Humans have been making musical instruments from whatever items are close at hand for thousands of years, and we aren’t showing any signs of slowing down yet, least of all artist [Nicolas Bras] and collaborator [Sandrine Morais.] They have been designing and constructing quite a number of DIY instruments over the years, with this demo video highlighting a whopping 72 of them in the space of just seven minutes!
Clearly, [Nicolas] is one of those people who can play literally anything, and shows his skills off very well indeed if you ask us. Particularly fine sounding is the pilchards tin guitar found at 2:52 in the video, and the electric pipe beat box at 2:10 is also pretty fun.
Pretty much all the usual methods for producing sounds mechanically are covered, namely air resonating within a shaped enclosure (flutes, and such), string vibrations which might be sensed electrically (guitars, zithers, etc) and percussive instruments which vibrate an enclosed air mass (like the udu) or vibrate other things (like plates or bars). Looking over the YouTube channel, we can’t think of much they haven’t tried to make music with!
If all this sounds familiar, well, we covered [Nicolas] that time he was traveling for a gig and his instrument collection got lost in transit.
Most of the horror stories you hear about air travel seem to center around luggage. Airlines do an admirable job of getting people safely to their destinations, but checked baggage is a bit of a crapshoot — it could be there when you land, it could end up taking the scenic route, or it could just plain disappear. That’s bad enough when it contains your clothes, but when it contains your livelihood? Talk about stress!
This was the position musician [Nicolas Bras] found himself in after a recent trip. [Nicolas] was heading for a gig, but thanks to Brussels Airlines, his collection of musical instruments went somewhere else. There was nothing he could do to salvage that evening’s gig, but he needed to think about later engagements. Thankfully, [Nicolas] specializes in DIY musical instruments, made mostly with PVC tubes and salvaged parts from commercial instruments, so the solution to his problem was completely in his hands.
Fair warning to musical instrument aficionados — harvest the neck from a broken ukelele is pretty gruesome stuff. Attached to a piece of pallet wood and equipped with piezo pickups, the neck became part of a bizarre yet fascinating hybrid string instrument. A selection of improvised wind instruments came next, made from PVC pipes and sounding equally amazing; we especially liked the bass chromojara, sort of a flute with a didgeridoo sound to it. The bicycle pump beatbox was genius too, and really showed that music is less about the fanciness of your gear and more about the desire — and talent — to make it with whatever comes to hand.
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!
Composing music can be quite difficult – after all, you have to keep in mind all of the elements of musical theory, from time signature and key signature to the correct length for all of the notes. A team of students from Cornell University’s Designing with Microcontrollers class developed a solution for this problem by transcribing sounds from a flute into sheet music.
The project doesn’t simply detect the notes played – it is able to convert the raw audio into a standardized music score complete with accurate note timings and beats per minute. Before transcribing the music, some audio processing was necessary. The team chose to use a Sallen-Key filter to amplify the raw audio input due to its complex conjugate poles. They then used a fast Fourier Transform (FFT) to determine the frequency for the input note, converting the signal from the time domain to the frequency domain.
The algorithm samples the data to generate an input signal, using the ADC on the microcontroller to receive input from the microphone. It takes the real and imaginary components of the sampled signals and outputs a pair of real and imaginary amplitude components corresponding to the sampled frequency, evenly spaced from 0 to the Nyquist rate (half the sampling rate). The spacing of these bins and the bin with the largest amplitude are used to convert the signal back to a real frequency and a MIDI note.
The system uses a PIC32 for the logic. The circuitry for the microphone amplification uses a non-inverting op-amp with a gain of 50 to increase the microphone output signal amplitude from 15 mV to 750 mV to use by the microcontroller’s ADC. The signal is then sent to the anti-aliasing Sallen-Key filter, with a pole at 2.5 kHz and a Q of 1. The frequency was chosen since the FFT samples at 8 kHz and the frequency corresponds to a note out of the range of a flute. As for the filters, only the low pass filter was implemented in hardware. While a bandpass filter could have been implemented in hardware, the team decided on a cleaner software approach.
Well this is unusual. Behold the Magic Flute of Rat Mind Control, and as a project it is all about altering the response to the instrument, rather than being about hacking the musical instrument itself. It’s [Kurt White]’s entry to the Musical Instrument Challenge portion of The Hackaday Prize, and it’s as intriguing as it is different.
[Kurt] has created a portable, internet-connected, automated food dispenser with a live streaming video feed and the ability to play recorded sounds. That device (named Nicodemus) is used as a Skinner Box to train rats — anywhere rats may be found — using operant conditioning to make them expect food when they hear a few bars of Black Sabbath’s Iron Man played on a small recorder (which is a type of flute.)
In short, the flute would allow one to summon hordes of rats as if by magic, because they have been trained by Nicodemus to associate Iron Man with food.
Many of the system’s elements are informed by the results of research into sound preference in rats, as well as their ability to discriminate between different melodies, so long as the right frequencies are present. The summoning part is all about science, but what about how to protect oneself from the hordes of hungry rodents who arrive with sharp teeth and high expectations of being fed? According to [Kurt], that’s where the magic comes in. He seems very certain that a ritual to convert a wooden recorder into a magic flute is all the protection one would need.
Embedded below is something I’m comfortable calling the strangest use case video we’ve ever seen. Well, we think it’s a dramatized use case. Perhaps it’s more correctly a mood piece or motivational assist. Outsider Art? You decide.
Drill bits are so cheap that when one is too chowdered up to keep working, we generally just toss it out. So you might expect a video on sharpening drill bits to be somewhat irrelevant, but [This Old Tony] makes it work.
The reason this video is worth watching is not just that you get to learn how to sharpen your bits, although that’s an essential metalworker’s skill. Where [This Old Tony]’s video shines is by explaining why a drill bit is shaped the way it is, which he does by fabricating a rudimentary twist drill bit from scratch. Seeing how the flutes and the web are formed and how all the different angles interact to cut material and transport the swarf away is fascinating. And as a bonus, knowing what the angles do allows you to customize a grind for a special job.
[This Old Tony] may be just a guy messing around in his shop, but he’s got a wealth of machine shop knowledge and we always look forward to seeing what he’s working on, whether it’s a homemade fly cutter or a full-blown CNC machine.
We aren’t sure this technically qualifies as music synthesis, but what else do you call a computer playing music? In this case, the computer is a Teensy, and the music comes from a common classroom instrument: a plastic recorder. The mistaken “flute” label comes from the original project. The contraption uses solenoids to operate 3D printed “fingers” and an air pump — this is much easier with a recorder since (unlike a flute) it just needs reasonable air pressure to generate sound.
A Teensy 3.2 programmed using the Teensyduino IDE drives the solenoids. The board reads MIDI command sent over USB from a PC and translates them into the commands for this excellent driver board. It connects TIP31C transistors, along with flyback diodes, to the solenoids via a terminal strip.
On the PC, a program called Ableton sends the MIDI messages to the Teensy. MIDI message have three parts: one sets the message type and channel, another sets the velocity, and one sets the pitch. The code here only looks at the pitch.
This is one of those projects that would be a lot harder without a 3D printer. There are other ways to actuate the finger holes, but being able to make an exact-fitting bracket is very useful. Alas, we couldn’t find a video demo. If you know of one, please drop the link in the comments below.