Back in the ’80s, home computers weren’t capable of much in terms of audio or multimedia as a whole. Arguably, it wasn’t until the advent of 16-bit computers such as the Amiga that musicians could make soundtrack-quality music without having to plug actual studio gear up to their machines. [Michael Wessel] is trying to bring some of that and many more features to the Amstrad CPC with his ambitious LambdaSpeak 3 project, an expansion card built completely up from scratch and jam-packed with features.
First, and likely giving it its name, is the speech synthesizer. [Michael] has made an emulation mode where his card can act just like the original SSA-1 expansion, being able to be controlled by the same software as back then. By default, the card offers this mode with an Epson S1V30120 daughterboard (which is based on DECTalk synthesis), however for further authenticity you also have the option of fitting it with an SP0256-AL2 chip, the same one used in the original Amstrad hardware in 1985.
As for the more musical part of the project, the board supports 4-channel PCM playback, much like the Amiga’s sound offering. This can be used for a drum machine sequencer program, and it has an Amdrum mode, emulating another expansion from the original Amstrad days. Sample playback can also be used alongside the speech synthesis as shown here, with random allophone beats that wouldn’t sound out of place in a Kraftwerk recording. Finally, by using the UART interface included on the LambdaSpeak, you can also turn the CPC itself into a synth by giving it MIDI in/out and interfacing a controller in real time with the computer’s AY-3-8912 sound chip.
This goes back to Bach: if you want to change the sound an organ makes, you have to pull on some drawbars. This design didn’t change for 300 years, and in the 20th century with the advent of ‘tonewheel’ organs, you still had small bars to pull to change what sounds came out of the organ. While this was a simple solution for air-powered organs of the 1700s, when it comes to MIDI, rotary pots are a lot less expensive than linear pots. Given the lack of drawbar MIDI controllers, [Stefano] decided to build his own. It has nine drawbars and eight buttons, all connected to MIDI.
The interesting electromechanical part of this build, the drawbars themselves, are ripped from a Hammond organ. Don’t worry, plenty of these were made and only a handful actually sound good. To that, [Stefano] added a few pushbuttons soldered onto a piece of perfboard, and everything is wired up to a Teensy LC, the microcontroller platform that’s becoming the standard for everything from MIDI controllers to computer keyboards. MIDI over DIN and MIDI over USB are supported, and all the buttons and drawbars are individually programmable. You can even do that through SysEx messages, because that’s how things were done back in the day.
While there are a few MIDI-controlled organs that still use drawbars — the double manual Nord comes to mind imminently — this is a great solution to putting drawbars into anything that speaks MIDI, VSTs included.
Traditional musical instruments have a variety of interfaces, some simple, some complex. The piano is a fairly intuitive machine with a key for every note and a couple of pedals you can ignore if you like. The saxophone is a little more complex, with its many interoperable keys used to produce varying pitches. However, modern electronic instruments are not constrained by physicalities, and there has been an explosion in such devices that simply present a MIDI interface and a big pile of glowing addressable buttons. [Gediminas]’s MIDI Grid build is a great example of the type.
The build relies on an STM32 to do the heavy lifting, talking to an 8×8 array of buttons, each with addressable RGB LEDs. These are combined with silicone pads for a wonderfully tactile feel. There are then a further 17 buttons on the side for various purposes, along with two rotary encoders – useful for implementing smooth fades and intoxicating filter sweeps. Unusually for this type of instrument, in addition to USB there’s also a hardware serial MIDI interface. Finally, a Nokia 5110 LCD is implemented to display relevant data.
There are precious few details on the case, but it appears to be made from lasercut wood pieces, with a nice stain giving it a rich color. Buttons also have printed labels for a more professional look.
The build has functionality most similar to Novation’s Launchpad line. [Gediminas] currently has it working primarily with Ableton Live, however there is scope for further work to integrate the device with other DAWs or MIDI hardware.
A piano’s keyboard doesn’t make sense. If you want to want to play an F major chord, just hit an F, an A, and a C — all white keys, all in a row. If you want to play a B major chord, you hit B, a D#, and an F#. One white key, then two black ones. The piano keyboard is not isomorphic, meaning chords of the same quality have different shapes. For their entry into the Hackaday Prize, [CSCircuits] and their crew are working on a keyboard that makes chords intuitive. It’s called the Kord Kontroller, and it’s a device that would also look good hooked up to Ableton.
The layout of the Kord Kontroller puts all the scale degrees arranged in the circle of fifths in the top of the keyboard. To play 90% of western music, you’ll hit one button for a I chord, move one button to the left for a IV chord, and two buttons to the right for a V chord. Chord quality is determined by the bottom of the keyboard, with buttons for flat thirds, fourths, ninths, elevenths and fourteenths replacing or augmenting notes in the chords you want to play. Since this is effectively a MIDI controller, there are buttons to change octaves and modes.
