Honor Your Hacker Heroes

We recently ran an article on a sweet percussion device made by minimal-hardware-synth-madman [Gijs Gieskes]. Basically, it amplifies up an analog meter movement and plays it by slamming it into the end stops. Rhythmically, and in stereo. It’s got that lovely thud, plus the ringing of the springs. It takes what is normally a sign that something’s horribly wrong and makes a soundtrack out of it. I love it.

[Gijs] has been making electro-mechanical musical hacks for about as long as I’ve been reading Hackaday, if not longer. We’ve written up no fewer than 22 of his projects, and the first one on record is from 2005: an LSDJ-based hardware sequencer. All of his projects are simple, but each one has a tremendously clever idea at its core that comes from a deep appreciation of everything going on around us. Have you noticed that VU meters make a particular twang when they hit the walls? Sure you have. Have you built a percussion instrument out of it? [Gijs] has!

Maybe it’s a small realization, and it’s not going to change the world by itself, but I’ve rebuilt more than a couple projects from [Gijs]’ repertoire, and each one has made my life more fun. And if you’re a regular Hackaday reader, you’ve probably seen hundreds or thousands of similar little awesome ideas played out, and maybe even taken some of them on as your own as well. When they accumulate up, I believe they can change the world, at least in the sense of filling up a geek’s life. I hope that feeling comes across when we write up a project. Those of you out there hacking, we salute you!

Mechanical Relay Percussion In A Eurorack Format

There are plenty of analog and digital synthesis modules available in Eurorack format. But how about one that actually does physical percussion while capturing the output at the same time? The VU Perc Relay module does just that.

The concept is simple. Eurorack control voltages are fed to a VU meter, which swings about and makes noise when the needle hits a copper strip. This strip is connected to a piezo element which captures the sound. There’s also a relay that gets triggered under such conditions, with that sound also captured by a piezo element. Thus, the input control voltages create real percussion noises with the VU meter and relay, and then capture them for output to the rest of the rack.

Having actual physical sound devices in a compact Eurorack module is neat. The fact that it’s transparent is even cooler, as it lets you see the percussion in action. Notably, the physical nature of this module means you’ll want to place some bubble wrap or other isolating material under your rack when performing on stage with a PA. Otherwise, you risk getting feedback through the piezos.

We see plenty of good Eurorack gear around these parts, like this useful wireless MIDI connection. Video after the break.

Continue reading “Mechanical Relay Percussion In A Eurorack Format”

Spiffy Summer Project Sources Solar Sounds From Scraps

[Gijs Gieskes] has a long history of producing electronic art and sound contraptions, and his Zonneliedjes (sunsongs) project is certainly an entertaining perpetuation of his sonic creations. With the stated goal of making music from sunlight, the sunsongs most prominent feature is solar panels.

Although It’s not clear how the photons transform into the rhythmic crashes and random beep-boop sounds, the results are quite satisfying. We have a strong suspicion that the same principals that turn random junk into BEAM robots are at work, maybe with some circuit bending sprinkled on for good measure. One detail we were able to glean from a picture of the device he calls “mobile” was a 40106 oscillator, which [Gijs] has used in previous projects.

The construction style that [Gijs] uses reminds us of the “Manhattan” construction style the amateur radio homebrewing community favors. Squares of copper PCB are glued directly to the back of the solar cells and the circuits are built atop them. Looking carefully at the pictures we can also see what look like cutoff leads, suggesting a healthy amount of experimentation to get the desired results, which we can all relate to.

Be sure to check out the video after the break, and also [Gijs] website. He’s been hacking away at projects such as these for a very long time, and we’ve even featured his projects going back more than 15 years. Thanks for the continued hacks, [Gijs]. We look forward to seeing what you come up with next!

If the terms “BEAM robotics” and “circuit bending” are unfamiliar to your ears (or if a refresh is due), be sure to check out our recent re-introduction to BEAM robotics and our classic “Intro to Circuit Bending” to get acquainted. Continue reading “Spiffy Summer Project Sources Solar Sounds From Scraps”

A PCB Diary

[Gijs Gieskes] has made another eye-catching PCB wonder, this time a diary built from several circuit boards which are assembled into a book, not unlike a PC/104 system. But with [Gijs]’s system you can easily open the stack-up to access single boards without disassembling the whole thing. We don’t see brass piano hinges on PCB assemblies very often, but [Gijs]’s PCB designs are anything but conventional. Hint: if you wanted to recreate this technique using more ordinary hardware, you can find hinged PCB standoffs from various suppliers.

