MIDISWAY Promises to Step Up Your Live Show

If you like to read with gentle music playing, do yourself a favor and start the video while you’re reading about [Hugo Swift]’s MIDISWAY. The song is Promises, also by [SWIFT], which has piano phrases modulated during the actual playing, not in post-production.

The MIDISWAY is a stage-worthy looking box to sit atop your keys and pulse a happy little LED. The pulsing corresponds to the amount of pitch bending being sent to your instrument over a MIDI DIN connector. This modulation is generated by an Arduino and meant to recreate the effect of analog recording devices like an off-center vinyl or a tape that wasn’t tracking perfectly.

While recording fidelity keeps inching closer to perfect recreation, it takes an engineer like [Hugo Swift] to decide that a step backward is worth a few days of hacking. Now that you know what the MIDISWAY is supposed to do, listen closely at 2:24 in the video when the piano starts. The effect is subtle but hard to miss when you know what to listen for.

MIDI projects abound at Hackaday like this MIDI → USB converter for getting MIDI out of your keyboard once you’ve modulated it with a MIDISWAY. Maybe you are more interested in a MIDI fighter for controlling your DAW. MIDI is a robust and time-tested protocol which started in the early 1980s and will be around for many more years.

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Push Buttons, Create Music With A MIDI Fighter

Musicians have an array of electronic tools at their disposal to help make music these days. Some of these are instruments in and of themselves, and [Wai Lun] — inspired by the likes of Choke and Shawn Wasabi — built himself a midi fighter

Midi fighters are programmable instruments where each button can be either a note, sound byte, effect, or anything else which can be triggered by a button. [Lun]’s is controlled by an ATmega32u4 running Arduino libraries — flashed to be recognized as a Leonardo — and is compatible with a number of music production programs. He opted for anodized aluminum PCBs to eliminate flex when plugging away and give the device a more refined look. Check it out in action after the break!

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Tough Pi-ano can Take a Punch

There will be no delicate solos for [24 Hour Engineer’s] Tough Pi-ano. It was built to soak punishment from aggressive youngsters in musical therapy, specifically those on the autism spectrum and those with Down’s syndrome. The Tough Pi-ano will be bolted to a wall with heavy-duty shelf brackets so it can’t fall on anyone. The keyboard is covered in plastic and it doesn’t have any exposed metal so there will be no splinters.

[24 Hour Engineer] made a short video demonstration and if you listen closely, he has a pun in all but one sentence. We love that kind of easter egg in YouTube videos. Check it out after the break.

Inside the 48-key instrument are four Raspberry Pi Zeros where each Pi controls one octave. The redundancy ensures that a hardware failure only drops out a single octave and the kids can keep playing until replacement parts arrive. Each Pi has identical programming and a thumbwheel switch tells it which octave it will be emulating.

Programming was done with Python and Pygame and all the inputs are run to a homemade “hat” where the wires are soldered. Pygame’s sole responsibility is to monitor the GPIO and then play the appropriate note when a button is pressed, slapped, punched or sat upon.

Similar in name, the Touch Piano has no moving parts or perhaps you would rather use your Raspberry Pi in an upright piano.

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Acoustic Accordion Becomes MIDI; Oh the Complexity!

Everyone knows accordions are cool — they look fly, make neat noises, and get your romantic interests all hot and bothered. What isn’t cool is being relegated to acoustics only. How are you going to play a packed stadium or lay down a crystal clear track like that? You could go out and buy an electric accordion, but even low-end models carry a hefty price tag. But, this is Hackaday, and you know we’re going to be telling you about someone who found a better way.

That better way, shown in a build by [Brendan Vavra], was to take an acoustic accordion and convert it to MIDI. The base for his build was a decent full-size acoustic accordion purchased on eBay for just $150. Overall, it was in good mechanical condition, but some of the reeds were out of tune or not working at all. Luckily, that didn’t matter, since he wouldn’t be using them anyway. Don’t be fooled in the demo video below; it sounds like he’s playing the acoustic according but notice he’s not pumping those bellows! However, the bellows isn’t useless either since it can feed data back as a MIDI input.

