South African [Afrorack] claims to have built the first home-built modular synthesiser in Africa. Whilst we can’t be sure of this (and to be frank, it doesn’t actually matter) what we can be sure of is that the latest additions to this rig sound pretty rad. (video, embedded below) There really isn’t much doubt that the African nations are the kings of rhythm, and that living in the less well-to-do areas you need to have a certain resourcefulness to use the materials around you. It’s not like you can just pop down to the local electronics store for a missing part, even if you had the funds for it.
The modular synth looks pretty nice, rough and ready like a real homebrew, and the use of an oil can as a bass drum and rice in a plastic skiff as an instrument might look crude, but sound pretty good. All three additions to the rig are simple spring-loaded solenoid affairs, but since off the shelf stuff is an expensive luxury, hand wound coils were in order. With a bobbin formed with a metal rod and two suitably trimmed fanta bottle lids, a wire spool holder sitting on what looks like a cake stand, a drill powered coil winder was constructed. We did smirk a little when in an early shot, wire was guided by hand, which was rapidly followed by an adjustment to guiding with a rag. Darn friction burns! We’re watching this with interest to see what the next additions will be, but for now, just sit back and nerd out to some sick African techno tunes!
Have you ever wanted to experiment with MIDI, but didn’t know where to start? Or perhaps you didn’t think you could afford to properly outfit your digital beat laboratory, especially given the average hacker’s penchant for blinkenlights? Well worry no more, as [Johan von Konow] has unveiled a collection of DIY MIDI devices that anyone with a 3D printer can build on the cheap.
The LEET modular synthesizer is made up of a keyboard, drum pad, chord keyboard, arpeggiator and a step sequencer that plug into your computer and interface with industry standard digital audio workstation (DAW) programs. The down side is that they don’t do anything on their own, but this simplification allowed [Johan] to really streamline the design and bring the cost of the build down to the bare minimum.
You don’t need to build all the components either, especially if you’re just testing the waters. The keyboard is a great starting point, and even if you have to buy all the components new from eBay, [Johan] says it shouldn’t cost you more than $10 USD to build. You just need an Arduino Pro Micro, some tact switches, and a section of WS2812 RGB LED strip. There’s an excellent chance you’ve already got some of that in the parts bin, which will make it even cheaper.
It is hard to imagine how the electronics hobby survived without the Internet. You found like-minded people and projects in magazines. And it is even harder to imagine what projects were in the magazines before the widespread availability of CPU chips. Think about it, there are only so many things you can build with a handful of tubes, transistors, and small ICs. But before the computer revolution took over the hobby, there were always a lot of articles about music synthesis. Coming full circle, you can now build a virtual synthesizer on the web using Zupiter, a modular synthesizer that runs in your browser.
That link is actually about Zupiter, but you can go straight to it if you just want to play. However, we had to do a little reading and try some of the examples, too. You can see a video about the synthesizer, below.
[Eliot Curtis] found himself a little too close to 1960’s counterculture while restoring a vintage modular synthesizer — he began tripping out on acid. The instrument in question is a Buchla Model 100. The Buchla is a modular synth. Instead of a keyboard, it used capacitance-sensitive touch plates. This particular model 100 was purchased by California State University East Bay Campus. The synth was popular for a while, but eventually fell into disuse, and was stored in a classroom closet.
Modular synths are experiencing a renaissance, as can be seen right here on Hackaday. The Buchla was pulled out of storage and given a proper restoration. [Eliot Curtis] is the Broadcast Operations Manager at KPIX 5, the San Francisco CBS TV station. He also is the hacker who volunteered to restore the Buchla.
During the restoration, [Curtis] found residue and crystals stuck under one of the knobs of the Control Voltage Processing Module. Was it flux, conformal coating, or something else? [Eliot] hit the board with contact cleaner and wiped it down. Within 45 minutes, he was feeling a strange tingling. It was the beginning of a nine-hour LSD trip. Three independent tests on the module came back positive for LSD.
Lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD for short) can be readily absorbed through the skin, which is exactly what happened to [Eliot]. Synth designer [Don Buchla] was friends with [Owsley Stanley], who worked for the Grateful Dead and allegedly cooked up some very potent LSD. Some of Buchla’s modules even found their way into Ken Keesey’s hands, where they wound up on his famous bus “further”. As it turns out there were rumors that modules had been dipped in LSD back in the ’60s. Why someone would do that to an electronic module, we’re not sure — they must have been on drugs. [Eliot] recovered from his brush with the ’60s and continued with the restoration with gloves on.
If there is a moral here, it should be to take precautions when working on equipment which might contain dangerous substances. We’ve learned this lesson ourselves cracking open broken laptops. You might find anything from coffee to soda, to pet urine or worse. A box of nitrile gloves definitely should be standard equipment in any hacker’s lab.
Modular synthesizers have been around since the early 1960s, delivering huge tonal possibilities from their impressive and imposing patchbays. In 1996, the Eurorack standard was launched, and has become the go-to choice for enthusiasts new to the world of modular synthesis. [Rich Heslip] is just one such enthusiast, and has brought Bluetooth MIDI to Eurorack with his Motivation Radio module.
[Rich]’s module is built around the ESP32, which provides plenty of processing power, along with all the necessary radio hardware to communicate over Bluetooth. The unit packs plenty of connectivity into an 8HP wide panel, with four gate inputs and outputs, four CV inputs and outputs, and serial MIDI in and out.
Here at Hackaday, we love knobs and buttons. So what could be better than one button? How about 16! No deep philosophy about the true nature of Making here; [infovore], [tehn], and [shellfritsch] put together a very slick, very adaptable bank of 16 analog faders for controlling music synthesis. If you don’t recognize those names it might help to mention that [tehn] is one of the folks behind monome, a company built on their iconic grid controller. Monome now produces a variety of lovingly crafted music creation tools.
Over the years we’ve written about some of the many clones and DIY versions of the monome grid controller, so it’s exciting to see an open source hardware release by the creators themselves!
The unambiguously named 16n follows in the footsteps of the monome grid in the sense that it’s not really for something specific. The grid is a musical instrument insofar as it can be connected to a computer (or a modular synth, etc) and used as a control input for another tool that creates sound. Likewise, the 16n is designed to be easily integrated into a music creation workflow. It can speak a variety of interfaces, like purely analog control voltage (it has one jack per fader), or i2c to connect to certain other monome devices like Ansible and Teletype. Under the hood, the 16n is actually a Teensy, so it’s fluent in MIDI over USB and nearly anything else you can imagine.
[Matt Bradshaw]’s entry in the Hackaday Prize is Polymod, a modular digital synthesizer which combines the modularity of an analog synth with the power of a digital synth. Each module (LFO, Envelope Generator, Amplifier, etc.) are connected with audio cables to others and the result is processed digitally to create music.
The synth is built with a toy keyboard with each key having a tactile switch underneath it, contained inside a wooden case upcycled from a bookshelf found on the street. Each module is a series of potentiometers and I/O jacks with a wooden faceplate. The modules are connected to sockets on the main board and are held in place with thumbscrews so that the modules can be easily switched out. Each module can be connected to others using audio cables, the same way modular analog synths are connected.
The main board contains a Teensy 3.6 and a Teensy Audio Adapter creates the audio for the synth. Software that [Matt] wrote runs on the Teensy and allows the digital synthesizer to run in either monophonic or polyphonic modes. In polyphonic mode, the software creates digital copies of each module to allow the playing of chords. The Teensy scans up to eight module sockets and for each module that it finds, it reads the potentiometer value as well as the status of the I/O jacks. The keyboard buttons are converted to a control voltage which can be sent to any of the modules to create a melody.
[Matt] has created a great synth that combines benefits of both analog and digital synths together and the result is an inexpensive modular synth that can create some really cool sounds. Check out the videos after the break. In the meantime, take a look at this mess of wires and this article on a slew of open-source synthesizers.