You could sometimes be forgiven for thinking that making popular music has become too easy. With a laptop and suitable software almost anybody can now assemble something that had they secured the services of a canny promoter would be in with a shot at stardom. So many performances have been reduced to tightly choreographed dance acts to mask the absence of musicians or indeed musical talent, and our culture is poorer for it. It’s not that music made with modern technology or outside the performance is an indicator of lack of talent, indeed when a truly talented musician makes something with the resources of a modern technology the results are astounding. Instead it perhaps seems as though the technology is cheapened by an association with mediocrity when it should be a tool of greatness.
So it was with pleasure that we noticed a fresh project on Hackaday.io this morning which provides a marriage of accessible music technology and a requirement for performance. [Ernest Warzocha] has made a wooden sequencer.
It’s true, audio sequencers are old hat, so a new one will have to work hard to enthuse a seasoned Hackaday reader who’s seen it all. What makes [Ernest’s] sequencer different is that he’s made one with a very physical interface of wooden pucks placed in circular recesses on a wooden surface. Each recess has an infra-red reflective sensor that detects the surface texture of the puck placed in it and varies the sample it plays accordingly. It’s all held together underneath by an Arduino, and MP3 samples are played by a Sparkfun MP3 shield. At a stroke, he has turned the humble sequencer from a workaday studio tool into a performance art form that you can see in the video below, and we like that.
Recently I’ve been learning more about classic analog music synthesizers and sequencers. This has led me to the Baby10, a classic and simple analog sequencer design. In this article I’ll introduce its basic operation, and the builds of some awesome hackers based on this design.
Sequencers produce, a sequence of varying voltages. These control voltages (CV) can then be use to control other components. Often this is a simple tone generator. While the concept is simple, it can produce awesome results:
A basic sequencer is a great beginners project. It’s easy to understand the basic operation of the circuit and produces a satisfyingly entertaining result. The Baby 10 was originally published in a column called “Captain’s Analog”, but has now been widely shared online.
The circuit uses the 4017, a simple CMOS decade counter. The 4017 takes an input clock signal then sequentially outputs a high pulse on each of 10 output pins. As such, the 4017 does almost everything we need from a sequencer in a single IC! However, we want our sequencer to output a varying voltage which we can then use to generate differing tones.
To accomplish this variable resistors are connected to each of the output pins. A diode in series with the variable resistor stops the outputs fighting against each other (in layman’s terms).
To make the sequencer more visually attractive (and give some feedback) LEDs are often also added to the output of the 4017. A complete Baby 10 sequencer is shown in the schematic below. The original circuit used 1N917s, these are no longer available but the part has been replaced by the 1N4148.
The Novation Launchpad is a MIDI controller, most commonly used with the Ableton Live digital audio workstation. It’s an eight by eight grid of buttons with RGB LED backlights that sends MIDI commands to your PC over USB. It’s often used to trigger clips, which is demonstrated by the artist Madeon in this video.
The Launchpad is useful as a MIDI input device, but that’s about all it used to do. But now, Novation has released an open source API for the Novation Pro. This makes it possible to write your own code to run on the controller, which can be flashed using a USB bootloader. An API gives you access to the hardware, and example code is provided.
[Jason Hotchkiss], who gave us the tip on this, has been hacking around with the API. The Launchpad Pro has a good old 5 pin MIDI output, which can be connected directly to a synth. [Jason]’s custom firmware uses the Launchpad Pro as a standalone MIDI sequencer. You can check out a video of this after the break.
Unfortunately, Novation didn’t open source the factory firmware. However, this open API is a welcome change to the usual closed-source nature of audio devices.
In this session of Logic Noise, we’ll combine a bunch of the modules we’ve made so far into an autonomous machine noise box. OK, at least we’ll start to sequence some of these sounds.
A sequencer is at the heart of any drum box and the centerpiece of any “serious” modular synthesizer. Why? Because you just can’t tweak all those knobs and play notes and dance around at the same time. Or at least we can’t. So you gotta automate. Previously we did it with switches. This time we do it with logic pulses.
Logic Noise is all about using logic circuits to make sounds. Preferably sound that will be enjoyable to hear and useful for making music. This week, we’ll be scratching the surface of one of my favorite chips to use and abuse for, well, nearly anything: the 4051 8-way analog switch. As the name suggests, you can hook up eight inputs and select one from among them to be connected up to the output. (Alternatively, you can send a single input to one of eight destinations, but we won’t be doing that here.)
Why is this cool? Well, imagine that you wanted to make our oscillator play eight notes. If you worked through our first installment, you built an abrasive-sounding but versatile oscillator. I had you tapping manually on eight different resistors or turning a potentiometer to eight different positions. This week, we’ll be letting the 4051 take over some of the controls, leaving us to do the more advanced knob twiddling.
73 years ago WWII was in full swing, the world’s first computer had not yet crunched atomic bomb physics and department store cash registers had to add up your purchases mechanically. Back then, each pull caused the device to whirl and kerchunk like a slot machine. [David] & [Scott] kidnapped one of those clunkers and forced it to sing a new tune. Thus the Registroid was born, a self-described “mutant vintage cash register that is a playable, interactive electro-house looping machine.” Why did no one else think of this yet?
Inside, the adding gears and tumbling counters were gutted to make room for the electronics, amp and speaker. Keys were converted to Arduino inputs that then feed to MAX/MSP which serves as a basic midi controller. On top, five “antennae” lamps with LEDs serve as a color organ where they pulse with the audio as split up by an MSGEQ7 equalizer chip. Each row of latching keys corresponds to a different instrument: drum beats, baselines, synths, and one-shots.
We have seen similar things done to a Game Boy and typewriter before, but a cash machine is new to us. Perhaps someday someone will flip the trend and type their twitter messages from an antique harpsichord.
The Registroid appears quite popular when on display at local events, including some wonder when a secret code opens the cash drawer.
Last weekend wasn’t just about Maker Faire; in Stockholm there was another DIY festival celebrating the protocols that make electronic music possible. It’s MIDI Hack 2014, and [Kristian], [Michael], [Bram], and [Tobias] put together something really cool: a Lego sequencer
The system is set up on a translucent Lego base plate, suspended above a webcam that feeds into some OpenCV and Python goodness. From there, data is sent to Native Instruments Maschine. There’s a step sequencer using normal Lego bricks, a fader controlling beat delay, and a rotary encoder for reverb.
Despite being limited to studs and pegs, the short demo in the video below actually sounds good, with a lot of precision found in the faders and block-based rotary encoder. [Kristian] will be putting up the code and a few more details shortly. Hopefully there will be enough information to use different colored blocks in the step sequencer part of the build for different notes.