[Brendan’s] build plan called for an Arduino Mega to be tied to a series of photo-interrupters that would detect button pushes and fire MIDI signals. But, first he had to take the thing apart — no small task, given the complexity of the instrument. The accordion has 120 buttons, and they’re not interchangeable, which means he had to carefully keep track of them as they were disassembled.

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Smartphone Bench Instrument Apps: Disappointment or Delight?

If you are interested in electronics or engineering, you’ll have noticed a host of useful-sounding apps to help you in your design and build work. There are calculators, design aids, and somewhat intriguingly, apps that claim to offer an entire instrument on your phone. A few of them are produced to support external third-party USB instrument peripherals, but most of them claim to offer the functionality using just the hardware within the phone. Why buy an expensive oscilloscope, spectrum analyzer, or signal generator, when you can simply download one for free?

Those who celebrate Christmas somewhere with a British tradition are familiar with Christmas crackers and the oft-disappointing novelties they contain. Non-Brits are no doubt lost at this point… the crackers in question are a cardboard tube wrapped in shiny paper drawn tight over each end of it. The idea is that two people pull on the ends of the paper, and when it comes apart out drops a toy or novelty. It’s something like the prize in a Cracker Jack Box.

Engineering-oriented apps follow this cycle of hope and disappointment. But there are occasional exceptions. Let’s tour some of the good and the bad together, shall we?

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Characterizing A Cheap 500MHz Counter Module

An exciting development over the last few years has been the arrival of extremely cheap instrumentation modules easily bought online and usually shipped from China. Some of them have extremely impressive paper specifications for their price, and it was one of these that caught the eye of [Carol Milazzo, KP4MD]. A frequency counter for under $14 on your favourite online retailer, and with a claimed range of 500 MHz. That could be a useful instrument in its own right, and with a range that significantly exceeds the capabilities of much more expensive bench test equipment from not so long ago.

Just how good is it though, does it live up to the promise? [Carol] presents the measurements she took from the device, so you can see for yourselves. She took look at sensitivity, VSWR, and input impedance over a wide range, after first checking its calibration against a GPS-disciplined standard and making a fine adjustment with its on-board trimmer.

In sensitivity terms it’s a bit deaf, requiring 0.11 Vrms for a lock at 10 MHz. Meanwhile its input impedance decreases from 600 ohms at the bottom of its range to 80 ohms at 200 MHz, with a corresponding shift in VSWR. So it’s never going to match a high-end bench instrument from which you’d expect much more sensitivity and a more stable impedance, but for the price we’re sure that’s something you can all work around. Meanwhile it’s worth noting from the pictures she’s posted that the board has unpopulated space for an SPI interface header, which leaves the potential for it to be used as a logging instrument.

We think it’s worth having as much information as possible about components like this one, both in terms of knowing about new entrants to the market and in knowing their true performance. So if you were curious about those cheap frequency counter modules, now thanks to [Carol] you have some idea of what they can do.

While it’s convenient to buy a counter module like this one, of course there is nothing to stop you building your own. We’ve featured many over the years, this 100MHz one using a 74-series prescaler or this ATtiny offering for example, or how about this very accomplished one with an Android UI?

Musical Proximity Detection Pet Bowls

An essential skill for a maker is the ability to improvise or re-purpose existing materials into new parts. Sometimes, one needn’t make many modifications to create something new, as is the case with [Robin Sterling] and his musical pet bowl.

Originally, it was a sealed pet bowl that opened when the proximity sensors detected an approaching pet. Having helped design the bowl, [Sterling] had a bit of an advantage when he decided to convert it into a theremin/light harp-esque instrument for the company BBQ. He routed the PWM outputs from each of the three proximity sensors (in each of the three bowls) to a small guitar amp, adjusting each sensor’s output to a different frequency. Despite the short amount of time [Sterling] had to practice, it works fairly well!

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