Piana – Musical Synthesis For The Raspberry Pi

For the last 15 years or so, software synths have slowly yet surely replaced those beatboxes, drum machines, and true synthesizers. It’s a loss for old hardware aficionados, but at least everyone with a MacBook is now a musician, amiright?

The Raspberry Pi and Pi2 already have more processing power than a desktop from ’99, so it’s no surprise that all of those classic synths, from a Moog. Yamaha DX, Casio CZ, Linn drum machine, Fairlight, and a mellotron, can all be stuffed into a Pi thanks to the work of [Phil Atkin] and his Raspberry Pi synthesizer.

[Phil]’s efforts to bring audio synthesis to the Pi fall under three techniques: subtractive synthesis, phase distortion synthesis, and sample-based synthesis, something that’s found in everything from Akai MPCs, MacBooks, and that one episode of The Cosby Show. [Phil] is combining all of these techniques into a piece of software that’s capable of running seamlessly on the Pi, giving anyone with a $35 computer a tool that would have been worth several thousand dollars in 1985.

The project is pretty far along, but the recent release of the Raspberry Pi 2 has thrown [Phil] for a loop. On one hand, the Pi 2 is much more capable than the original Pi in terms of hardware, and this lends itself to more sounds and a better GUI. On the other hand, there are millions of original Pi 1s out there that still make for exceptional synthesizers. Either way, [Phil]’s work is a great example of how far you can push the Pi with audio work.

Thanks [Wybren] for the tip. Videos below.

23 thoughts on “Piana – Musical Synthesis For The Raspberry Pi

      1. it’s sometimes easier to buy off the shelf, just plug and play with all those things already on it and still call it an instant hardware synth. Nothing wrong with the diy approach of course, personally I would build a usb midi device with an arduino mega2560, you can go nuts, you’d have enough for 2 octaves, 16 pots and 8 or so encoders.

      1. I mailed him its not ready yet.


        It’s not available at all right now, it’s still got some work to do before it’s complete. As soon as it’s ready I’ll announce how to get hold of it. Both Pi 1 and Pi 2 are supported, the synth rendering is inherently multicore so it takes full advantage of Pi 2.

        There is no reason why it needs a screen – even the sequencer can be driven headless.

        As I said, once it’s done, I’ll make an announcement! In the meantime I’ll be showing off the status on the 28th in Cambridge at the Raspberry Pi Birthday party.



  1. Ugh, whatever?
    Still wondering if they could run ZynAddSubFX. This great work was written about 10 years ago. Great in terms of utility, it’s only 1.5 meg. It would fit on a floppy. Lotsa knobs and sliders.
    Sampling is not synthesis. Not wave and definitely not phrases.

    1. I did try this; wouldn’t load. That was on a first-gen 256mb pi, though. You might well be able to on the pi 2. Also, sampling’s just an option; This’ll do other sorts of synthesis too, by the looks of it.

      1. No it isn’t. Buting a private helicopter is far more expensive and complex then walking to the shops. Most people already own a laptop of some description and using it would require *tar* less futzing with than using a raspberry pi.

  2. So, both of these videos are 2 1/2 years old now. I don’t suppose anyone thought to summarize what has happened development-wise since then?

    I can’t really get terribly excited about what appears to be a closed-source package that doesn’t even seem to have a release date or even an estimated price.

  3. MIDI controllers, sequencers and synths were done before with MIDIBoxes. First with PIC18F4550 and similar, then with some STM32 devboard, and current generation of MIDIBoxes is on LPCExpresso ARM devboard. Which is cheaper than RPi. Of course to make a synth one needs some special chips, but who woudln,t want to make a stereo synth with 8 SIDs?

  4. Hello you lot. I’m the guy coding all this. It should be out later this year. 3 different synths – Virtual Analog, which is way better, cleaner, faster than the original implementation from a couple of years ago, a mellotronish sample replay synth, and a wavetable synth. Performance right now looks like 3 sample replays, each 2 layers at 12 note polyphony, plus a couple of 4 note polyphonic wavetable synths, plus a couple of virtual analog monosynths, all at once on a 1st generation PI.

    And no it’s not open source, if you want a bunch of open source synth you can always just write them yourself.

  5. Vapor-ware till released,. seems more a personal project than a public release, looks like fun, but sadly not available to try.

    Just use SunVox! available now, it is free and modular so you can wire up any synth you want,. plus has built in access to the GPIO pins at module level.
    If you want deep sound manipulation/synthesis with many generators and effects to wire up how you like, with patterns in a tracker style, then this is the way to go.

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