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.

A Baby Named DJ

Some of us are guilty of picking up questionable hardware from garage sales, fleamarkets, and well-meaning relatives. There is a balance between turning down a good investment and hoarding, and if we figure out how to tell the difference you will be the first to know. [Clem Mayer] may start on the side of unwise acquisition, but he pushes a broken fetal detector into the realm of awesome by converting it to an analog synthesizer, born to headline at an Eastern European dance party.

He starts with a basic teardown, and we get to see how old hardware was serviceable with only two standard screws. It is a good thing too, because the nickel-cadmium batteries are older than some of you and they are in need of replacement. New nickel-metal hydride batteries got it up and running but [Clem] does not have a baby bump so its functionality turned to Pink Floyd era synthesizer circuit bending. Circuit bending involves modifying a circuit for sound it was not intended to make.

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Circuit Bending Those Adorable Voices

Leapfrog make some pretty awesome kids electronics. Especially admirable is the low cost, the battery life, and the audio quality of these devices. This circuit bending hack takes advantage of those audio circuits by turning the Alphabet Pal into your lead vocalist. The performance in the demo video begins with some impressive tricks, but just wait for it because by the end the little purple caterpillar proves itself an instrument worthy of a position beside that fancy Eurorack you’ve been assembling.

The image above provides a great look inside the beastie. [Jason Hotchkiss] mentions he’s impressed by the build quality, and we have to agree. Plus, look at all of those inputs — this is begging to leave toyland and join the band. With an intuitive sense that can only be gained through lots of circuit-bending experience, he guessed that the single through-hole resistor on the PCB was used to dial in the clock speed. That made it easy to throw in a trimpot for pitch-bending and he moved on to figure out individual note control.

All of those caterpillar feet are arranged in a keyboard matrix to detect button presses. After pulling out the oscilloscope for a bit of reverse engineering, [Jason] grabbed a PIC microcontroller and added it to the same solder points as the stock ribbon connector. The result is that the buttons on the feet still work, but now the Alphabet Pal also has MIDI control.

Take a look at the writeup for full details, and the video after the break to hear it in action. If you’re a fan of circuit-bent toys, this pretty pink keyboard hack always impressed us, especially the spring reverb that was added!

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Video Mangler For All Your Video Mangling Needs

Back in the ’70s and ’80s, before we had computers that could do this sort of thing, there were fully analog video effects. These effects could posterize or invert the colors of a video signal, but for the best example of what these machines could do just go find some old music videos from Top of The Pops or Beat Club. Stuff gets weird, man. Unfortunately, all those analog broadcasting studios ended up in storage a few years ago, so if you want some sweet analog effects, you’re going to have to build your own. That’s exactly what [Julien]’s Video Mangler does. It rips up NTSC and PAL signals, does some weird crazy effects, and spits it right back out.

The inspiration for this build comes from an old ’80s magazine project called the ‘video palette’ that had a few circuits that blurred the image, turned everything negative, and could, if you were clever enough, become the basis for a chroma key. You can have a lot of fun when you split a video signal into its component parts, but for more lo-finess [Julien] is adding a microcontroller and a 12-bit DAC to generate signals that can be mixed in with the video signals. Yes, all of this can still be made now, even though analog TV died a decade ago.

The current status of this project is a big ‘ol board with lots of obscure chips, and as with everything that can be described as circuit bending, there’s going to be a big panel with lots of dials and switches, probably stuffed into a laser-cut enclosure. There’s a mic input for blurring the TV with audio, and enough video effects to make any grizzled broadcast engineer happy.

Circuit Bent Casio SK-1 Gets An Arduino Brain

The Casio SK-1 keyboard is fairly well-known in the “circuit bending” scene, where its simple internals lend themselves to modifications and tweaks to adjust the device’s output in all sorts of interesting ways. But creating music via circuit bending the SK-1 can be tedious, as it boils down to fiddling with the internals blindly until it sounds cool. [Nick Price] wanted to do something a bit more scientific, and decided to try replacing his SK-1’s ROM with an Arduino so he could take complete control it.

Replacing the ROM chip with header pins.

That’s the idea, anyway. Right now he’s gotten as far as dumping the ROM and getting the Arduino hooked up in place of it. Unfortunately the resulting sound conjures up mental images of a 56K modem being cooked in a microwave. Clearly [Nick] still has some work ahead of him.

For now though, the progress is fascinating enough. He was able to pull the original NEC 23C256 chip out of the keyboard and read its contents using an Arduino and some code he cooked up, and he’s even put the dump online for any other SK-1 hackers out there. He then wrote some new code for the Arduino to spit data from the ROM dump back to the keyboard when requested. In theory, it should sound the same as before, but with the added ability to “forge” the data going back to the keyboard to make new sounds.

The result is what you hear in the video linked after the break. Not exactly what [Nick] had in mind. After some snooping with the logic analyzer, he believes the issue is that the Arduino can’t respond as fast as the original NEC chip did. He’s now got an NVRAM chip on order to replace the original NEC chip; the idea is that he can still use the Arduino to reprogram the NVRAM chip when he wants to play around with the sound.

We’ve covered some pretty fancy circuit bent instruments here in the past, but if you’re looking for something a bit easier to get your feet wet we ran a start-to-finish guide back in the Ye Olden Days of 2011 which should be helpful.

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Hackaday Prize Entry: Zappotron Super Sequencer

If you fancy a go at circuit bending, where do you start? Perhaps you find a discarded musical toy at a junk sale and have a poke around, maybe you find the timing circuit and pull it a little to produce a pitch bend. Add a few wires, see what interesting things you can do connecting point A to point B, that kind of thing.

Many of us have spent an entertaining afternoon playing in this way, though it’s probable few of us have achieved much of note. [Russell Kramer] however must have persevered to become a circuit bender par excellence, as his latest project is one of the most accomplished circuit bending projects we’ve seen.

Zappotron Super Sequencer is an analog sequencer. Except that sentence simply doesn’t convey what it really is, it’s an analog sequencer with four sound sources: two tape decks, a 4046 oscillator, and a circuit-bent spelling tutor toy, and its sequencer component is controlled with a Nintendo light gun and a CRT screen.

You might be thinking that you could do all that with relative ease on a modern single board computer, but what makes this project so special is that he’s achieved it using only logic chips and diode logic gates, not a microprocessor in sight save for the one in the spelling toy. The build log goes through all the circuitry in detail, and we have to tell you it’s a work of art that demonstrated his mastery of both analog circuitry and digital logic.

To cap it all off he’s mounted it in a gloriously retro console, complete with retro embossed labeling. This is a high-quality item that we’d suggest you take a while to read about in detail. He’s posted a video demonstration if you’d like to see it in action, we’ve posted it below the break.

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Circuit Bent CD Player Is Glitch Heaven

Circuit bending is the art of creatively short circuiting low voltage hardware to create interesting and unexpected results. It’s generally applied to things like Furbys, old Casio keyboards, or early consoles to create audio and video glitches for artistic effect. It’s often practiced with a random approach, but by bringing in a little knowledge, you can get astounding results. [r20029] decided to apply her knowledge of CD players and RAM to create this glitched out Sony Discman.

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