[Leo] Repairs A MIDI Sequencer

We all have that friend who brings us their sad busted electronics. In [Leo’s] case, he had a MIDI sequencer from a musician friend. It had a dead display and the manufacturer advised that a driver IC was probably bad, even sending a replacement surface mount part.

[Leo] wasn’t convinced though. He knew that people were always pushing on the switches that were mounted on the board and he speculated that it might just be a bad solder joint. As you can see in the video below, that didn’t prove out.

The next step was to fire up a hot air gun. Instead of removing the chip, he wanted to reflow the solder anyway. He was a little worried about melting the 7-segment LEDs so he built a little foil shield to protect it. That didn’t get things working, either.

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MIDI Association Announces MIDI 2.0 Prototyping

MIDI was introduced at the 1983 NAMM show as a means to connect various electronic instruments together. Since then, our favorite five-pin DIN has been stuffed into Radio Shack keyboards, MPCs, synths, eurorack modules, and DAWs. The standard basically hasn’t changed. Sure, we have MIDI SysEx messages to configure individual components of a MIDI setup, but at its core, MIDI hasn’t changed since it was designed as a current-loop serial protocol for 8-bit microcontrollers running at 1 MHz.

Now, ahead of the 2019 NAMM show, the MIDI Manufacturers Association (MMA) in conjunction with AMEI, Japan’s MIDI Association, are announcing MIDI 2.0. The new features include, “auto-configuration, new DAW/web integrations, extended resolution, increased expressiveness, and tighter timing”. It will retain backwards-compatibility with MIDI 1.0 devices.

The new initiative, like the release of the first MIDI spec, is a joint venture between manufacturers of musical instruments. The company lineup on this press release is as follows: Ableton/Cycling ’74, Art+Logic, Bome Software, Google, imitone, Native Instruments, Roland, ROLI, Steinberg, TouchKeys, and Yamaha.

This is not an official announcement of the MIDI 2.0 specification. This is the ‘prototyping’ phase, where manufacturers implement the MIDI 2.0 spec as envisioned, write some documentation, figure out what the new logo will look like, and design a self-certification process. Prototyping is expected to continue through 2019, when the final MIDI 2.0 spec will be released on the MIDI Association website.

As far as hardware hackers are concerned, there shouldn’t be any change to your existing MIDI implementation, provided you’re not doing anything new. It should be backwards compatible, after all. The new spec will allow for increased range in expression and ‘tighter’ timing, which might be an indication that the baud rate of MIDI (31,250 baud +/- 1%) may change. There’s some interesting things in store for the last old-school physical layer in existence, and we can’t wait to see what comes out of it.

An Easy Way To MIDI Sync Your Eurorack Build

Eurorack synthesizer builds are known for a lot of things; simplicity isn’t necessarily one of them. However, not everything on a modular synthesizer build has to be inordinately complicated, a mess of wires, or difficult to understand. [little-scale] has built a neat and tidy module that might just find a place in your setup – the Chromatic Drum Gate Sync. The handy little device is based on a Teensy, and uses its USB MIDI libraries to make synchronizing hardware a snap.

The device has 12 channels, each responding to a single MIDI note. A note on message is used to set a gate high, and a note off message to set it low again. This allows very fine grained control of gates in a modular setup. The device can also output a variety of sync signals controlled by the USB MIDI clock – useful for keeping your modular rack in time with other digitally controlled synths.

It’s a build that espouses [little-scale]’s usual aesthetic – clean and tidy, with a focus on compactness. All the required details to build your own are available on Github.

We’ve seen the collision of [little-scale] and Teensy hardware before – with this rig playing 8 SEGA soundchips in unison.

Quick and Dirty MIDI Interface with USBASP

[Robson Couto] recently found himself in need of MIDI interface for a project he was working on, but didn’t want to buy one just to use it once; we’ve all been there. Being the creative fellow that he is, he decided to come up with something that not only used the parts he had on-hand but could be completed in one afternoon. Truly a hacker after our own hearts.

Searching around online, he found documentation for using an ATtiny microcontroller as a MIDI interface using V-USB. He figured it shouldn’t be too difficult to adapt that project to run on one of the many USBASP programmers he had laying around, and got to work updating the code.

Originally written for the ATtiny2313, [Robson] first had to change around the pin configuration so it would work on the ATmega8 in the USBASP, and also updated the USB-V implementation to the latest version. With the code updated, he programmed one of the USBASP adapters with a second one by connecting them together and putting a jumper on the J2 header.

He had the software sorted, but there was still a bit of hardware work to do. To provide isolation for the MIDI device, he put together a small circuit utilizing a 6N137 optoisolator and a couple of passive components on a piece of perf board. It’s not pretty, but it does fit right into the programming connector on the USBASP. He could have fired up his PCB CNC but thought it was a bit overkill for such a simple board.

