Video Quick Bit: The Best DIY Musical Instruments

The Hackaday Prize is almost over, and soon we’ll know the winners of the greatest hardware competition on the planet. A few weeks ago, we wrapped up the last challenge in the Hackaday Prize, the Musical Instrument Challenge. This is our challenge to build something that goes beyond traditional music instrumentation. Majenta’s back again looking at the coolest projects in the Musical Instrument Challenge in the Hackaday Prize.

We’re old-school hardware hackers here, and when you think about building your own drum machine, there’s really nothing more impressive than building one out of an Atari 2600. That’s what [John Sutley] did with his Syndrum project. It’s a custom cartridge for an Atari with a fancy ZIF socket. Of course, you need some way to trigger those drum sounds, so [John] is using an Arduino connected to the controller port as a sort-of MIDI-to-Joystick bridge.

If you want more retro consoles turned into musical instruments, look no further than [Aristides]’ DMG-01 Ukulele. It’s a ukulele with a 3D printed neck, bolted onto the original ‘brick’ Game Boy. Yes, it works as a ukulele, but that’s not the cool part. There are electronics inside that sense each individual string and turn it into a distorted chiptune assault on the ears. Just awesome.

How about a unique, new musical instrument? That’s what [Tim] is doing with Stylish!, a wearable music synthesizer. It’s based heavily on a stylophone, but with a few interesting twists. It’s built around an STM32, so there are a lot of options for what this instrument sounds like, and it’s all wrapped up in a beautiful enclosure. It’s some of the best work we’ve seen in this year’s Musical Instrument Challenge.

The Hackaday Prize is almost over, and on Saturday we’ll be announcing the winners at this year’s Hackaday Superconference. Tune in to the live stream to see which project will walk away with the grand prize of $50,000!

The Swiss Army Knife of Audio Synthesis

Thirty years ago, we would be lucky if a computer could play audio. Take a computer from twenty years ago, and you’ll be lucky if it can play an MP3 in real-time. Now, computers can handle hundreds of tracks of CD-quality audio, and microcontrollers are several times more powerful than a desktop computer of the mid-90s. This means, of course, that microcontrollers can do audio very, very well. For his entry to the Hackaday Prize, [Fabien] is capitalizing on this power to create a Swiss Army knife of audio synthesis. It’s called the Noise Nugget, and it’s just what you need when you want to put audio in anything.

The microcontroller in question is an ARM Cortex-M4 running at 180MHz, with a quality DAC. There’s connectivity in the form of USB, two audio outs, one audio in, I2C, UART, and GPIOs. With this, you’ve got a digital synthesizer with a MIDI interface, audio effects for guitar pedal tomfoolery, an audio effect trigger board for playing pre-recorded sounds, a digital recorder, and a USB sound interface.

So, with all that processing power, what can the Noise Nugget actually do? Well, first of all, it’s a sampler. [Fabien] has a video demo of the Noise Nugget set up in sampler mode, where it can play a lute-ish sample and a cat sound. All of this is controlled over MIDI and played through a cheap speaker. The results — except for the cat sample — sound great. You can check that video out below.

Continue reading “The Swiss Army Knife of Audio Synthesis”

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.

Continue reading “Wavetable General MIDI For Everyone”

The Incredible Judges Of The Hackaday Prize

The time to enter The Hackaday Prize has ended, but that doesn’t mean we’re done with the world’s greatest hardware competition just yet. Over the past few months, we’ve gotten a sneak peek at over a thousand amazing projects, from Open Hardware to Human Computer Interfaces. This is a contest, though, and to decide the winner, we’re tapping some of the greats in the hardware world to judge these astonishing projects.

Below are just a preview of the judges in this year’s Hackaday Prize. They’ve been busy looking over all of the finalists and on Saturday we’ll announce the winners of the Hackaday Prize at the Hackaday Superconference in Pasadena. This is not an event to be missed — not only are we going to hear some fantastic technical talks from the hardware greats, but we’re also going to see who will walk away with the Grand Prize of $50,000.


Quinn Dunki

The mighty Quinn has been making games for 36 years on platforms ranging from the Apple II to all manner of newfangled things. She currently manages engineering for mobile games at Scopely, and pursues consulting, independent development, mixed-media engineering projects, and writing. Quinn is best known to the Hackaday crowd for Veronica, the 6502 system with everything and the kitchen sink on a backplane. It’s got PS/2, VGA, and Pong in ROM. The build log for Veronica has been an inspiration to many, and served as the basis for numerous homebrew systems. She continues to inspire with her blog, her YouTube Channel, and of course her Hackaday articles.

