When we think of MIDI devices, we typically jump straight to drum machines, rack synths, and keyboard controllers. However, there’s nothing saying you can’t build your own MIDI controllers that use the magic of breath to do their musical duty. That’s precisely what [Xavier Dumont] did with this unique 3D printed build.
The device looks somewhat like an alien ship from an animated 1960s sci-fi movie, but it’s actually a sophisticated MIDI controller. Naturally, it’s peppered with buttons as every good controller should be, and it features a touch-control strip on the back.
However, the real magic is in the breath control. When the user blows into the sensor, the device sends out MIDI signals of varying intensity to control the object of the player’s desire. The breath signal can be used to modulate the mod wheel, pitch bends, or octave shifts, among a variety of other options.
[Xavier] wields the instrument with prowess in the audio demos at the end of the video. We can imagine this futuristic thing being played by a background alien in a celebration scene in a far-flung Marvel movie. Or maybe Star Wars? In any case, a triumph.
Continue reading “Building A Breath-Controlled MIDI Device” →
MIDI controllers can be simple straightforward keyboards, or wild magical devices that seem to snatch notes from the very aether itself. As you might expect from the name, the Nanoaetherphone II is one of the latter.
The device is inspired by the Theremin, and was built to celebrate its 100th anniversary. The Nanoaetherphone II is all about using sensors to capture data from wireless hand-wavey interactions, and turn it into MIDI messages. To this end, it has an LDR sensor for detecting light levels, which determines volume levels. This is actuated by the user’s thumb, blocking the sensor or allowing ambient light to reach it. At the front of the handheld unit, there is also an ultrasonic range sensor. Depending on how close the sensor is to the user’s hand or other object determines the exact note sent by the device. As a MIDI controller, it is intended to be hooked up to an external synthesizer to actually generate sound.
The overall concept isn’t too complicated, and the design makes it easy to pickup and play. We imagine it could even be foolproofed by programming it only to play notes from a given scale or mode, allowing for easy soloing without too many of those ill-tempered blue notes. Jazz enthusiasts might prefer it to just spit out any and all notes, of course.
We love a good MIDI controller around these parts, and we’ve seen everything from knitted models to those made out of old phones. Video after the break.
Continue reading “Nanoaetherphone Is A Special MIDI Controller” →
We all want to be guitar heroes, but most of us have to settle for letting a MIDI board play our riffs using a MIDI controller. [Joris] thinks a MIDI controller should look like a cool instrument and thus the Ni28 was born. Honestly, we first thought we were looking at wall art, but on closer look, you can see the fretboard and the soundhole are festooned with buttons.
Actually, they aren’t really buttons. The Ni in the name is because the buttons are nickel-plated brass plates that act like touch switches. There’s virtually no activation force required and you can easily touch more than one plate at a time.
Continue reading “MIDI Controller Looks Good, Enables Your Air Guitar Habit” →
There are only so many ways to make noise on standard instruments such as acoustic pianos. Their rigidity and inputs just don’t allow for a super-wide range of expression. On the other hand, if you knit your interface together, the possibilities are nearly endless. MIT’s new and improved knitted keyboard is an instrument like none other — it responds to touch, pressure, and continuous proximity, meaning that you can play it like a keyboard, a theremin, and something that is somewhere in between the two. Because it’s a MIDI interface, it can ultimately sound like any instrument you’ve got available in software.
The silver keys of this five-octave interface are made of conductive yarn, and the blue background is regular polyester yarn. Underneath that is a conductive knit layer to complete the key circuits, and a piezo-resistive knit layer that responds to pressure and stretch. It runs on a Teensy 4.0 and uses five MPR121 proximity/touch controllers, one per octave.
The really exciting thing about this keyboard is its musical (and physical) versatility. As you might expect, the keyboard takes discrete inputs from keystrokes, but it also takes continuous input from hovering and waving via the proximity sensors, and goes even further by taking physical input from squeezing, pulling, stretching, and twisting the conductive yarns that make up the keys. This means it takes aftertouch (pressure applied after initial contact) into account — something that isn’t possible with most regular instruments. And since this keyboard is mostly yarn and fabric, you can roll it up and take it anywhere, or wrap it around your neck for a varied soundscape.
If you’re looking for more detail, check out the paper for the previous version (PDF), which also used thermochromic yarn to show different colors for various modes of play using a heating element. With the new version, [Irmandy Wicaksono] and team sought to improve the sensing modalities, knitted aesthetics, and the overall tactility of the keyboard. We love both versions! Be sure to check it out after the break.
