Never Mind The Sheet Music, Here’s Spreadsheet Music

Nothing says Rockstar Musician Lifestyle like spreadsheet software. Okay, we might have mixed up the word order a bit in that sentence, but there’s always Python to add some truth to it. After all, if we look at the basic concept of MIDI sequencers, we essentially have a row of time-interval steps, and depending on the user interface, either virtual or actual columns of pitches or individual instruments. From a purely technical point of view, spreadsheets and the like would do just fine here.

Amused by that idea, [Maxime] wrote a Python sequencer that processes CSV files that works with both hardware and software MIDI synthesizers. Being Python, most of the details are implemented in external modules, which makes the code rather compact and easy to follow, considering it supports both drums and melody tracks in the most common scales. If you want to give it a try, all you need is the python-rtmidi and mido module, and you should be good to go.

However, if spreadsheets aren’t your thing, [Maxime] has also a browser-based sequencer project with integrated synthesizer ongoing, with a previous version of it also available on GitHub. And in case software simply doesn’t work out for you here, and you prefer a more hands-on experience, don’t worry, MIDI sequencers seem like an unfailing resource for inspiration — whether they’re built into an ancient cash register, are made entirely out of wood, or are built from just everything.

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[Leo] Repairs A MIDI Sequencer

We all have that friend who brings us their sad busted electronics. In [Leo’s] case, he had a MIDI sequencer from a musician friend. It had a dead display and the manufacturer advised that a driver IC was probably bad, even sending a replacement surface mount part.

[Leo] wasn’t convinced though. He knew that people were always pushing on the switches that were mounted on the board and he speculated that it might just be a bad solder joint. As you can see in the video below, that didn’t prove out.

The next step was to fire up a hot air gun. Instead of removing the chip, he wanted to reflow the solder anyway. He was a little worried about melting the 7-segment LEDs so he built a little foil shield to protect it. That didn’t get things working, either.

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MIDI Association Announces MIDI 2.0 Prototyping

MIDI was introduced at the 1983 NAMM show as a means to connect various electronic instruments together. Since then, our favorite five-pin DIN has been stuffed into Radio Shack keyboards, MPCs, synths, eurorack modules, and DAWs. The standard basically hasn’t changed. Sure, we have MIDI SysEx messages to configure individual components of a MIDI setup, but at its core, MIDI hasn’t changed since it was designed as a current-loop serial protocol for 8-bit microcontrollers running at 1 MHz.

Now, ahead of the 2019 NAMM show, the MIDI Manufacturers Association (MMA) in conjunction with AMEI, Japan’s MIDI Association, are announcing MIDI 2.0. The new features include, “auto-configuration, new DAW/web integrations, extended resolution, increased expressiveness, and tighter timing”. It will retain backwards-compatibility with MIDI 1.0 devices.

The new initiative, like the release of the first MIDI spec, is a joint venture between manufacturers of musical instruments. The company lineup on this press release is as follows: Ableton/Cycling ’74, Art+Logic, Bome Software, Google, imitone, Native Instruments, Roland, ROLI, Steinberg, TouchKeys, and Yamaha.

This is not an official announcement of the MIDI 2.0 specification. This is the ‘prototyping’ phase, where manufacturers implement the MIDI 2.0 spec as envisioned, write some documentation, figure out what the new logo will look like, and design a self-certification process. Prototyping is expected to continue through 2019, when the final MIDI 2.0 spec will be released on the MIDI Association website.

As far as hardware hackers are concerned, there shouldn’t be any change to your existing MIDI implementation, provided you’re not doing anything new. It should be backwards compatible, after all. The new spec will allow for increased range in expression and ‘tighter’ timing, which might be an indication that the baud rate of MIDI (31,250 baud +/- 1%) may change. There’s some interesting things in store for the last old-school physical layer in existence, and we can’t wait to see what comes out of it.

An Easy Way To MIDI Sync Your Eurorack Build

Eurorack synthesizer builds are known for a lot of things; simplicity isn’t necessarily one of them. However, not everything on a modular synthesizer build has to be inordinately complicated, a mess of wires, or difficult to understand. [little-scale] has built a neat and tidy module that might just find a place in your setup – the Chromatic Drum Gate Sync. The handy little device is based on a Teensy, and uses its USB MIDI libraries to make synchronizing hardware a snap.

The device has 12 channels, each responding to a single MIDI note. A note on message is used to set a gate high, and a note off message to set it low again. This allows very fine grained control of gates in a modular setup. The device can also output a variety of sync signals controlled by the USB MIDI clock – useful for keeping your modular rack in time with other digitally controlled synths.

