What keeps people from playing music? For one thing, it’s hard. But why is it hard? In theory, it’s because theory is confusing. In practice, it’s largely because of accidentals, or notes that sound sour compared to the others because they aren’t from the same key or a complementary key.
We love the game controller form factor, which was also a functional choice. On the side that faces the player, there’s a PSP joystick and two potentiometers for adding expression with your thumbs. The twelve buttons on this side serve several functions like choosing the key and the scale type depending on the rocker switch position. A second rocker lets [Bardable] go up or down an octave on the fly. There’s also an OLED to show everything from the note being played to the positions of the potentiometers. If you want to know more, [Bardable] made a subreddit for this and other future instruments, and has a full tour video after the break.
When [KOOP Instruments] started learning the piano, he wasn’t prepared for the tedium of learning chords and their relationships on the standard keyboard layout. But instead of killing his desire to tickle the ivories, it inspired him to explore alternative layouts that are easier to play. He converted to Isomorphism, started building MIDI controllers, and hasn’t looked back.
The latest incantation is Harmonicade, a dual-decked number arranged Wicki-Hayden style. Both decks have 5½ octaves, are (electrically) identical, and run off a single Teensy 3.6. We admire [KOOP]’s use of DB25 connectors to wrangle the wiring between the decks and the Teensy — quite a neat solution. Almost as neat as his beautifully-commented code.
Although the button decks and control boxes are all printed and open source, they are designed to be easily made from acrylic or plywood instead. [KOOP] is going to keep iterating until he’s totally happy with the control locations and layout, and the ease of breakdown and reassembly. We’ve got a double shot of videos for you after the break — one of [KOOP] playing Harmonicade, and a longer one exploring and playing its precursor, the Melodicade.
While the “M” in MIDI stands for “musical”, it’s possible to use this standard for other things as well. [s-ol] has been working on a VJ setup (mixing video instead of music) using various potentiometer-based hardware and MIDI to interface everything together. After becoming frustrated with drift in the potentiometers, he set out to outfit the entire rig with custom-built encoders.
[s-ol] designed the rotary-encoder based boards around an FPGA. It monitors the encoder for changes, controls eight RGB LEDs per knob, and even does capacitive touch sensing on the aluminum knob itself. The FPGA communicates via SPI with an Arduino master controller which communicates to a PC using a serial interface. This is [s-ol]’s first time diving into an FPGA project and it looks like he hit it out of the park!.
Even if you’re not mixing video or music, these encoders might be useful to any project where a standard analog potentiometer isn’t accurate or precise enough, or if you just need something that can dial into a specific value quickly. Potentiometers fall short in many different ways, but if you don’t want to replace them you might modify potentiometers to suit your purposes.
Did you know that the English concertina, that hand-pumped bellows instrument favored by sailors both legitimate and piratical in the Age of Sail, was invented by none other than [Sir Charles Wheatstone]? We didn’t, but [Dave Ehnebuske] knew that the venerable English gentleman was tickling the keys of his instrument nearly two decades before experimenting with the bridge circuit that would bear his name.
This, however, is not the reason [Dave] built a MIDI controller in the form of an English concertina. That has more to do with the fact that he already knows how to play one, they’re relatively easy to build, and it’s a great form factor for a MIDI controller. A real concertina has a series of reeds that vibrate as air from the hand bellows is directed over them by valves controlled by a forest of keys. [Dave]’s controller apes that form, with two wind boxes made from laser-cut plywood connected by a bellows made from cardboard, Tyvek, and nylon fabric. The keys are non-clicky Cherry MX-types that are scanned by a Bluefeather microcontroller. To provide some control over expression, [Dave] included a pressure sensor, which alters the volume of the notes played depending on how hard he pushes the bellows. The controller talks MIDI over Bluetooth, and you can hear it in action below.
Engineers create something out of nothing, and no where is this more apparent than in the creation of customized computer hardware. To make a simple MIDI controller, you need knowledge of firmware design and computer architecture, you need knowledge of mechanical design, and you need to know electronic design. And then you need the actual working knowledge and experience to wield a tool, be it a hammer, laser cutter, or an IDE. [Mega Das] brought together all of these skill to build a MIDI controller. Sure, it’s for bleeps and bloops coming out of a speaker, but take a step back and realize just how awesome it is that any one person could imagine, then implement such a device.
The electronics for this build include a printed circuit board that serves to break out the connections on an Arduino nano to a dozen arcade push buttons, four slide pots, two rotary pots, and a handful of screw terminals to connect everything together. Mechanically, this is a laser-cut box engraved with some fancy graphics and sized perfectly to put everything inside.
Yes, we’ve seen a lot of MIDI controllers built around the Arduino over the years, but this one is in a class by itself. This is taking off-the-shelf parts and customizing them to exactly what you want, and a prodigious example of what is possible with DIY hardware creation. You can check out the build video below.
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.
These days, MIDI controllers are just plain cool. There are a million of them out there, and they’re all dressed to the nines in flashing LEDs and sporting swag like USB MIDI interfaces and sliders that just feel right. With our italics budget running out, I should get to the point – you can make your own, and the OpenDeck platform makes it easy.
In its most refined form, the OpenDeck is a board covered in pin headers. To these, you may connect an absolute truckload of buttons, encoders, sliders, and LEDs. The OpenDeck handles all of the inputs and outputs, while you get to have fun attaching your various gizmos to the control surface/keytar/birthday cake you happen to be building. It saves you reinventing the wheel as far as reading switches and potentiometers goes, allowing you to focus on the creative side of your project. All configuration is handled through a simple web interface.