Want to play around with capacitive touch sensors without leaving the house for parts? Make your own from paper and aluminum foil.
Continue reading “MIT’s Knitted Keyboard Is Quite A Flexible MIDI Controller” →
MIDI controllers come in all shapes and sizes. Commercial products based on keyboards or matrixes of buttons are popular, but there’s nothing stopping you from whipping up your own creations out of whatever strikes your fancy. [Kevin] has done just that, turning an old telephone into a working MIDI device.
The phone in question is a Doro X20 wired landline phone. Being surplus to [Kevin’s] requirements left it ripe for the hacking. A Raspberry Pi Pico was wired in to the phone’s keypad, slimmed down with a hacksaw in order to allow it to neatly fit inside the original enclosure. Then it was a simple matter of whipping up some code to read the buttons and output MIDI data via the Pico’s serial output.
Later, [Kevin] brought the design into the modern world, setting it up to talk USB MIDI using the Pico’s onboard USB hardware. This makes using it with a computer a cinch, and lets [Kevin] control a DAW using the handset controller.
It’s a fun build, and one that shows how you can easily build your own MIDI hardware using nothing but a soldering iron, some buttons, and a modern microcontroller. From there, the sky really is the limit. Whether you like big knobs, easy playing, or have your own personal tastes, you can build what you like to suit your own style. When you do, drop us a line! Video after the break.
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What keeps people from playing music? For one thing, it’s hard. But why is it hard? In theory, it’s because theory is confusing. In practice, it’s largely because of accidentals, or notes that sound sour compared to the others because they aren’t from the same key or a complementary key.
What if there were no accidentals? Instruments like this exist, like the harmonica and the autoharp. But none of them look as fun to play as [Bardable]’s Starshine, the instrument intended to be playable by everyone. The note buttons on the outside are laid out and programmed such that [Bardable] will never play off-key.
We love the game controller form factor, which was also a functional choice. On the side that faces the player, there’s a PSP joystick and two potentiometers for adding expression with your thumbs. The twelve buttons on this side serve several functions like choosing the key and the scale type depending on the rocker switch position. A second rocker lets [Bardable] go up or down an octave on the fly. There’s also an OLED to show everything from the note being played to the positions of the potentiometers. If you want to know more, [Bardable] made a subreddit for this and other future instruments, and has a full tour video after the break.
If this beginner-friendly MIDI controller isn’t big enough for you, check out Harmonicade’s field of arcade buttons.
Continue reading “Starshine Is A MIDI Controller For The Musically Shy” →
Strolling around a park, pedestrian zone, or tourist area in any bigger city is rarely complete without encountering the sound of a barrel organ — the perfect instrument if arm stamina and steady rotation speed are your kind of musical skills. Its less-encountered cousin, and predecessor of self-playing pianos, is the barrel piano, which follows the same playing principle: a hand-operated crank rotates a barrel, and either pins located on that barrel, or punched paper rolls encode the strings it should pluck in order to play its programmed song. [gabbapeople] thought optocouplers would be the perfect alternative here, and built a MIDI barrel piano with them.
Keeping the classic, hand-operated wheel-cranking, a 3D-printed gear mechanism rolls a paper sheet over a plexiglas fixture, but instead of having holes punched into it, [gabbapeople]’s piano has simple markings printed on them. Those markings are read by a set of Octoliner modules mounted next to each other, connected to an Arduino. The Octoliner itself has eight pairs of IR LEDs and phototransistors arranged in a row, and is normally used to build line-following robots, so reading note markings is certainly a clever alternative use for it.
Each LED/transistor pair represents a dedicated note, and to prevent false positives from neighboring lines, [gabbapeople] 3D printed little collars to isolate each of the pairs. Once the signals are read by the Arduino, they’re turned into MIDI messages to send via USB to a computer running any type of software synthesizer. And if your hands do get tired, you can also crank it with a power drill, as shown in the video after the break, along with a few playback demonstrations.
It’s always fun to see a modern twist added to old-school instruments, especially the ones that aren’t your typical MIDI controllers, like a harp, a full-scale church organ, or of course the magnificently named hurdy-gurdy. And for more of [gabbapeople]’s work, check out his split-flip weather display.
Continue reading “Less Rock, More Roll: A MIDI Barrel Piano” →