Raspberry Pi Plays A MIDI Tune Wherever You May Roam

MIDI controller keyboards are great because they let you control any synthesizer you plug them into. The only downside: you need a synthesizer to turn MIDI notes into actual sounds, slightly complicating some summer night campfire serenading. Not for [Geordie] though, who decided to build the nanoPi, a portable, MIDI instrument housing a Raspberry Pi.

Using a Korg nanoKEY2 USB MIDI controller as base for the device, [Geordie] took it apart and added a Raspberry Pi Zero W, a power bank to, well, power it, and a USB hub to connect a likewise added USB audio interface, as well as the controller itself. As the nanoKEY2 has a naturally slim shape, none of this would ever fit in it, so he designed and 3D printed a frame to extend its height. Rather than wiring everything up internally, he decided to route the power and data cable to the outside and connect them back to the device itself, allowing him to use both the power bank and the controller itself separately if needed.

On the software side, the Pi is running your common open source software synthesizer, Fluidsynth. To control Fluidsynth itself — for example to change the instrument — [Geordie] actually uses the Termius SSH client on his phone, allowing him also to shut down the Pi that way. While Fluidsynth’s built-in MIDI router could alternatively remap the nanoKEY2’s additional buttons, it appears the functionality is limited to messages of the same type, so the buttons’ Control Change messages couldn’t be remapped to the required Program Change messages. Well, there’s always the option to fit some extra buttons if needed. Or maybe you could do something clever in software.

As you may have noticed, the nanoPi doesn’t include any speaker — and considering its size, that’s probably for the best. So while it’s not a fully standalone instrument, it’s a nice, compact device to use with your headphones anywhere you go. And thanks to its flexible wiring, you could also attach any other USB MIDI controller to it, such as this little woodwind one, or the one that plays every pop song ever.

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Rocking Out On A Limb With LE STRUM

It’s hard to imagine 80s Synth-pop without the keytar, and yet this majestic Centaur of a musical instrument rarely gets much love, and their players are often the target of ridicule. It almost seems as if being hung around the neck should be a privilege solely reserved for stringed instruments. Well, [midierror] has at least that part somewhat right then, with the Full On MIDI Leg that is guaranteed to make every keytarist look like a prestigious cellist in comparison.

What looks like the 1987 movie Mannequin taking a dark, Mengelesque turn, is as awesome as it is bizarre, thanks to building the concept of the LE STRUM into, well, a leg. LE STRUM itself is an open source MIDI instrument built by [Jason Hotchkiss], who describes it as “a cross between a Stylophone and an Omnichord”. It consists of a set of buttons to select different combinations of chords, that can than be strummed by scratching an attached stylus over an array of contact pads. However, [midierror], who also distributes a pre-assembled version of the LE STRUM, uses strings instead of contact pads, and a pick for the actual strumming, turning this into a close-enough string instrument.

The only thing missing now is a functioning knee joint, and maybe some inspiration from this MIDI-controlled concertina, and we’d be ready to revolutionize the accordion world with the, uhm, kneetar? And since it’s built around a PIC16, this thigh-slapper won’t even cost you an ARM, just the leg — but enough already with these toe-curling puns.

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Giving The Amstrad CPC A Voice And A Drum Kit

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.

If you like modern expansions giving old computers new life, did you know that you can get just about any retro computer online, perhaps a TRS-80, an Amiga and even a Psion Organizer? And if you’re interested in just using old systems’ sound chips with modern USB MIDI controllers, it’s easy to make a microcontroller do all the heavy lifting.

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Four Chords Should Be Enough For Anyone

You might be surprised at how many pop songs are exactly the same. Cat Scratch Fever is the exact same song as Smoke on the Water. Even one of Yeezy’s songs is strikingly similar to a weird 90s French electronic group. Musically, though, there are an incredible number of songs that follow a I-V-vi-IV progression. Let it Be is one of them, as is Beast of Burden. Lady Gaga’s Poker Face is another. Now, finally, we have automated most of the pop songs you know and love. [Sven] has created a small MIDI device that only plays a I-V-vi-IV progression, and it’s everything you could ever imagine.

The idea for this build comes from an Axis of Awesome routine demonstrating the fact that hundreds of pop songs follow the same progression. After the idea, the implementation, like the music all those millennials are listening to, is simple.

The 4chord MIDI is a small board with an old Nokia display, buttons, a single USB port, and an ATMega328 microcontroller. Using MIDI over USB, it plays the I-V-vi-IV progression in any key. It plays in chord mode, arpeggiated mode, or mixed mode at any sensible tempo.

You can check out a video of the 4chord playing several hundred songs simultaneously below.

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