Hackaday Prize Entry: Zappotron Super Sequencer

If you fancy a go at circuit bending, where do you start? Perhaps you find a discarded musical toy at a junk sale and have a poke around, maybe you find the timing circuit and pull it a little to produce a pitch bend. Add a few wires, see what interesting things you can do connecting point A to point B, that kind of thing.

Many of us have spent an entertaining afternoon playing in this way, though it’s probable few of us have achieved much of note. [Russell Kramer] however must have persevered to become a circuit bender par excellence, as his latest project is one of the most accomplished circuit bending projects we’ve seen.

Zappotron Super Sequencer is an analog sequencer. Except that sentence simply doesn’t convey what it really is, it’s an analog sequencer with four sound sources: two tape decks, a 4046 oscillator, and a circuit-bent spelling tutor toy, and its sequencer component is controlled with a Nintendo light gun and a CRT screen.

You might be thinking that you could do all that with relative ease on a modern single board computer, but what makes this project so special is that he’s achieved it using only logic chips and diode logic gates, not a microprocessor in sight save for the one in the spelling toy. The build log goes through all the circuitry in detail, and we have to tell you it’s a work of art that demonstrated his mastery of both analog circuitry and digital logic.

To cap it all off he’s mounted it in a gloriously retro console, complete with retro embossed labeling. This is a high-quality item that we’d suggest you take a while to read about in detail. He’s posted a video demonstration if you’d like to see it in action, we’ve posted it below the break.

You may never reach the Zappotron’s giddy heights, but if you are interested in the subject, how about reading our intro to circuit bending, or our colleague [Elliot]’s Logic Noise Series.

7 thoughts on “Hackaday Prize Entry: Zappotron Super Sequencer

  1. He put all the time and effort into building that and didn’t build a turntable to rotate it on display? pshh Fantastic build work and really quite genius in my opinion, mad props!

  2. Holy f***, that video just got better and better as I watched it. The design is an amazing combination of art, analog, digital, uniqueness, and not sure… steam punk? Minimalism? (not sure if I used that right). Very nice work! Loved the way the schematics were presented in whiteboard form with complex sections already completed and added with magnets?, and then the interconnects drawn in real-time. You are not only an engineer sir, but you are an excellent artist. The looks of the thing remind me of equipment from one of those dystopian / futuristic sci-fi movies where it takes place in the future, but everything still looks analog and digital and futuristic and old somehow. Great work.

  3. Wow! Damn! The whole thing is digilog gold, but I really love the explanation of the analog sample & hold circuits used with the light gun and track display. Reminds me a little of the techniques used in early analog sampling scopes.
    Beautiful work, Russell – thanks for sharing!

  4. Awesome thing! What makes this so full of character (and analog systems in general) are the countless “flaws” and imperfections in sound. They are actually really hard to reproduce in code, next to impossible without deep understanding of analog electronics. That’s why analog synthezisers are still wildly popular despite decades of digital designs on the same market.

    1. I agree, for a change it was nice to find this simple example of composite video generation from old-school digital logic (even diode logic !), he did something similar with VGA in is Zapper Theremin. So many things to learn from this fun project with a great spirit, compared to so many unimaginative or lazy DIY synths/sequencers and “bendings”…

      Thanks for bringing this, Jenny. This is far more original and interesting than all the closed-source console carts reported on HaD these last days. I don’t mind if there is no code or schematics as long as this is interesting or inspiring : “Ok great, someone has been there, he won’t provide a map, fine, but tell us about the journey at least, please”.

      So, more than “how it is made”, Russell did a really great job at telling how he has done it, with cool drawings and all.

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