Using MIDI To Solve A Keyboard Shortcut Problem

[Pete] admits that his MIDI-based slide advance alert system is definitely a niche solution to a niche problem, but it is a wonderful example of using available tools to serve a specific need. The issue was this: [Pete] is involved in numerous presentations streamed over video, and needed a simple and effective way for the Presenter to notify the Producer (the one responsible for the video streaming and camera switching) to discreetly advance slides on cue.

To most of us, this is a simple problem to solve. Provide the presenter with a USB macro keyboard to trigger the keyboard shortcuts for slide advancement, and the job’s done. But that didn’t quite cut it for [Pete]. In their situation, the Producer is managing more than just the slides as they switch between cameras, watch the chat window, and manage the video streaming itself. Triggering slide advancement via keyboard shortcuts only works if the presentation software is in focus when the buttons are pressed, which isn’t guaranteed.

[Pete’s] solution was to make a small two-button device (one button for next slide, one for previous slide) that uses MIDI to communicate with a small custom application on the producer’s machine, and doesn’t care about application focus. Pressing the slide advance button plays a distinct tone into the producer’s headphones, plus the custom application displays “Forward”, “Back”, or “Waiting” in a window, depending on the state of the Presenter’s buttons. The design is available on Instructables for anyone wanting a closer look.

[Pete] reports that it works and it’s far more discreet than saying “next slide, please” twenty or more times per presentation. You may notice from the photo that LEGO bricks play a prominent part in the device, and if you’d like to see more of that sort of thing, make sure to check out these other brick-mountable PCB designs.

Simple Slide Whistle Gets A MIDI Makeover

On today’s episode of “Will it MIDI?” we have the common slide whistle. Spoiler alert: yes, it will, and the results are just on the edge of charming and — well, a little weird.

As maker [mitxela] points out, for all its simplicity, the slide whistle is a difficult instrument to play. Or, at least a difficult one to hit a note repeatably. It’s a bit like a tiny plastic trombone, in that both lack keys or stops that limit the vibrating column of air to a specific length. Actually, the beginning of the video below shows a clever fix for that problem on the slide whistle using magnets, but that’s mainly a side project.

[mitxela]’s MIDI-fication of the slide whistle required a bit more than a few magnets. To move the slide to defined positions, a pair of high-precision servos was connected by a laser-cut plywood scissors linkage. The lung-power of the musician is replaced by a small electric blower, mounted away from the whistle and supplying air through a long hose. The fan’s speed, and therefore the speed of the airflow, can be varied; this prevents low notes from shifting up in register from over-blowing, if that’s the right term. Another servo controls a damper that shuts off the flow of air from the mouth of the whistle to control notes without having to turn off the fan completely. The main article goes into detail about the control electronics and the calibration process.

The video has a few YouTube copyright strikes demo songs, and we have to say we’re impressed with the responsiveness of the mechanism. Some will object to the excess servo noise, but we found it nice — almost like guitar string-squeak. We like the tunes where [mitxela]’s servo-plucked music box joined in, too.

Mattress-made MIDI Device Plays Exotic Tunes

Ever heard of a handpan? If not, imagine a steel drum turned inside out, and in case that doesn’t help either, just think of a big metal pan you play music with by tapping your hands on its differently pitched tone fields. But as with pretty much any musical instrument, the people around you may not appreciate your enthusiasm to practice playing it at any time of the day, and being an acoustic instrument, it gets difficult to just plug in your headphones. Good news for the aspiring practitioners of Caribbean music though, as [Deepsoul77] created a MIDI version of this rather young and exotic instrument.

Using the foam salvaged from an old mattress as the core of the handpan, [Deepsoul77] cut a couple of plywood pads as tone fields that will be attached to the foam. Each plywood tone field will then have a piezo element mounted in between to pick up the hand tapping. Picking up the tapping itself and turning it into MIDI signals is then handled by an Alesis trigger interface, which is something you would usually find in electronic drums. From here on forward, it all becomes just a simple USB MIDI device, with all the perks that brings along — like headphone usage or changing MIDI instruments to make anything sound like a trumpet.

Turning what’s essentially a drum kit into a melodic instrument is definitely neat, and to no surprise, we’ve also seen the actual home made drum kit with piezo elements. Of course, using MIDI to quiet down an acoustic instrument isn’t new either, though it also works somewhat the other way around. But then again, it doesn’t always have to be MIDI either.

