LEGO Looper Makes Modular Music

This LEGO synth made by [Rare Beasts] had us grinning from ear to ear.

It combines elements from LEGO Mindstorms with regular blocks in order to make music with color. A different music sample is assigned to each of five colors: red, blue, green, yellow, and white. The blocks are attached to spokes coming off of a wheel made with NXT an EV3. As the wheel turns, the blocks pass in front of a fixed color sensor that reads the color and plays the corresponding sample. The samples are different lengths, so changing the speed of the wheel makes for some interesting musical effects.

As you’ll see in the short video after the break, [Rare Beasts] starts the wheel moving slowly to demonstrate the system. Since the whole thing is made of LEGO, the blocks are totally modular. Removing a few of them here and there inserts rests into the music, which makes the result that much more complex.

LEGO is quite versatile, and that extends beyond playtime. It can be used to automate laboratory tasks, braid rope, or even simulate a nuclear reactor. What amazing creations have you made with it? Let us know in the comments.

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Orbs Light to Billie Jean on this Huge Sequencer

Sequencers allow you to compose a melody just by drawing the notes onto a 2D grid, virtually turning anyone with a moderate feel for pitch and rhythm into an electronic music producer. For  [Yuvi Gerstein’s] large-scale grid MIDI sequencer GRIDI makes music making even more accessible.

Instead of buttons, GRIDI uses balls to set the notes. Once they’re placed in one of the dents in the large board, they will play a note the next time the cursor bar passes by. 256 RGB LEDs in the 16 x 16 ball grid array illuminate the balls in a certain color depending on the instrument assigned to them: Drum sounds are blue, bass is orange and melodies are purple.

Underneath the 2.80 x 1.65 meters (9.2 x 4.5 foot) CNC machined, sanded and color coated surface of the GRIDI, an Arduino Uno controls all the WS2812 LEDs and reads back the switches that are used to detect the balls. A host computer running Max/MSP synthesizes the ensemble. The result is the impressive, interactive, musical art installation you’re about to see in the following video. What better tune to try out first than that of Billie Jean whose lighted sidewalk made such an impression on the original music video.

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A Wooden Performance Is Fine WIth This Sequencer

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.

Home made sequencers have a special place in maker culture, and as you might expect over the years we’ve featured quite a few of them. Shift registers, CMOS analogue switches or even turntables as the sequencer elements, Lego as a human interface, a sequencer made from a cash register, and a rather lovely steampunk sequencer, to name but a few. So this one joins a rich tradition, and we look forward to more in the future.

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Oh Baby, Baby10 – Build a Classic Analog Music Sequencer

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.

baby10
The original Baby10 article.

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.

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Novation Launchpad MIDI Controller Moves Toward Open Source

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.

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Logic Noise: Sequencing in Silicon

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.

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Logic Noise: The Switching Sequencer Has the Beat

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.

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