We love retrocomputing and tiny computers here at Hackaday, so it’s always nice to see projects that combine the two. [Eivind]’s TinyLlama lets you play DOS games on a board that fits in your hand.
Using the 486 SOM from the 86Duino, the TinyLlama adds an integrated Crystal Semiconductor audio chip for AdLib and SoundBlaster support. If you populate the 40 PIN Raspberry Pi connector, you can also use a Pi Zero 2 to give the system MIDI capabilities when coupled with a GY-PCM5102 I²S DAC module.
Audio has been one of the trickier things to get running on these small 486s, so its nice to see a simple, integrated solution available. [Eivind] shows the machine running DOOM (in the video below the break) and starts up Monkey Island at the end. There is a breakout board for serial and PS/2 mouse/keyboard, but he says that USB peripherals work well if you don’t want to drag your Model M out of the closet.
Hardware projects often fall into three categories: Those that flash lights, those that make sounds and those that move. This virtuoso performance by [Kevin]’s “Lo-Fi Orchestra” manages all three, whilst doing an excellent job of reproducing the 1973 musical classic Tubular Bells by Mike Oldfield.
Producing decent polyphonic sounds of different timbres simultaneously is a challenge for simple microcontroller boards like Arduinos, so [Kevin] has embraced the “More is more” philosophy and split up the job of sound generation in much the same way as a traditional orchestra might. Altogether, 11 Arduino Nanos, 6 Arduino Unos, an Arduino Pro Mini, an Adafruit Feather 32u4, and a Raspberry Pi running MT32-Pi make up this electronic ensemble.
The servo & relay drumkit is a particular highlight, providing some physical sounds to go along with the otherwise solid-state generation.
The whole project is “conducted” over MIDI and the flashing sequencer in the middle gives a visual indication of the music that is almost hypnotic. The performance is split into two videos (after the break), and will be familiar to fans of 70’s music and classic horror movies alike. We’re astonished how accurately [Kevin] has captured the mood of the original recording.
[poprhythm]’s Touch Tone MIDI Phone is a fantastic conversion of an old touch tone phone into a MIDI instrument complete with intact microphone, but this project isn’t just about showing off the result. [poprhythm] details everything about how he interfaced to the keypad, how he used that with an Arduino to create a working MIDI interface, and exactly how he decided — musically speaking — what each button should do. The LEDs on the phone are even repurposed to blink happily depending on what is going on, which is a nice touch.
Of course, it doesn’t end there. [poprhythm] also makes use of the microphone in the phone’s handset. Since the phone is now a MIDI instrument with both a microphone and note inputs, it’s possible to use them together as the inputs to vocoder software, which he demonstrates by covering Around the World by Daft Punk (video).
We love how [poprhythm] explains how he interfaced to everything because hardware work is all about such details, and finding the right resources. Here’s the GitHub repository for the Arduino code and a few links to other resources.
The Raspberry Pi Pico is what you might call the board of the moment, thanks to its combination of affordability, features, and continued availability during the component shortage. We have seen plenty of great projects using it, and the latest to float past is [todbot]’s PicoStepSeq, an extremely compact MIDI sequencer.
All the components are mounted on a PCB, with the sequencer’s eight steps selected by a row of buttons with integrated LEDs. The interface is via an SSD1306 OLED, and there is also a rotary encoder. Software comes courtesy of CircuitPython, and the output is delivered via a 3.5 mm TRS jack. Finally the whole is wrapped in a 3D printed enclosure.
The result is a sequencer that could almost be a product in its own right, and we think anyone whose interests lie in electronic music should find straightforward enough to build. All the files and information required to build your own can be found in the linked repository, and he’s placed a Tweet with a video online which we’ve embedded below the break.
The abacus has been around since antiquity, and takes similar forms over the hundreds of cultures that have embraced it. It may be one of the first devices to be considered as having a “user interface” in the modern context — at least for simple arithmetic calculations. But using an abacus as the UI for a music synthesizer seems like something entirely new.
Part art concept project and part musical instrument, the “Abacusynth” by [Elias Jarzombek] is a way to bring a more visual and tactile experience to controlling a synth, as opposed to the usual knobs and switches. The control portion of the synth consists of four horizontal rods spanning two plywood uprights. Each rod corresponds to a voice of the polyphonic synth, and holds a lozenge-shaped spinner mounted on a low-friction bearing. Each spinner can be moved left and right on its rod, which controls the presence of that voice; spinning the slotted knob controls the modulation of the channel via photosensors in the uprights. Each rod has a knob on one side that activates an encoder to control each voice’s waveform and its harmonics.
In use, the synthesizer is a nice blend of electronic music and kinetic sculpture. The knobs seem to spin forever, so Abacusynth combines a little of the fidget spinner experience with the exploration of new sounds from the built-in speaker. The synth also has a MIDI interface, so it works and plays well with other instruments. The video below shows the hardware version of Abacusynth in action; there’s also a web-based emulation to try before you build.
If anyone has been struggling to get hold of a 3.5″ floppy drive lately, we think we’ve got a clue as to why — behold, the mighty floppotron 3.0 by [Paweł Zadrożniak.] With an utterly bonkers 512 floppy drives, four flatbed scanners and sixteen hard disks of various sizes, the floppotron 3.0 MIDI synthesiser is possibly the biggest such retro hardware synthesiser so far. Since every part of the system is motor-based, nobody is going to be surprised that to power the show is quite an undertaking, with nearly twenty switched-mode PSU modules needed to keep up with the demand, averaging 300W but rated at 1.2kW peak!
A full custom MIDI-to-RS485 gateway based around the nRF52xx series MCU deals with the communication to the collection of instrument controllers. These controllers are generic enough to take RS485 input and control a dedicated driver for either an array of floppy drives (up to 192), an array of hard drives or the handful of scanners. The way the floppy drives are grouped is quite neat. Rather than using each drive to generate a specific tone, the software uses the whole column for each note. By varying the number of drives moving simultaneously over time, the sound volume varies, simulating the note envelope and giving a richer sound. Multiple columns driving in parallel give the system a 16-note polyphony. The floppies cover the low notes, with the four flatbed scanners covering the higher notes. MIDI drum sounds are mapped to the hard disks, operating in a, well, percussive manner, with different case shapes giving unique sounds. Even the firmware can be updated over MIDI! So, checkout the demo video after the break for a sweet rendition of the very familiar “Entry of the gladiators” by Czech composer Julius Fučík.
Some projects you come across simply leave you in awe when you look at the thought and the resulting amount of work that went into it, not only for the actual implementation, but everything around it. Even more so when it’s a single-developer open source project. [Stone Preston]’s synth / sampler / sequencer / DAW-in-a-box LMN-3 absolutely fits the description here, and it seems like he has set his heart on making sure everyone can built one for themselves, by providing all the design files from case down to the keycaps.
The LMN-3 (LMN as in “lemon”, not “comes before the OP“) is intended as a standalone, portable digital audio workstation, and is built around a Raspberry Pi 4 with a HyperPixel display for the user interface. The UI itself, and with it the core part of the software, was created using the Tracktion Engine, which itself uses the JUCE framework and combines your typical synthesizer, sequencer, and sampler features with the DAW part to handle recording, editing, and mixing. The remaining hardware is a custom-designed PCB with a set of function and keyboard buttons, along with a pitch bend joystick and four rotary encoders with push buttons that serve as main input handlers. Oh yes, and a Teensy board.
The UI is actually entirely controlled via MIDI commands, and custom firmware on the Teensy is translating the input events from buttons, encoders, and joystick accordingly. This essentially decouples the hardware from the software, and using a cross-platform framework underneath, you can also run the UI standalone on your computer and use any 3rd-party MIDI controller you like. Or then, as [Stone] thought really about everything, use a hardware emulator he created in addition. You could even leave out the Raspberry Pi and software altogether and turn this into a pure MIDI controller. If that sounds tempting, but you’re looking for something with more knobs and sliders instead of buttons, check out the Traktorino. And if you actually prefer a mouse as input device, there’s always something running in a browser.