Co41D 2020 MIDI Theremin Sounds Pretty Sick

As the pandemic rages on, so does the desire to spend the idle hours tinkering. [knaylor1] spent the second UK lockdown making a sweet Theremin-inspired noise machine with a low parts count that looks like a ton of fun.

It works like this: either shine some light on the photocells, cover them up, or find some middle ground between the two. No matter what you do, you’re going to get cool sounds out of this thing.

The photocells behave like potentiometers that are set up in a voltage divider. An Arduino UNO takes readings in from the photocells, does some MIDI math, and sends the serial data to a program called Hairless MIDI, which in turn sends it to Ableton live.

[knaylor1] is using a plugin called TAL Noisemaker on top of that to produce the dulcet acid house tones that you can hear in the video after the break.

If you’ve never played with light-dependent resistors before, do yourself a favor and spend a little bit of that Christmas cash on a variety pack of these things. You don’t even need an Arduino to make noise, you can use them as the pots in an Atari Punk console or make farty square waves with a hex inverting oscillator chip like the CD40106. Our own [Elliot Williams] once devoted an entire column to making chiptunes.

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76-bit Trombones Led By The Big MIDI File

Inspired by the creative genius of Martin Molin of Wintergatan fame, [iSax] set out to create a robotic MIDI-controlled trombone. It takes years for humans to develop the control and technique required to play the trombone well as the tone produced into the mouthpiece (embouchure) is a tricky combination of air pressure, lip tension, airflow, resonance in the mouth, and other sources of complex pressure.

[iSax] gives a thorough walkthrough of the machine, which is powered by two separate sources of air, one for the position of the slide and the other for producing sound. A potentiometer provides feedback on the position of the slide and a servo controls the flow rate into the silicone resonance chamber. The chamber can be tuned via a stepper motor that applies pressure, slightly altering the chamber’s frequency and pressure. An Arduino with Firmata allows the device to controlled easily from any host computer. A detailed writeup in PDF form is on the project page.

As you can imagine, simulating a human mouth is a daunting task and the number of variables meant that [iSax] ended up with something only vaguely trombone-like. While ultimately it didn’t turn out to be the astounding music machine that [iSax] hoped, it did end up being a fun feat of engineering we can appreciate and admire. Progress towards automatic brass instruments seems to be coming slowly as we saw similar results with this robotic trumpet. Maybe someday we’ll have robot brass sections, but not today.

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3D Print Your Way To A Modular MIDI Playset

Have you ever wanted to experiment with MIDI, but didn’t know where to start? Or perhaps you didn’t think you could afford to properly outfit your digital beat laboratory, especially given the average hacker’s penchant for blinkenlights? Well worry no more, as [Johan von Konow] has unveiled a collection of DIY MIDI devices that anyone with a 3D printer can build on the cheap.

The LEET modular synthesizer is made up of a keyboard, drum pad, chord keyboard, arpeggiator and a step sequencer that plug into your computer and interface with industry standard digital audio workstation (DAW) programs. The down side is that they don’t do anything on their own, but this simplification allowed [Johan] to really streamline the design and bring the cost of the build down to the bare minimum.

Integrated wire channels mean no PCB is required.

You don’t need to build all the components either, especially if you’re just testing the waters. The keyboard is a great starting point, and even if you have to buy all the components new from eBay, [Johan] says it shouldn’t cost you more than $10 USD to build. You just need an Arduino Pro Micro, some tact switches, and a section of WS2812 RGB LED strip. There’s an excellent chance you’ve already got some of that in the parts bin, which will make it even cheaper.

There is one missing element though: the PCB. But not because you have to source it yourself. Like his clever Arduboy clone we covered earlier in the year, the 3D printed bodies for all of the LEET devices have integrated wiring channels that serve as a stand-in for a traditional circuit board. Simply place all your components, push some stiff 0.3 mm diameter wire down into the channels, and solder the ends. It’s a very neat approach, and something we could see becoming more popular as desktop 3D printers become an increasingly common sight in the home workshop.

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Starshine Is A MIDI Controller For The Musically Shy

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.

What if there were no accidentals? Instruments like this exist, like the harmonica and the autoharp. But none of them look as fun to play as [Bardable]’s Starshine, the instrument intended to be playable by everyone. The note buttons on the outside are laid out and programmed such that [Bardable] will never play off-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.

If this beginner-friendly MIDI controller isn’t big enough for you, check out Harmonicade’s field of arcade buttons.

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