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.

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NES Controller Slider-Based Light Theremin

Having never use a 555 before, [lonesoulsurfer] decided that his first foray into the world’s most popular and versatile IC would be to use a 555 to make beautiful chiptunes. For that, we commend him. He found [Dean Segovis]’ Slidersynth light-based Theremin and got to work building his own version it and stuffing it into a (knockoff!) NES controller.

For the uninitiated, a Theremin is a touch-less synthesizer that uses human capacitance and a pair of antennae to control oscillation and amplitude. In a light-based Theremin such as this one, the oscillation is controlled by the intensity of photons from a white LED and their interaction with a light-dependent resistor, also known as a photocell or ‘squiggly resistor’.

The oscillations themselves are created by wiring up the 555 as an astable oscillator, and the pitch is controlled with a potentiometer mounted on the back. It has a small built-in speaker, but [lonesoulsurfer] replaced the B button with a 3.5 mm audio jack so he can plug it into a powered speaker and really rock out. We’ve got his demo tape queued up after the break.

We love pocket instruments around here. If you prefer brass and woodwinds, this pocket woodwind MIDI controller just might draw your lips into an O.

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Portable SNES Chiptune Player

Chiptunes are the fantastic, bleeping musical renditions of the soundchips of retro consoles past. Performers of the art overwhelmingly favour the various flavours of Game Boy, though there are those who work with such varied machines as the Commodore 64, Sega Genesis, and the Nintendo Entertainment System. A little more off the beaten track in the chiptune scene is the Super Nintendo, but [kevtris] has struck out and built a chiptune player for SNES-based music.

The heavy lifting is handled by an FPGA, which emulates the SNES’s S-SMP sound processor, and handles loading the music from the SPC-format files. Being chiptunes, these files store both the instrument data as well as the note data for the music. Audio output is clean and crisp, as heard in the test video.

The laser cut case lends the device a great aesthetic.

Case design is where this project really shines. Laser cut clear acrylic is combined with a bright LCD character display and some LEDs which create an effect not unlike a glowing magical block from your 90s platformer of choice. It’s combined with some slick capacitive buttons that avoid the need to drill holes for bulky traditional buttons. [kevtris] goes through the case design, showing how it all fits together with a combination of screws and standoffs. Being built out of a series of essentially 2D slices, the case is stacked up one layer at a time.

What really stands out about this project is the fit and finish. There’s plenty of microcontroller and FPGA projects out there that can hum out a tune, but the attention to detail paid to the case design and the neatly laid out PCB really add polish to a project like this. For a different take, why not check out this chiptune player built around a Raspberry Pi?

[Thanks Morris!]

Multifunction Raspberry Pi Chiptune Player

General Instrument’s AY-3-8910 is a chip associated with video game music and is popular with arcade games and pinball machines. The chip tunes produced by this IC are iconic and are reminiscent of a great era for electronics. [Deater] has done an amazing job at creating a harmony between the old and new with his Raspberry Pi AY-3-8910 project.

[Deater] already showed us an earlier version of the project on a breadboard however after having made some PCBs and an enclosure the result is even more impressive. The system consists of not one but two AY-3-8910 for stereo sound that feed a MAX98306 breakout for amplification. A Raspberry Pi 2 sends six channels worth of data via 74HC595 shift registers driven by SPI. There is a surplus of displays ranging from a matrix to bar graph and even 14-segment displays. The entire PCB is recognized as a hat courtesy an EEPROM which sits alongside a DS1307 RTC breakout board. The enclosure is simple but very effective at showing the internals as well as the PCB art.

The software that [Deater] provides, extends the functionality of the project beyond the chiptunes player. There is a program to use the devices as an alarm clock, CPU meter, electronic organ and even a playable version of Tetris as seen in the demo video below. The blog post is very informative and shows progress in a chronological fashion with pictures of the design at various stages of development. [Deater] provides a full set of instructions as well as the schematic along with code posted on GitHub.

