MIDI All The Things Hack Chat

Join us on Wednesday, March 24 at noon Pacific for the MIDI All the Things Hack Chat with Tim Alex Jacobs!

In our technologically complex world, standards are a double-edged sword. While they clearly make it possible for widgets and doodads to interoperate with each other, they also tend to drift away from their original intention over time, thanks to the march of progress or even market forces. If there’s one thing you can expect about standards, it’s that they beget other standards.

One standard that has stood the test of time, with modification of course, is the Musical Instrument Digital Interface, or MIDI. It’s hard to overstate the impact MIDI has had on the music world since it was first dreamed up in the early 1980s. Started amid a Wild West of competing proprietary synchronization standards, MIDI quickly became the de facto interface for connecting electronic musical instruments together. And as it did, it moved from strictly pro-grade equipment down the market to prosumer and home users, fueled in part by the PC revolution.

Tim Alex Jacobs, who is perhaps better known as Mitxela on his YouTube channel, has long been interested in applying MIDI to unusual corners of the musical world. We’ve seen him MIDI-fy things that barely qualify as musical instruments, and also build a polyphonic synthesizer so small it fits within the shell of the DIN connector that’s so strongly associated with the MIDI standard. Tim joins us on the Hack Chat this week to talk about his experiences with MIDI, and to help us understand all the ways we can work with the interface in our builds.

join-hack-chatOur Hack Chats are live community events in the Hackaday.io Hack Chat group messaging. This week we’ll be sitting down on Wednesday, March 24 at 12:00 PM Pacific time. If time zones have you tied up, we have a handy time zone converter.

Click that speech bubble to the right, and you’ll be taken directly to the Hack Chat group on Hackaday.io. You don’t have to wait until Wednesday; join whenever you want and you can see what the community is talking about.
Continue reading “MIDI All The Things Hack Chat”

Guitar Effects With No (Unwanted) Delay

MIDI has been a great tool for musicians and artists since its invention in the 1980s. It allows a standard way to interface musical instruments to computers for easy recording, editing, and production of music. It does have a few weaknesses though, namely that without some specialized equipment the latency of the signals through the various connected devices can easily get too high to be useful in live performances. It’s not an impossible problem to surmount with the right equipment, as illustrated by [Philip Karlsson Gisslow].

The low-latency MIDI interface that he created is built around a Raspberry Pi Pico. It runs a custom library created by [Philip] called MiGiC which specifically built as a MIDI to Guitar interface. The entire setup consists of a preamp to boost the guitar’s signal up to 3.3V where it is then fed to the Pi. This is where the MIDI sampling is done. From there it sends the information to a PC which is able to play the sound back quickly with no noticeable delay.

[Philip] also had to do a lot of extra work to port the software to the Pi which lacks a lot of the features of its original intended hardware on a Mac or Windows machine, and the results are impressive, especially at the end of the video where he uses the interface to play a drum machine via his guitar. And, while MIDI is certainly a powerful application for a guitarist, we have also seen the Pi put to other uses in this musical realm as well.

Continue reading “Guitar Effects With No (Unwanted) Delay”

Stochastic Markov Beats

[Attoparsec] has been building intriguing musical projects on his YouTube channel for a while and his latest is no exception. Dubbed simply as “Node Module”, it is a rack-mounted hardware-based Markov chain beat sequencer. Traditionally Markov chains are software state machines that transition between states with given probabilities, often learned from a training corpus. That same principle has been applied to hardware beat sequencing.

Each Node Module has a trigger input, four outputs each with a potentiometer, and a trigger out. [Attoparsec] has a wonderful explanation of all the different parts and theories that make up the module at the start of his video, but the basic operation is that a trigger input comes in and the potentiometers are read to determine the probabilities of each output. One is randomly selected and fired. As you can imagine, there are loops and even dead-end nodes and for some musical pieces there is a certain number of beats expected, so a clever reset signal can be sent to pull the chain back to the initial starting state at a regular interval. The results are interesting to listen to and even better to imagine all the possibilities.

The module itself is an Arduino-based custom PCB that is laid out quite cleanly. The BOM, code, and KiCad files are available on GitHub if you want to make one yourself. This isn’t the first instrument we’ve seen [Attoparsec] make, and we’re confident it won’t be the last.

Continue reading “Stochastic Markov Beats”

Using MIDI To Solve A Keyboard Shortcut Problem

[Pete] admits that his MIDI-based slide advance alert system is definitely a niche solution to a niche problem, but it is a wonderful example of using available tools to serve a specific need. The issue was this: [Pete] is involved in numerous presentations streamed over video, and needed a simple and effective way for the Presenter to notify the Producer (the one responsible for the video streaming and camera switching) to discreetly advance slides on cue.

To most of us, this is a simple problem to solve. Provide the presenter with a USB macro keyboard to trigger the keyboard shortcuts for slide advancement, and the job’s done. But that didn’t quite cut it for [Pete]. In their situation, the Producer is managing more than just the slides as they switch between cameras, watch the chat window, and manage the video streaming itself. Triggering slide advancement via keyboard shortcuts only works if the presentation software is in focus when the buttons are pressed, which isn’t guaranteed.

[Pete’s] solution was to make a small two-button device (one button for next slide, one for previous slide) that uses MIDI to communicate with a small custom application on the producer’s machine, and doesn’t care about application focus. Pressing the slide advance button plays a distinct tone into the producer’s headphones, plus the custom application displays “Forward”, “Back”, or “Waiting” in a window, depending on the state of the Presenter’s buttons. The design is available on Instructables for anyone wanting a closer look.

[Pete] reports that it works and it’s far more discreet than saying “next slide, please” twenty or more times per presentation. You may notice from the photo that LEGO bricks play a prominent part in the device, and if you’d like to see more of that sort of thing, make sure to check out these other brick-mountable PCB designs.

Simple Slide Whistle Gets A MIDI Makeover

On today’s episode of “Will it MIDI?” we have the common slide whistle. Spoiler alert: yes, it will, and the results are just on the edge of charming and — well, a little weird.

As maker [mitxela] points out, for all its simplicity, the slide whistle is a difficult instrument to play. Or, at least a difficult one to hit a note repeatably. It’s a bit like a tiny plastic trombone, in that both lack keys or stops that limit the vibrating column of air to a specific length. Actually, the beginning of the video below shows a clever fix for that problem on the slide whistle using magnets, but that’s mainly a side project.

[mitxela]’s MIDI-fication of the slide whistle required a bit more than a few magnets. To move the slide to defined positions, a pair of high-precision servos was connected by a laser-cut plywood scissors linkage. The lung-power of the musician is replaced by a small electric blower, mounted away from the whistle and supplying air through a long hose. The fan’s speed, and therefore the speed of the airflow, can be varied; this prevents low notes from shifting up in register from over-blowing, if that’s the right term. Another servo controls a damper that shuts off the flow of air from the mouth of the whistle to control notes without having to turn off the fan completely. The main article goes into detail about the control electronics and the calibration process.

The video has a few YouTube copyright strikes demo songs, and we have to say we’re impressed with the responsiveness of the mechanism. Some will object to the excess servo noise, but we found it nice — almost like guitar string-squeak. We like the tunes where [mitxela]’s servo-plucked music box joined in, too.

Mattress-made MIDI Device Plays Exotic Tunes

Ever heard of a handpan? If not, imagine a steel drum turned inside out, and in case that doesn’t help either, just think of a big metal pan you play music with by tapping your hands on its differently pitched tone fields. But as with pretty much any musical instrument, the people around you may not appreciate your enthusiasm to practice playing it at any time of the day, and being an acoustic instrument, it gets difficult to just plug in your headphones. Good news for the aspiring practitioners of Caribbean music though, as [Deepsoul77] created a MIDI version of this rather young and exotic instrument.

Using the foam salvaged from an old mattress as the core of the handpan, [Deepsoul77] cut a couple of plywood pads as tone fields that will be attached to the foam. Each plywood tone field will then have a piezo element mounted in between to pick up the hand tapping. Picking up the tapping itself and turning it into MIDI signals is then handled by an Alesis trigger interface, which is something you would usually find in electronic drums. From here on forward, it all becomes just a simple USB MIDI device, with all the perks that brings along — like headphone usage or changing MIDI instruments to make anything sound like a trumpet.

Turning what’s essentially a drum kit into a melodic instrument is definitely neat, and to no surprise, we’ve also seen the actual home made drum kit with piezo elements. Of course, using MIDI to quiet down an acoustic instrument isn’t new either, though it also works somewhat the other way around. But then again, it doesn’t always have to be MIDI either.

Co41D 2020 MIDI Theremin Sounds Pretty Sick

As the pandemic rages on, so does the desire to spend the idle hours tinkering. [knaylor1] spent the second UK lockdown making a sweet Theremin-inspired noise machine with a low parts count that looks like a ton of fun.

It works like this: either shine some light on the photocells, cover them up, or find some middle ground between the two. No matter what you do, you’re going to get cool sounds out of this thing.

The photocells behave like potentiometers that are set up in a voltage divider. An Arduino UNO takes readings in from the photocells, does some MIDI math, and sends the serial data to a program called Hairless MIDI, which in turn sends it to Ableton live.

[knaylor1] is using a plugin called TAL Noisemaker on top of that to produce the dulcet acid house tones that you can hear in the video after the break.

If you’ve never played with light-dependent resistors before, do yourself a favor and spend a little bit of that Christmas cash on a variety pack of these things. You don’t even need an Arduino to make noise, you can use them as the pots in an Atari Punk console or make farty square waves with a hex inverting oscillator chip like the CD40106. Our own [Elliot Williams] once devoted an entire column to making chiptunes.

Continue reading “Co41D 2020 MIDI Theremin Sounds Pretty Sick”