As far as hardware goes, this keyboard is constructed out of Adafruit Trellis modules that are a 4×4 grid of silicone buttons and LEDs that can be connected together and put on a single I2C bus. The enclosure wraps these buttons up into a single 3D printed grid of button holes, and with a bit of work and hot glue, everything looks as it should.
It’s an interesting musical device, and was named as a finalist in the Musical Instrument Challenge. You can check out a demo video with a jam sesh below.
For Hackaday readers who might not spend their free time spinning electronic beats at raves, the Launchpad by Novation is a popular peripheral for creating digital music with tools such as Ableton Live. It’s 8×8 grid of RGB LED backlit buttons are used to trigger different beats and clips by sending MIDI commands to the computer over USB. While not a strict requirement for performing digital music, it also helps that it looks like you’re flying a spaceship when using it.
It’s definitely a slick piece of gear, but the limited stock functionality means you’re unlikely to see one outside of the Beat Laboratory. Though that might change soon thanks to LPHK, created by [Ella Jameson]. She’s created a program in Python that allows you to use the Novation Launchpad as a general purpose input device. But rather than taking the easy way out by just turning the hardware into a USB HID device or something along those lines, LPHK implements an impressive set of features including its own internal scripting language.
In the video after the break, [Ella] walks us through some basic use cases, such as launching programs or controlling the system volume with individual buttons. LPKH has a GUI which provides a virtual representation of the Launchpad, and allows configuring each button’s color and function as well as saving and loading complete layouts.
For more advanced functionality, LPHK utilizes a scripting language that was inspired by the Hak5 USB Rubber Ducky. Scripts are written with plain English commands and very simple syntax, meaning you don’t need to have any programming experience to create your own functions. There’s also a script scheduling system with visual feedback right on the board: if a button is pulsing red it means it has a script waiting for its turn to execute. When the key is rapidly flashing the script is actively running. A second tap of the button will either remove it from the queue or kill the running script, depending on what the status was when you hit it.
[Ella] makes it clear this software is still a work in progress; it’s not as polished as she’d like and still has bugs, but it’s definitely functional for anyone who’s looking to wring a bit more functionality out of their $150 Launchpad. She’s actively looking for beta testers and feedback, so if you’ve already got one of these boards give it a shot and let her know what you think.
MIDI has been around for longer than most of the readers of Hackaday, and you can get off my lawn. In spite of this, MIDI is still commonly used in nearly every single aspect of musical performance, and there are a host of tools and applications to give MIDI control to a live performance. That said, if you want a MIDI foot controller, your best bet is probably something used from the late 90s, although Behringer makes an acceptable foot controller that doesn’t have a whole bunch of features. There is obviously a need for a feature packed, Open Source MIDI foot controller. That’s where the Pedalino comes in. It’s a winner of the Musical Instrument Challenge in this year’s Hackaday Prize, and if you want a MIDI foot controller, this is the first place you should look.
With the Pedalino, you can change the presets of your guitar rig, turn old MIDI equipment into something that’s USB-compatible, give you hands-free or foot-occupied ways to control your rig during a live performance, and it can be expanded with WiFi or Bluetooth. This is a full-featured MIDI controller, with three user profiles, and it can control a maximum of 48 foot switches. That’s an impressive amount of kit for such a small device; usually you’d have to spend hundreds or even thousands of dollars for a simple MIDI controller, and the Pedalino does everything with very cheap hardware.
While the Pedalino is just in its prototype phase now, there is obviously a market for a feature-packed MIDI foot controller. It might just be a breadboard and a Fritzing diagram, but there’s significant work being done on the software side, and we’re looking forward to this being stuffed into a gigantic aluminum enclosure and velcroed to a pedal board.
Engineers, hackers, and makers can most certainly build a musical gadget of some kind. They’ll build synths, they’ll build aerophones, and they’ll take the idea of mercury delay line memory, two hydrophones, and a really long tube filled with water to build the most absurd delay in existence. One thing they can’t seem to do is build a woodwind MIDI controller. That’s where [J.M.] comes in. He’s created the Open Woodwind Project as an open and extensible interface that can play sax and clarinet while connected to a computer.
If you want to play MIDI, there are plenty of options for keyboards, drum sets, matrix pads, and even strings. If you want to play a MIDI saxophone, there aren’t many options. Keytars, for example, are more popular than MIDI woodwind controllers. [J.M.] is changing this with a MIDI controller that recreates electronic aerophones electronically.
The controller itself uses a Teensy 3.2 loaded up with an ARM Cortex M4, two MPR121 touch controllers for 24 channels of capacititve touch capability, and a pressure sensor to tell the computer how strong the user is blowing. All of this works, and [J.M.] has a few videos showing off the capabilities of his homemade controller. It’s a great piece of work, and there are a few extentions that make this really interesting: there’s the possibility of adding CV out so it can be connected to modular synths, and the addition of accelerometers to the build makes for some very interesting effects.