Hackaday Links: May 24, 2020

We’re saddened to learn of the passing of Gershon Kingsley in December 2019 at the age of 97. The composer and electronic music pioneer was not exactly a household name, but the things he did with the Moog synthesizer, especially the surprise hit “Pop Corn”, which he wrote in 1969, are sure to be familiar. The song has been covered dozens of times, in the process of which the spelling of the name changed to “Popcorn.” We’re most familiar with the 1972 cover by Hot Butter, an earworm from our youth that doesn’t hide the Moog as deeply in the backing instruments as Kingsley did in the original. Or, perhaps you prefer the cover done by a robotic glockenspiel, because robotic glockenspiel.

A few months back, we covered the audacious plan to recover the radio gear from the Titanic. At the time, the potential salvors, Atlanta-based RMS Titanic, Inc., were seeking permission to cut into the submerged remains of the Titanic‘s Marconi room to remove as much of the wireless gear as possible. A federal judge granted permission for the salvage operation last Friday, giving the company the green light to prepare an expedition for this summer. The US government, through the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the National Park Service, argued strenuously to leave the wreck be and treat it as a tomb for the 1,527 victims. For our part, we had a great discussion about the merits in the comments section of the previous article. Now that it’s a done deal, we’d love to hear what you have to say about this again.

Although life appears to be slowly returning to what passes for normal, that doesn’t mean you might not still have some cycles to spare, especially when the time spent can bolster your skillset. And so if you’re looking to adding FPGAs to your resume, check out this remote lab on FPGA vision systems offered by Bonn-Rhein-Sieg University. The setup allows you to watch lectures, download code examples, and build them on your local computer, and then upload the resulting binaries to real hardware running on the lab’s servers in Germany. It sounds like a great way to get access to FPGA hardware that you’d otherwise have a hard time laying hands on. Or, you know, you could have just come to the 2019 Hackaday Superconference.

Speaking of skill-builders, oscilloscope owners who want to sharpen their skills could do worse than to listen to the advice of a real scope jockey like Allen Wolke. He recently posted a helpful video listing the five most common reasons for your scope giving “wrong” voltage readings. Spoiler alert: the instrument is probably doing exactly what you told it to do. As a scope newbie, we found the insights very helpful, and we can imagine even seasoned users could make simple mistakes like using the wrong probe attenuation or forgetting that scope response isn’t flat across its bandwidth.

Safety tip for the gearheads among us: your jack stands might be unsafe to use. Harbor Freight, the stalwart purveyor of cheap tools, has issued a recall of two different models of its jack stands. It seems that the pawls can kick out under the right conditions, sending the supported load crashing to the ground. This qualifies as a Very Bad Day for anyone unlucky enough to be working underneath when it happens. Defective jack stands can be returned to Harbor Freight for store credit, so check your garage and be safe out there in the shop.

And finally, because everyone loves a good flame war, Ars Technica has come up with a pronunciation guide for common tech terms. We have to admit that most of these are not surprising; few among the technology literate would mispronounce “Linux” or “sudo”. We will admit to a non-fanboy level of ignorance on whether the “X” in “iOS X” was a Roman numeral or not, but learning that the “iOS” part is correctly pronounced as three syllables, not two was a bit shocking. It’s all an exercise in pedantry that reminds us of a mildly heated discussion we had around the secret Hackaday writers’ bunker and whether “a LED” or “an LED” is the correct style. If the Internet was made for anything, it was stuff like this.

Open Source Synthesizers Hack Chat

Matt Bradshaw is a musician, maker, and programmer with a degree in physics and a love for making new musical instruments. You may remember his PolyMod modular digital synthesizer from the 2018 Hackaday Prize, where it made the semifinals of the Musical Instrument Challenge. PolyMod is a customizable, modular synthesizer that uses digital rather than analog circuitry. That seemingly simple change results in a powerful ability to create polyphonic patches, something that traditional analog modular synths have a hard time with.

Please join us for this Hack Chat, in which we’ll cover:

  • The hardware behind the PolyMod, and the design decisions that led Matt to an all-digital synth
  • The pros and cons of making music digitally
  • Where the PolyMod has gone since winning the Musical Instrument Challenge semifinals

You are, of course, encouraged to add your own questions to the discussion. You can do that by leaving a comment on the Open Source Synthesizers Hack Chat and we’ll put that in the queue for the Hack Chat.

join-hack-chat

Our Hack Chats are live community events on the Hackaday.io Hack Chat group messaging. This week we’ll be sitting down on Wednesday, January 23, at noon, Pacific time. If time zones got you down, we have a handy time zone converter.

Click that speech bubble to the right, and you’ll be taken directly to the Hack Chat group on Hackaday.io.

You don’t have to wait until Wednesday; join whenever you want and you can see what the community is talking about. And don’t forget to check out the Modular Synth Discussion, a very active chat that digs into the guts of all sorts of modular synthesizers.

Rock Out To The Written Word With BookSound

With his latest project, [Roni Bandini] has simultaneously given the world a new type of audiobook and music. Traditional audiobooks are basically the adult equivalent of having somebody read you a bedtime story, but BookSound actually turns the written word into electronic music. You won’t be able to boast to your friends that as a matter of fact, you have read that popular new novel, but at least you might be able to dance to it.