[Robson] notes that he hasn’t implemented MIDI output with his adapter, but that the code and the chip are perfectly capable of it if you need it for your project. Finding the schematic to hook up to the programmer’s TX pin is left as an exercise for the reader.

If you don’t have a USBASP in the parts bin, we’ve seen a very similar trick done with an Arduino clone in the past.

Launchpad MIDI Controller Put to Work with Python

For Hackaday readers who might not spend their free time spinning electronic beats at raves, the Launchpad by Novation is a popular peripheral for creating digital music with tools such as Ableton Live. It’s 8×8 grid of RGB LED backlit buttons are used to trigger different beats and clips by sending MIDI commands to the computer over USB. While not a strict requirement for performing digital music, it also helps that it looks like you’re flying a spaceship when using it.

It’s definitely a slick piece of gear, but the limited stock functionality means you’re unlikely to see one outside of the Beat Laboratory. Though that might change soon thanks to LPHK, created by [Ella Jameson]. She’s created a program in Python that allows you to use the Novation Launchpad as a general purpose input device. But rather than taking the easy way out by just turning the hardware into a USB HID device or something along those lines, LPHK implements an impressive set of features including its own internal scripting language.

In the video after the break, [Ella] walks us through some basic use cases, such as launching programs or controlling the system volume with individual buttons. LPKH has a GUI which provides a virtual representation of the Launchpad, and allows configuring each button’s color and function as well as saving and loading complete layouts.

For more advanced functionality, LPHK utilizes a scripting language that was inspired by the Hak5 USB Rubber Ducky. Scripts are written with plain English commands and very simple syntax, meaning you don’t need to have any programming experience to create your own functions. There’s also a script scheduling system with visual feedback right on the board: if a button is pulsing red it means it has a script waiting for its turn to execute. When the key is rapidly flashing the script is actively running. A second tap of the button will either remove it from the queue or kill the running script, depending on what the status was when you hit it.

[Ella] makes it clear this software is still a work in progress; it’s not as polished as she’d like and still has bugs, but it’s definitely functional for anyone who’s looking to wring a bit more functionality out of their $150 Launchpad. She’s actively looking for beta testers and feedback, so if you’ve already got one of these boards give it a shot and let her know what you think.

In the past we’ve seen hackers fiddling with the open source API Novation released for their Launchpad controllers, but overall there hasn’t been a lot of work done with these devices. Perhaps that will soon change with powerful software like this in development.

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Wavetable General MIDI For Everyone

There are only so many ways to generate music with a computer, and by far the most popular method is MIDI. It’s been around for thirty-five years, and you don’t get to be a decades-old standard for no reason. That said, turning MIDI into audio is a pain, but this project in the Musical Instrument Challenge for the Hackaday Prize makes it easy. It’s a Fluxamasynth Module that turns MIDI into something you can hear.

The key to this build is a single chip that takes MIDI data in and spits out audio, according to the 128 general MIDI sounds. This might not sound like much, but if you’ve ever tried to turn MIDI into sound, you’ll find your options are limited. There is exactly one chip that can do this and is easily obtainable: the SAM2695 from Dream Sound Synthesis. This chip was originally designed for cheap toy keyboards, but if you have a chip, you can do anything with it.

The Fluxamasynth Modules are inspired by the original Fluxamasynth, an Arduino shield that is basically a breakout board for the SAM chip. There’s a MIDI in, and an 1/8″ jack for output, and not much else. The Fluxamasynth Modules extend the capability by adding more support, including stereo output, reverb, chorus, flange, and delay effects, and digs down deep into the configurable parameters for tuning.

The hardware is basically an audio appliance for the Arduino, Raspberry Pi, and the ESP32, and allows for generative music through code. You can see an example of this project in the video below.

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The Ultimate MIDI Wind Controller Is The Human Voice

When it comes to music, the human voice is the most incredible instrument. From Tuvan throat singing to sopranos belting out an aria, the human vocal tract has evolved over millions of years to be the greatest musical instrument. We haven’t quite gotten to the point where we can implant autotune in our vocal cords, but this project for the Hackaday Prize aims to be a bridge between singers and instrumentalists. It’s a hands-free instrument that relies on vocal gesture sensing to drive electronic musical instruments.

The act of speaking requires dozens of muscles, and of course no device that measures how the human vocal tract is shaped will be able to measure all of them, but the Multiwind does manage to measure breathing in, breathing out, the shape of the lower lip, the upper lip, and its own tilt, giving it far more feedback than any traditional wind instrument. It does this with IMUs and a mouthpiece mounted on a mount that is seemingly inspired by one of those hands-free harmonica neck mounts.

The output for this device is MIDI, although the team behind this build already has data streaming to an instance of Max, and once you have that, you have every musical instrument imaginable. It’s an innovative musical instrument, and something we’re really excited to see the results of.