It’s a build that espouses [little-scale]’s usual aesthetic – clean and tidy, with a focus on compactness. All the required details to build your own are available on Github.

We’ve seen the collision of [little-scale] and Teensy hardware before – with this rig playing 8 SEGA soundchips in unison.

Musical Mod Lets MRI Scanner Soothe the Frazzled Patient

Hackers love to make music with things that aren’t normally considered musical instruments. We’ve all seen floppy drive orchestras, and the musical abilities of a Tesla coil can be ear-shatteringly impressive. Those are all just for fun, though. It would be nice if there were practical applications for making music from normally non-musical devices.

Thanks to a group of engineers at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, there is now: a magnetic resonance imaging machine that plays soothing music. And we don’t mean music piped into the MRI suite to distract patients from the notoriously noisy exam. The music is actually being played through the gradient coils of the MRI scanner. We covered the inner working of MRI scanners before and discussed why they’re so darn noisy. The noise basically amounts to Lorenz forces mechanically vibrating the gradient coils in the audio frequency range as the machine shapes the powerful magnetic field around the patient’s body. To turn these ear-hammering noises into music, the researchers converted an MP3 of [Yo Yo Ma] playing [Bach]’s “Cello Suite No. 1” into encoding data for the gradient coils. A low-pass filter keeps anything past 4 kHz from getting to the gradient coils, but that works fine for the cello. The video below shows the remarkable fidelity that the coils are capable of reproducing, but the most amazing fact is that the musical modification actually produces diagnostically useful scans.

Our tastes don’t generally run to classical music, but having suffered through more than one head-banging scan, a half-hour of cello music would be a more than welcome change. Here’s hoping the technique gets further refined.

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A Fleet of Pressure Washers Powers This Interactive Public Fountain

Public art installations can be cool. Adding in audience interactivity bumps up the coolness factor a bit. Throw civic pride, dancing jets of water, music, and lights into the project, and you get this very cool pressure washer powered musical fountain.

The exhibit that [Niklas Roy] came up with is called Wasserorgel, or “water organ”, an apt name for the creation. Built as part of a celebration of industry in Germany, the display was built in the small town of Winnenden, home to Kärcher, a cleaning equipment company best known for their line of pressure washers in the distinctive yellow cases. Eight of the company’s electric pressure washers were featured in the Wasserorgel, which shot streams of water and played notes in response to passersby tickling the sturdy and waterproof 3D-printed keyboard. The show was managed by an Arduino with a MIDI shield, which controlled the pressure washers via solid state relays and even accepted input from an anemometer to shut down the show if it got too windy, lest the nearby [Frau Dimitrakudi] be dampened.

The video below shows how engaging the Wasserorgel was during its weeks-long run in the town market square; there’s also one in German with build details. And while we can’t recall seeing pressure washers in public art before, we do remember one being used as the basis of a DIY water-jet cutter.

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Quick and Dirty MIDI Interface with USBASP

[Robson Couto] recently found himself in need of MIDI interface for a project he was working on, but didn’t want to buy one just to use it once; we’ve all been there. Being the creative fellow that he is, he decided to come up with something that not only used the parts he had on-hand but could be completed in one afternoon. Truly a hacker after our own hearts.

Searching around online, he found documentation for using an ATtiny microcontroller as a MIDI interface using V-USB. He figured it shouldn’t be too difficult to adapt that project to run on one of the many USBASP programmers he had laying around, and got to work updating the code.

Originally written for the ATtiny2313, [Robson] first had to change around the pin configuration so it would work on the ATmega8 in the USBASP, and also updated the USB-V implementation to the latest version. With the code updated, he programmed one of the USBASP adapters with a second one by connecting them together and putting a jumper on the J2 header.

He had the software sorted, but there was still a bit of hardware work to do. To provide isolation for the MIDI device, he put together a small circuit utilizing a 6N137 optoisolator and a couple of passive components on a piece of perf board. It’s not pretty, but it does fit right into the programming connector on the USBASP. He could have fired up his PCB CNC but thought it was a bit overkill for such a simple board.

[Robson] notes that he hasn’t implemented MIDI output with his adapter, but that the code and the chip are perfectly capable of it if you need it for your project. Finding the schematic to hook up to the programmer’s TX pin is left as an exercise for the reader.

If you don’t have a USBASP in the parts bin, we’ve seen a very similar trick done with an Arduino clone in the past.