[Roni] says he’s still working on perfecting the word to music mapping, so the results shown in the video after the break are still a bit rough. But even in these early stages there’s no denying this is an exceptionally unique project, and we’re excited to see where it goes from here.

Inside the classy looking 3D printed enclosure is a Raspberry Pi, an OLED display, and the button and switch which make up the extent of the device’s controls. At the end of the arm is a standard Raspberry Pi Camera module, which gives the BookSound a bird’s eye view of the book to be songified.

To turn your favorite book into electronic beats, simply open it up, put it under the gaze of BookSound, and press the button on the front. Because the Raspberry Pi isn’t exactly a powerhouse, it takes about two minutes for it to scan the page, perform optical character recognition (OCR), and compose the track before you start to hear anything.

If you’re wondering what the secret sauce is to turn words into music, [Roni] isn’t ready to share his source code just yet. But he was able to give us a few high-level explanations of what’s going on inside BookSound. For example, to generate the song’s BPM, the software will count how many words per paragraph are on the page: so a book with shorter paragraphs will consequently have a faster tempo to match the speed at which the author is moving through ideas. Similarly, drum kicks are generated based on the number of syllables in each paragraph. In the future, he’s looking at adding “lyrics” by running commonly used words on the page through a text to speech engine and inserting them into the beat.

We’ve seen practical applications of OCR on the Raspberry Pi in the past and even similar looking book scanning arrangements. But nothing quite like BookSound before, which at this point, is really saying something.

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Learn What Did And Didn’t Work In This Prototyping Post-Mortem

[Tommy] is a one-man-shop making electronic musical things, but that’s not what this post is about. This post is about the outstanding prototyping post-mortem he wrote up about his attempt to turn his Four-Step Octaved Sequencer into a viable product. [Tommy] had originally made a hand-soldered one-off whose performance belied its simple innards, and decided to try to turn it into a product. Short version: he says that someday there will be some kind of sequencer product like it available from him, “[B]ut it won’t be this one. This one will go on my shelf as a reminder of how far I’ve come.”

The unit works, looks great, has a simple parts list, and the bill of materials is low in cost. So what’s the problem? What happened is that through prototyping, [Tommy] learned that his design will need many changes before it can be used to create a product, and he wrote up everything he learned during the process. Embedded below is a demo of the prototype that shows off how it works and what it can do, and it helps give context to the lessons [Tommy] shares.

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Earliest Recorded Computer Music Restored

You want old skool electronic music? How about 1951?

Researchers at the University of Canterbury in New Zealand have just restored what is probably the oldest piece of recorded, computer-generated music. Recorded in 1951, the rendition of “God Save The King”, “Baa-Baa Black Sheep” and “In The Mood” was produced by a computer built by none other Alan Turing and other researchers at the Computing Machine Research Laboratory in Manchester.

These phat beats were captured by the BBC for broadcast on an acetate disk that the researchers found in an archive. They sampled and restored the recording, fixing the rather poor quality recording to reproduce the squawky tones that the computer played. You can hear the restored recording after the break.

It halts apparently unexpectedly in the middle of a stanza, sounds essentially horrible, and goes out of tune on the higher notes. But you gotta learn to crawl before you can walk, and these are the equivalent of the grainy 8mm films of baby’s first steps. And as such, the record is remarkable.

Via ABC News

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Orbs Light To Billie Jean On This Huge Sequencer

Sequencers allow you to compose a melody just by drawing the notes onto a 2D grid, virtually turning anyone with a moderate feel for pitch and rhythm into an electronic music producer. For  [Yuvi Gerstein’s] large-scale grid MIDI sequencer GRIDI makes music making even more accessible.

Instead of buttons, GRIDI uses balls to set the notes. Once they’re placed in one of the dents in the large board, they will play a note the next time the cursor bar passes by. 256 RGB LEDs in the 16 x 16 ball grid array illuminate the balls in a certain color depending on the instrument assigned to them: Drum sounds are blue, bass is orange and melodies are purple.

Underneath the 2.80 x 1.65 meters (9.2 x 4.5 foot) CNC machined, sanded and color coated surface of the GRIDI, an Arduino Uno controls all the WS2812 LEDs and reads back the switches that are used to detect the balls. A host computer running Max/MSP synthesizes the ensemble. The result is the impressive, interactive, musical art installation you’re about to see in the following video. What better tune to try out first than that of Billie Jean whose lighted sidewalk made such an impression on the original music video.

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A Replica DJ Controller To Rule Them All

So like many followers of Hackaday, maybe you’re into electronic music. We’d dare to say though that few of you have the dedication of [adamdzak] as he decided to replicate [Sasha]‘s custom controller for the [Abelton Live] software package. Apparently it’s more difficult than taking apart your DJ Hero controller and hacking it to interface songs on your computer.

The “new” controller is named Apollo, and is meant to be a replica of Sasha’s Maven controller. The build process is well laid out in his post, and the results so far look quite incredible. What’s particularly interesting is the effort taken to reverse engineer this device without ever having been able to use it. Both from a mechanical standpoint and trying to figure out how the buttons are used to control the software must have been quite a challenge. Check out the video after the break to see this new controller in action. Continue reading “A Replica DJ Controller To Rule Them All”