Finally, An Open Source MIDI Foot Controller

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.

Elegant Drum Machine from Teensy

Playing the drums is pretty hard, especially for the uncoordinated. Doing four things at the same time, all while keeping an even tempo, isn’t reasonable for most of us. Rather than hiring a drummer for your band who is well versed in this art, though, you might opt instead to outsource this job to a machine instead. It’s cheaper and also less likely to result in spontaneous combustion.

This drum machine is actually a MIDI Euclidean sequencer. Euclidean rhythms are interesting in their own regard, but the basics are that a common denominator between two beats is found in order to automatically generate complicated beats. This particular unit is running on a Teensy 3.5 and consists of four RGB rotary encoders, an SSD1306 LCD, four momentary buttons, and four 16 LED Neopixel rings. Setting each of the dials increases the number of beats for that particular channel, and it can be configured for an almost limitless combination of beats and patterns.

To really get a feel of what’s going on here, it’s worth it to check out the video after the break. MIDI is also a fascinating standard, beyond the fact that it’s one of the few remaining standards created in the 80s that still enjoys active use, it can also be used to build all kinds of interesting instruments like one that whacks wine glasses with mallets or custom synthesizers.

Thanks to [baldpower] for the tip!

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An Open Controller For Woodwind Instruments

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.

Early prototype to test out variable resistive pressure pads

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.

Check out the video below.

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Sonic Robots Don’t Play Instruments, They Are The Instruments

[Moritz Simon Geist]’s experiences as both a classically trained musician and a robotics engineer is clearly what makes his Techno Music Robots project so stunningly executed. The robotic electronic music he has created involves no traditional instruments of any kind. Instead, the robots themselves are the instruments, and every sound comes from some kind of physical element.

A motor might smack a bit of metal, a hard drive arm might tap out a rhythm, and odder sounds come from stranger devices. If it’s technological and can make a sound, [Moritz Simon Geist] has probably carefully explored whether it can be turned into one of his Sonic Robots. The video embedded below is an excellent example of his results, which is electronic music without a synthesizer in sight.

We’ve seen robot bands before, and they’re always the product of some amazing work. The Toa Mata Lego Band are small Lego units and Compressorhead play full-sized instruments on stage, but robots that are the instruments is a different direction that still keeps the same physical element to the music.

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MIDI Controlled Neon

The people who make neon signs are a vibrant community with glass bending and high voltage electronics. There is a need, though, to sequence these neon signs, and it seems like MIDI is the way to do it. That’s what [david] is doing for his entry to the Hackaday Prize, and the results already look great.

The idea for this project is to transmit MIDI data to a controller that activates neon tubes accordingly. As for why [david] chose MIDI over DMX512 or some other protocol, the object here is to sync with music, and if you already have a drum machine sending MIDI out, you might as well just patch into that.

The build uses an Arduino Leonardo with a MIDI shield produced by Olimex. This shield is connected to a neon power supply that has control circuitry to quickly and easily turn neon signs on and off. The end result is a laptop (with the rest of the DJ software) sending a MIDI clock signal to an Akai drum machine. This drum machine outputs MIDI notes to the shield, which is currently set up to control three neon transformers.

The results look great, with flashing skulls synchronized with bleeps and bloops. This, of course, can be expanded to even more MIDI synced neon signs. You can check out a few videos of the build after the break.

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Make The Surface Dial Do More Things, Such As MIDI

The Surface Dial is a $100+ rotary control. You can turn it, and it’ll make some basic stuff happen on your Microsoft Surface. It’s silver and sleek and elegant but fundamentally, it just works via emulated keyboard shortcuts. This doesn’t really do much for translating analog rotational motion into digital feedback in a nice way, so [SaveTheHuman5] created Elephant to fix this issue.

As standard, there are two ways to work with the Surface Dial as an end-user. The easiest way is to use existing utilities to map dial actions to shortcut keys. However, for interfacing with knobs and sliders in user interfaces, this is clunky. Instead, [SaveTheHuman5] drilled down and created their own utility using the Surface Dial API provided by Microsoft. This allows raw data to be captured from the dial and processed into whatever interactions your heart desires – as long as you’ve got the coding muscles to do it!

The Elephant software allows the knob to be used in two distinct modes – mouse capture, and MIDI. Mouse capture allows one to use a regular mouse to select UI objects, such as knobs in a music application, and then turn the Surface Dial to adjust the control. Anyone that’s struggled with tiny emulated rotary controls on a VST synth before would instantly know the value of this. In MIDI mode, however, the knob simply presents itself as a MIDI device outputting commands directly which would be more useful in performance environments in particular.

Overall, it’s a tidy hack of an otherwise quite limited piece of hardware – the only thing we’d like to see is more detail on how it was done. If you’ve got a good idea on how this could work, throw it down in the comments. And, if your thirst for rotary controls is still not satiated, check out this media controller. Video after the break.

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MIDI Association Releases Spec For TRS Jacks

The MIDI spec was released in 1983, and for more than thirty years every synthesizer, drum machine, and piece of computer hardware with MIDI has sported an enormous DIN-5 jack on the back. Why did they choose such a large connector? Well, MiniDIN connectors hadn’t even been invented yet, and today even MiniDIN connectors are rarely-seen, obsolete connectors.

In the last decade, MIDI has found its way into some very small machines. Those Pocket Operators have MIDI sync, you can control a Game Boy with MIDI using the right hardware, and the cute little Korg synths also have MIDI tucked away in there somewhere. You can’t put a DIN-5 jack on those things, leading to some weird implementations of MIDI over non-standard connectors.

Now the MIDI Association has weighed in on the situation. There’s now a spec for MIDI over 2.5mm and 3.5mm TRS jacks. In just a few short decades, you’ll be able to connect MIDI gear with an audio aux cable.

Although there are five connectors in a DIN-5 jack, most implementations use only two connectors to send and receive data. Synth manufacturers have capitalized on this fact and cheap TRS connectors to build their own implementation of MIDI using smaller connectors, sometimes with incompatable pinouts.

Now, though, there’s a standard. For TRS connectors, the tip is pin 5 on the DIN-5, the ring is pin 4, and the sleeve is pin 2. It sends and receives data to synths and drum machines from 1983, and it doesn’t use gigantic connectors.

The only caveats to the new MIDI standard is that 2.5mm TRS connectors are recommended, and that protection circuitry is strongly recommended in the case a headphone driver is inevitably connected to a MIDI device. Other than that, everything’s coming up roses, and this opens up the door to MIDI jacks that are much, much easier to source.