If you have a soft spot for the Arduino you may want to check out the 8-bit version of a chip tune player and if you are craving some old hardware peripheral information, do check out the computer curiosities from the Iron Curtain periodContinue reading “Multifunction Raspberry Pi Chiptune Player”

Sega Genesis Chiptunes Player Uses Original Chips

If you were a child of the late 1980s or early 1990s, the chances are you’ll be in either the Super Nintendo or the Sega Genesis/Mega Drive camp. Other 16-bit games consoles existed, but these were the ones that mattered! The extra power of the Nintendo’s souped-up 16-bit 6502 derivative or the Sega’s 68000 delivered a gaming experience that, while it might not have been quite what you’d have found in arcades of the day, was at least close enough that you could pretend it was.

The distinctive sound of consoles from that era has gained a significant following in the chiptunes community, with an active scene composing fresh pieces, and creating projects working with them. One such project is [jarek319]’s Sega Genesis native hardware chiptune synthesiser, in which music stored as VGM files on a MicroSD card are parsed by an ATSAMD21G18 processor and sent to a YM2612 and an SN76489 as you’d have found in the original console. The audio output matches the original circuit to replicate the classic sound as closely as possible, and there is even some talk about adding MIDI functionality for this hardware.

The software is provided, though he admits there is still a little way to go on some functions. The MIDI support is not yet present, though he’s prepared to work on it if there was enough interest. You really should hare this in action, there is a video which we’ve placed below the break. Continue reading “Sega Genesis Chiptunes Player Uses Original Chips”

Raspberry Pi Chiptune Player Rocks a Sound Chip from the 80’s

Sometimes it’s worth doing something in an inefficient way. For example, it might be worth it in order to learn something new, or just to use a particular part. [Deater] did just that with the Raspberry Pi AY-3-8910 Chiptune Player (with LED visualizers!)

The venerable General Instrument AY-3-8910 series sound chips were common in older hardware like home computers and game consoles as well as sound cards for the Apple II family. They were capable of generating three channels of square waves with various effects. Developers eventually squeezed every little bit of performance out with clever hacks. The Raspberry Pi has more than enough power to do all this in software, but as [Deater] puts it, it’s far more interesting to use an actual AY-3-8910 from the 80’s. Some LED bar graphs and matrices round out the whole system.

All the code for the Raspberry Pi AY-3-8910 chiptune player can be found on [deater]’s github repository for the project. A video of the player banging out some sounds is embedded after the break.

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ASCII Games, Chiptunes, Hacker Celebrities at Hackaday Prize Worldwide Berlin

Hackaday teamed up with the Vintage Computer Festival to have a Meetup last week. It was quite a party, with Berlin based chiptunes band Thunder.Bird and TheRyk using Commodore 64s and SID sound chip. The age of this equipment and relatively small volume original production runs makes it hard to find these days, but there is an underground group making music with these who trade among themselves. TheRyk created PlayEm64 (pictured above) to organize and play the music using the SID hardware and says that an advantage of this software is that it includes the play time (not in the fileheader), which is really useful for party entertainment! These chips sounded fantastic and added to the energy of the packed house.

zoovideoA Hackaday party means that people bring their projects to show off and entertain the crowd with. [Nils Dagsson Moskopp] brought a game called Zoo Tycoon Roguelike that he built for a 7 day long competition. This is a text based roguelike game based on the 2011 Microsoft game Zoo Tycoon. As with the original game, Nils’ game aimed to keep animals happy within a thriving zoo. What’s neat about Nils’ version is that all the actions are displayed in words on the right side of the screen and he custom developed the characters in bitmap form.

[Sisam] brought Cube Tetris, a social gaming device with 4 sides, each individually controlled so that players must collaborate with each other to win. The new take on the already addictive game kept a crowd around this table the entire night.

[Dave Darko] and [Alex] brought a collaborative project that they’ve been developing on together. The first, third and 4th board shown below are [Alex’s] boards, and the second one with the acrylic case is [Dave Darko’s]. They both started with 5x5cm breakout boards for the ESP8266 but they’ve been adding features off of each other’s boards like support for the ESP-07 / ESP-12 and an additional ESP-01 footprint. Someone wished for a USB micro port, and that is now on both of their boards. The next stage for [Alex] is adding 2 pin rows for GVS (ground-voltage-signal) to his boards, a feature which [Dave Darko] has already put in place on his offerings.

We also saw an appearance by Captain Crunch (John Draper) – he’s pictured here with some friends from Lithuania. Our next event is in San Francisco in November, and we hope to see you at some point somewhere in the world.

The 2015 Hackaday Prize is sponsored by: