[Kevin] wanted to emulate the look and feel of the original TX816 aesthetic, developing a custom PCB handling the user interface for four of the eight channels, and a second acting as an interface to the Raspberry Pi using a Pico. Also sitting on this PCB is the GY-PCM5102 I2S DAC, and the MIDI connectors needed to connect to the system controller. Both PCBs, including a PCB-based front panel, were developed with KiCAD. The firmware for the Pico part of the system can be found on the firmware GitHub. The video demo (embedded below) shows off the system running a very 80s-sounding rendition of Holst’s famous ‘Jupiter’ from the planet series, and we all agree it sounds pretty sweet. For a complete rundown of the build, here are the links for the blog series for ease of access: Intro, PCBs, Panel, Build Guide, Mechanical, Pico/TX816 IO code, and finally usage. Phew!
[Kevin] over at Simple DIY ElectroMusic Projects recently upgraded his Lo-Fi Orchestra. To celebrate his 400th blog post, he programmed it to play Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture. Two Arduino Nanos, four Arduino Unos, four Raspberry Pi Picos, and one Raspberry Pi have joined the Lo-Fi Orchestra this year, conducted by a new Pico MIDI Splitter. Changes were made in every section of the orchestra except percussion. We are delighted that the Pringles tom and plastic tub bass drums remain, not to mention the usual assortment of cheap mixers, amps, and speakers.
Tchaikovsky’s score famously calls for some “instruments” not found in the typical orchestra — a battery of cannon and a carillon, for example. Therefore [Kevin] had to supplement the Lo-Fi Orchestra for this performance with extras — a JQ6500 MP3 module on clash cymbals, a bare metal MiniDexed Raspberry Pi playing the carillon, and a MCP4725 with a Lots-of-LEDs shield firing off cannon and fireworks, respectively.
Although slightly disappointed that the MCP4725 beat out Mr. Fireworks in the auditions, we do like the result. [Kevin] reports that the latest version is much more reliable and predictable, having eliminated various MIDI faults and electrical noise. It presents a stable platform for future musical presentations, a kind of on-demand Lo-Fi Orchestra jukebox, as he describes it. A detailed review of all the changes can be found in his explanatory blog post. Check out an earlier performance of Holst’s The Planets suite from our coverage back in 2021.
Hardware projects often fall into three categories: Those that flash lights, those that make sounds and those that move. This virtuoso performance by [Kevin]’s “Lo-Fi Orchestra” manages all three, whilst doing an excellent job of reproducing the 1973 musical classic Tubular Bells by Mike Oldfield.
Producing decent polyphonic sounds of different timbres simultaneously is a challenge for simple microcontroller boards like Arduinos, so [Kevin] has embraced the “More is more” philosophy and split up the job of sound generation in much the same way as a traditional orchestra might. Altogether, 11 Arduino Nanos, 6 Arduino Unos, an Arduino Pro Mini, an Adafruit Feather 32u4, and a Raspberry Pi running MT32-Pi make up this electronic ensemble.
The servo & relay drumkit is a particular highlight, providing some physical sounds to go along with the otherwise solid-state generation.
The whole project is “conducted” over MIDI and the flashing sequencer in the middle gives a visual indication of the music that is almost hypnotic. The performance is split into two videos (after the break), and will be familiar to fans of 70’s music and classic horror movies alike. We’re astonished how accurately [Kevin] has captured the mood of the original recording.
We’ve seen a great many Arduino synthesizer projects over the years. We love to see a single Arduino bleeping out some monophonic notes. From there, many hackers catch the bug and the sky is truly the limit. [Kevin] is one such hacker who now has an Arduino orchestra capable of playing all seven movements of Gustav Holst’s Planets Suite.
The performers are not human beings with expensive instruments, but simple microcontrollers running code hewn by [Kevin’s] own fingertips. The full orchestra consists of 11 Arduino Nanos, 6 Arduino Unos, 1 Arduino Pro Mini, 1 Adafruit Feather 32u4, and finally, a Raspberry Pi.
Different synths handle different parts of the performance. There are General MIDI synths on harp and bass, an FM synth handling wind and horn sections, and a bunch of relays and servos serving as the percussive section. The whole orchestra comes together to do a remarkable, yet lo-fi, rendition of the whole orchestral work.
While it’s unlikely to win any classical music awards, it’s a charming recreation of a classical piece and it’s all the more interesting coming from so many disparate parts working together. It’s an entirely different experience than simply listening to a MIDI track playing on a set of headphones.
We’d love to see some kind of hacker convention run a contest for the best hardware orchestra. It could become a kind of demoscene contest all its own. In the meantime, scope one of [Kevin’s] earlier projects on the way to this one – 12 Arduinos singing Star Wars tracks all together. Video after the break.