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, four 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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