Eben Upton

In his earlier life, Eben founded two successful mobile game and middleware companies, but right now he’s most famous for founding the Raspberry Pi foundation and serving as the CEO of Raspberry Pi (Trading) LTD. Under his leadership, the Raspberry Pi has grown from some weird looking board with a USB port on one end, HDMI on the other, and a camera stuck in the middle. After months of work, hopes this computer might not be vaporware grew, and now the Raspberry Pi is the best-selling computer ever made (with apologies to the engineers behind the best selling home computer ever made).

Lauren McCarthy

Lauren McCarthy is an artist based in Los Angles and Brooklyn whose work explores systems for being a person and interacting with other people. She is an Assistant Professor at UCLA Design Media Arts, a Sundance Institute Fellow, and was previously a resident at CMU STUDIO for Creative Inquiry, Eyebeam, Autodesk, and more. Lauren’s work has been exhibited internationally, at places such as Ars Electronica, Fotomuseum Winterthur, SIGGRAPH, Onassis Cultural Center, IDFA DocLab, and the Japan Media Arts Festival. She is the creator of p5.js, an open source platform for learning creative expression through code online.

Chris Anderson

From 2001 through 2012, Chris was the Editor in Chief of Wired Magazine, but now he’s the CEO of 3DR and founder of DIY Drones and DIY Robotcars. These Robocar races are held monthly-ish, and have so far proven an ideal platform to teach kids STEM, and have become something like the next generation of BattleBots, only with a few more computer vision algorithms and a few less RC transmitters. In addition to Robocars, Chris is one of the greatest advocates for flying drones, including those of the fixed-wing variety.

 

These are just a few of the amazingly accomplished judges we have lined up to determine the winner of this year’s Hackaday Prize. The winner will be announced on November 3rd at the Hackaday Superconference. If you can’t join us in person, don’t worry. We’re going to be live streaming everything, including the prize ceremony, where one team will walk away with the grand prize of $50,000. It’s not an event to miss.

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.

With Grinning Keyboard and Sleek Design, This Synth Shows It All

Stylish! is a wearable music synthesizer that combines slick design with stylus based operation to yield a giant trucker-style belt buckle that can pump out electronic tunes. With a PCB keyboard and LED-surrounded inset speaker that resembles an eyeball over a wide grin, Stylish! certainly has a unique look to it. Other synthesizer designs may have more functions, but certainly not more style.

The unit’s stylus and PCB key interface resemble a Stylophone, but [Tim Trzepacz] has added many sound synthesis features as well as a smooth design and LED feedback, all tied together with battery power and integrated speaker and headphone outputs. It may have been originally conceived as a belt buckle, but Stylish! certainly could give conference badge designs a run for their money.

The photo shown is a render, but a prototype is underway using a milled PCB and 3D printed case. [Tim]’s Google photo gallery has some good in-progress pictures showing the prototyping process along with some testing, and his GitHub repository holds all the design files, should anyone want a closer look under the hood. Stylish! was one of the twenty finalists selected for the Musical Instrument Challenge portion of the 2018 Hackaday Prize and is therefore one of the many projects in the running for the grand prize!

Chiptunes In An Altoids Tin

For [Dejan]’s entry to the Musical Instrument Challenge in this year’s Hackaday Prize, he’s tapping into some of the great work that has been done over the years to bring bleeps and bloops to the masses. He’s building a drum machine, a bass synth, and an arpeggiator that fits in your pocket, in a handy form factor that fits in an Altoids tin. It’s the FATCAT Altoids Tin Mod Tracker.

This is a simple build meant to fit in an Altoids tin, so you’re not getting a whole lot of hardware here. There’s a battery, there’s a boost circuit, and there’s a single chip, an ATtiny84. This tiny little microcontroller is the heart of the box, able to provide a drum track with a kick, snare, and a closed and open high hat. There’s a bass with a simple square wave and portamento, and an arp track that can be used as a lead or arpeggiated chords. All of this is programmed in C and uploaded straight to the chip.

The ATtiny series of microcontrollers are fairly popular for various means and methods of creating square wave bleeps and bloops. We’ve seen them become a MIDI synth that fits inside a MIDI jack, and we’ve seen how much chiptune goodness you can fit in thirty two bytes of RAM. Cornell even had a spat of rickroll vandalism with a coin cell throwie built on an ATtiny85. Anything that puts more ATtiny chiptunes into the hands of more people is great in our books, and this Altoids tin synth is just the thing.

You can check out a demo of the FATCAT below.

Continue reading “Chiptunes In An Altoids Tin”