evokes a student radio studio and the shelves of its record library, and deafening badly-lit discos with poorly adjusted PA systems and unpleasantly sticky dance floors.

One of our finds this morning therefore comes as an evocative diversion, Smells Like Teen Spirit on [SileNT]’s Floppotron. The Floppotron is a music player composed of a huge array of floppy drives, hard drives, and a couple of flatbed scanners. The scanners are controlled by off-the-shelf Arduino boards and the hard drives have ATMega16s with H-bridge drivers.

This build is the most refined floppy drive organ we’ve seen yet. The floppies are divided into single-voice blocks of eight controlled by an ATMega16, with dynamic volume envelopes mad possible by the number of simultaneously running drives, so the sounds can fade in and out like “natural” musical instruments. The hard drives and scanners are run against their mechanical stops, providing percussion. All the boards are daisychained via SPI to an Arduino that acts as a PC interface, and the PC schedules the performance with a Python script.

He’s provided a couple of pieces as YouTube videos, the floppy motors work particularly well for [Nirvana]’s grunge, but perhaps a bit more mechanical for Hawaii Five-O. This last track will be more evocative than the first if you attended a particular university in the North of England where it was the end-of night record played as the lights came up in one of the discos that had a much better-adjusted PA because the technician knew what she was doing. For those of you with different childhoods, there’s also the Imperial March.

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Modular Drum Machine Creates Random Rhythms

Don’t worry, the rhythms themselves aren’t random! That would hardly make for a useful drum machine. [kbob]’s creation does have the ability to randomly generate functional rhythms, though, and it’s all done on a breadboard.

The core of this tiny drum machine is two Teensy dev boards. One is an FM synth tuned to sound like drums, and the other is a random rhythm generator with several controls. The algorithms are from Mutable Instruments’ open source Eurorack modules. The entire thing fits on a breadboard with JIGMOD modules for the user interface. The machine runs on lithium batteries in the form of USB cell phone chargers. The battery holders were designed in Fusion 360 and 3D printed.

The function of the drum machine is pretty interesting as well. There are a set of triggers tied to the buttons on the machine. When a button is pressed, the drum machine plays that sound at the appropriate time, ensuring there are no offbeat beats. The potentiometers are polled once every millisecond and the program updates the output as required. There’s also a “grid” of rhythms that are controlled with two other knobs (one to map the X coordinate and the other for the Y) and a “chaos” button which adds an element of randomness to this mapping.

The modular nature of this project would make this a great instrument to add to one’s musical repertoire.It’s easily customizable, and could fit in with any of a number of other synthesizer instruments.

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Paper Tape Drive for a Live Performance Music Box

Music is a mystery to some of us. Sure, we know what we like when we hear it, but the idea of actually being able to make it baffles us. And the idea of being able to build new instruments to create it, like this paper-tape programmable music box (YouTube, embedded below), is beyond impressive.

You’ll no doubt remember [Martin Molin] of the group “Wintergatan” and his astounding marble madness music machine. This instrument is on a much more modest scale and is centered around an off-the-shelf paper tape music box. But the cheap plastic drive gears kept failing under performance conditions, so [Martin] headed to what appears to be his cave-based workshop and started grinding. He prototyped a new paper drive from Lego Technics, and while it worked, it needed help to pull the paper. What followed was an iterative design process that culminated in a hybrid of plastic and metal Technic parts that drive the paper reliably, and a musical instrument that’s much more than just a tinny wind-up music box. Hear it in action below with another new instrument, the Modulin, which sounds a little like a Theremin but looks like – ah, just watch the video.

The build video hints at more details to come, and we’re hoping for a complete series like that for the marble machine. We’d also love to see details on the Modulin too – if there ever was a hacked musical instrument, that’s it.

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Niklas Roy’s Music Construction Machine

If you think of a music box, the first image that might come to mind is that of a small tabletop device with a simple mechanism and a single instrument. Usually a row of chimes triggered by points etched on a roller. If you are a bit more ambitious maybe you thought of a player piano with a roll of perforated paper carrying a tune, but yet again with only the single voice of one instrument.

mcm_06[Niklas Roy] however has a different vision when it comes to mechanical music. He’s created an entire ensemble with real musical instruments, a drum kit, keyboard, and electric guitar. His Music Construction Machine is no simple music box with a single tune though, it generates a constantly changing melody through a mechanically implemented algorithm with a complex interaction of cyclic variables that periodically alternate between harmonic and discordant. Unfortunately we can’t find any audio examples of the installation at work.

There is a timeliness to this post, the machine is part of an art installation at the Goethe-Institut Pop Up Pavillion on the Nowy Targ square in Wrocław, Poland, and it will be exhibited until the 10th of July. We hope some of our Central European readers will be within range and can make the trip. If you do, we’d love to hear some sample audio from your visit.

We’ve featured [Niklas]’s work many times before here at Hackaday. Just a few highlights are a past musical project powered by water, God on the CB radio, and his all-terrain mobile beer crate.

UPDATE: [Niklas] has posted details of the exhibition in Wroclaw on his blog, including several videos like the on below the break that show the machine in its full glory.

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