Bicycle, soccer ball, smoke on the “No no no no no…” PCB

Apparently it’s more than a passive piece of art.  Each board has several circuits, some of which (all?) are functioning is ways not clearly described, which seems to be intentional. According to his build log, different things happen when you mix and match the inter-board ribbon cables in various ways. We are told in the instructions “to just try and see what happens”. No schematics are posted, but there is a partial description of the circuits in the manual and parts on the two-layer boards are well-labeled. Although after spot checking a few circuits board photos, we’d guess that no small number of traces, and perhaps some parts, are wild goose chases.

The project claims to be a diary for the years 2018 and 2019, but we will leave it as an exercise for the reader to interpret the messages that [Gijs] has embedded into this fascinating piece. We have written about several of his projects over the years, such as this crazy bent Casio SK-1 from all the way back in 2005. And before dismissing this “book” style of circuit board stack-up as only for artists, check out this teardown of a Soyuz clock we covered back in January.

Hackaday Podcast 088: Flywheel Trebuchet, Thieving Magpies, Hero Engines, And Hypermiling

Hackaday editors Elliot Williams and Mike Szczys riff on the hardware hacks that took the Internet by storm this week. Machining siege weapons out of aluminum? If they can throw a tennis ball at 180 mph, yes please! Welding aficionados will love to see the Hero Engine come together. We dive into the high-efficiency game of hypermiling, and spin up the polarizing topic of the Sun Cycle. The episode wouldn’t be complete without hearing what the game of Go sounds like as a loop sequencer, and how a variable speed cassette player can be abused for the benefit of MIDI lovers the world over.

Take a look at the links below if you want to follow along, and as always, tell us what you think about this episode in the comments!

Take a look at the links below if you want to follow along, and as always, tell us what you think about this episode in the comments!

Direct download (60 MB or so.)

Continue reading “Hackaday Podcast 088: Flywheel Trebuchet, Thieving Magpies, Hero Engines, And Hypermiling”

Hacked Tape Player Makes For A Unique Instrument

[Gijs Gieskes] is certainly no stranger to hacked cassette players, but his latest triumph may well be the most approachable project for anyone looking to explore the world of unorthodox tape unspooling. By attaching a fairly simple add-on PCB to a modern portable cassette player, the user is able to modify the playback speed of the tape at will. The skillful application of such temporal distortions leads to wonderfully abstract results.

The board that [Gijs] has come up with uses four potentiometers and matching push buttons to allow the user to set different playback speeds that they can engage with the push of the button. There’s also a fifth potentiometer to augment the “global” speed as well as an override switch. During playback, these controls can be used to arbitrarily tweak and augment the sound of samples contained on a the looping cassette.

If that’s a little hard to conceptualize, don’t worry. [Gijs] has provided some examples of how the the rapid adjustment of playback speed offered by this “Zachtkind” can add a fascinating level of complexity to sounds and melodies. The assembled player is available for purchase ready to go, but he also provides kits and a detailed installation guide for those who’d rather build it themselves.

Going all the way back to 2005, [Gijs] and his incredible creations have been a staple of Hackaday. From the Arduino video sampler to the array of oddly musical analog clocks, we never cease to be in awe of this exceptionally prolific hacker.

AV Synth Is Psychedelic Analog Mayhem

Digital video is cool and all, but it can’t compete with analog in terms of smooth, creamy glitches and distortion. [gieskes] has developed an analog audio-visual synthesizer that is a great example of the old-school retro visuals you can create with a handful of simple components.

Known as the 3TrinsRGB+1c, it’s available both assembled and in kit form. It’s probably best to start with the manual. Synthesis is achieved through the use of a HEF40106 hex inverting buffer – a cheap and readily available part that nonetheless provides for excellent results. Video can be switched between RGB oscillators and a series of inputs, and there are various controls to create those classic scrolling effects and other visual oddities.

Additionally, a series of connections to the underlying circuitry are broken out on a header connector. This allows for extra modules to be plugged in, and several designs are available to expand the unit’s capabilities.

Analog video isn’t used so much on a day-to-day basis anymore, but it’s a great technology to tinker and experiment with. We’ve seen some of [gieskes] experiments in this arena before, too – like this Arduino video sampler. Video after the break.

Continue reading “AV Synth Is Psychedelic Analog Mayhem”