Play That Funky 3D Printer…

Human brains are wired for music. Scientists think the oldest musical instruments were flutes that date back somewhere between 67,000 and 37,000 years ago. We assume though that people were banging on wood or their thighs, or knocking two rocks together long before that. Almost anything can be a musical instrument. A case in point: [elifer5000] walked into a room containing a lot of running 3D printers, and thought it seemed musical. Next thing you know, he harnessed 3D printers as a MIDI instrument.

At a hackathon, he found some software that converts a MIDI file to GCode. The only problem is a common printer has three axes and, therefore, can only produce (at most) three notes at once. The obvious answer to this problem is to use more printers, and that’s what he did, as you can see below.

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Make A Mean-Sounding Synth From Average Components

A while back, [lonesoulsurfer] stumbled upon a mind-blowing little DIY synth on YouTube and had to make one of his own. We don’t blame him one bit for that, ’cause we’ve been down that cavernous rabbit hole ourselves. You might want to build one too, after you hear the deliciously fat and guttural sounds waiting inside those chips and passives. Don’t say we didn’t warn you.

The main synth is built on five LM358 op-amps that route PWM through a pair of light-dependent resistors installed near the top. There are two more oscillators courtesy of a 40106 hex inverting Schmitt trigger, which leaves four more oscillators to play with should you take the plunge and build your own.

He didn’t just copy the guy’s schematic and call it good. He added [a 555-based arpeggiator that’s controlled with two homebrew optocouplers. These sound fancy and expensive, but can be bred easily at home by sealing an LED and an LDR inside a piece of black heat shrink tubing and applying a bit of PWM. With the flick of a toggle, he can bypass the momentary buttons and use the yellow knob at the top to sweep through the pitch range with a single input.

Although he doesn’t hold your hand through the build, [lonesoulsurfer] has plenty of nice, clear pictures of the process that nearly give a step-by-step guide. That plus the video demo and walk-through should get you well on your way to DIY synthville.

If this all seems very cool, but you’d really like to understand what’s happening as you descend into the rabbit hole, our own [Elliot Williams]’s Logic Noise series is an excellent start.

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Additive, Multi-Voice Synth Preserves Sounds, Too

For his final project in [Bruce Land]’s microcontroller design class, [Mark] set out to make a decently-sized synth that sounds good. We think you’ll agree that he succeeded in spades. Don’t let those tiny buttons fool you, because it doesn’t sound like a toy.

Why does it sound so good? One of the reasons is that the instrument samples are made using additive synthesis, which essentially stacks harmonic overtones on top the fundamental frequency of each note. This allows synthesizers to better mimic the timbre of natural, acoustic sounds. For each note [Mark] plays, you’re hearing a blend of four frequencies constructed from lookup tables. These frequencies are shaped by an envelope function that improves the sound even further.

Between the sound and the features, this is quite an impressive synth. It can play polyphonically in piano, organ, or plucked string mode through a range of octaves. A PIC32 runs the synthesizer itself, and a pair of helper PIC32s can be used to record songs to be played over. So [Mark] could record point and counterpoint separately and play them back together, or use the helper PICs to fine-tune his three-part harmony. We’ve got this thing plugged in and waiting for you after the break.

If PICs aren’t what you normally choose, here’s an FPGA synth.

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Plucky Kalimba Plays Itself

[Gurpreet] fell in love with the peaceful, floaty theme from the Avatar series and bought a kalimba so he could hear it resonate through his fingertips. He soon realized that although it’s nice to play the kalimba, it would be a lot cooler if it played itself. Then he could relax and enjoy the music without wearing out his thumbs.

After doing a bit of experimentation with printing tine-plucking extensions for the servo horns, [Gurpreet] decided to start the design process by mounting the servos on a printed base. The servos are slotted into place by their mounting tabs and secured with hot glue. We think this was a good choice — it’s functional and it looks cool, like a heat sink.

[Gurpreet]’s future plans include more servos to pluck the rest of the tines, and figuring out how feed it MIDI and play it real time. For the demo after the break, [Gurpreet] says he lapel mic’d the kalimba from the back and cut out the servo noise with Audacity, but ultimately wants to figure out how to quiet them directly. He’s going to try lubing the gears and making a sound-dampening enclosure with foam, but if you have any other ideas, let him know down below.

We don’t see too many kalimba projects around here, but here’s one connected to a Teensy-based looper.

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An Arduino-Based Flute Playing Machine

It’s one thing to be able to transcribe music from a flute, and it’s another to be able to make a flute play pre-written music. The latter is what [Abhilash Patel] decided to pursue in the flute player machine, an Arduino-based project that uses an air flow mechanism and PVC pipes to control the notes produced by a makeshift flute. It’s currently able to play 17 notes, just over two octaves starting from the lowest frequency of E.

In order to play songs, the tones have to either be directly coded and uploaded to the Arduino, composed with a random note generator, or detected from a microphone. While a real flute can be used for the machine, [Patel] uses a PVC flute, constructed with some knowledge of flute playing.

The resonant frequency is based on the effective length, hole sizes, and pipe diameter, so it is fairly difficult to correctly tune a homemade flute. Nevertheless, calculating the length as c/2f where c is the speed of sound (~345 m/s) and f is the frequency of the note can help with identifying the location of the holes. [Patel] cut the PVC pipe and sealed off one end, drilling a blowing hole at 1.5 x the pipe diameter. After playing the flute, the end of the pipe was filled until the frequency exactly matched the desired note.

The hole covering uses cuttings of pipe attached to a cable connecting to a servo. The motors are isolated inside a box to keep the wires clear and area all able to be powered with 5 V. As for the software, the code is primarily used to control when the fan is blowing and which holes are covered to produce a note.

Listen to the flute play “My Heart Will Go On” from Titanic in the video below. Now the next step might just be making the flute playing machine automatically play sheet music – imagine the possibilities!

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Fabric(ated) Drum Machine

Some folks bring out an heirloom table runner when they have company, but what if you sewed your own and made it musical? We’d never put it away! [kAi CHENG] has an Instructable about how to recreate his melodic material, and there is a link to his website, which describes his design process, not just the finished product. We have a video below showing a jam session where he exercises a basic function set.

GarageBand is his DAW of choice, which receives translated MIDI from a Lilypad. If you don’t have a Lilypad, any Arduino based on the ATmega328P chip should work seamlessly. Testing shows that conductive threads in the soft circuit results in an occasional short circuit, but copper tape makes a good conductor  at the intersections. Wide metallic strips make for tolerant landing pads beneath modular potentiometers fitted with inviting foam knobs. Each twist controls a loop in GarageBand, and there is a pressure-sensitive pad to change the soundset. Of course, since this is all over MIDI, you can customize to your heart’s content.

MIDI drums come in all shapes and sizes, from a familiar game controller to hand rakes.

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The Hacker History Of Music Technologies

Music throughout history has been inspired and changed by hackers and makers, and never moreso than in the 20th century. Helen Leigh is one such hacker, who brought a talk to Supercon to give us a crash course in the history of recording, electronics and music, and what the maker movement is doing in the music world today.

The tape recorder was an invention that kicked off a golden period of exploration in sound. Beginning in World War II, the Nazi propaganda machine cut and spliced recorded materials and disseminated them across broadcasting stations in Europe. To the astonishment of the Allies, certain German officials appeared to be making broadcasts from different studios at the same time, due to the high quality of the recording hardware. After the war, this technology was discovered by a group of Parisian recording artists who began to experiment with an art that became known as musique concrète, using tape hardware in weird and wonderful ways to create new sounds heretofore unheard in nature.

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