Pipe Your Way Through The Jams

Playing the bagpipes is an art that takes a significant effort to master, both in keeping a constant air supply through balancing blowstick and bag and in learning the finger positions on the chanter. This last task we are told requires constant finger practice, and a favorite place for this is on the steering wheel as a would-be piper drives. [DZL] therefore took this to the next level, placing touch sensors round a car steering wheel that could be interpreted by an Arduino Pro Mini to produce a passable facsimile of a set of bagpipes via an in-car FM transmitter. It lacks the drone pipes of the real thing, but how many other Škodas feature inbuilt piping?

We’ve covered an unexpected number of bagpipe projects over the years, but never had a close look at this rather fascinating musical instrument. If you are curious, the US Coast Guard pipe band has a short guide to its parts, and we’ve brought you a set of homemade pipes built from duct tape and PVC pipe. They may once have been claimed as an instrument of war, but they seem to also be a favorite instrument of hardware hackers.

Thanks [Sophi] for the tip.

RC Transmitter Hacked Into Music Player

Packed with an incredible amount of hardware, and increasingly likely to be running an open source firmware, the modern RC transmitter is effectively a little multi-purpose computer in its own right. Accordingly there is a small, but growing, community of developers coming out with software applications targeting these switch-festooned wonders. It’s only a matter of time until they are running DOOM.

One such piece of software is TaraniTunes, developed by [GilDev]. This program allows you to load your OpenTX 2.2+ equipped Taranis Q X7 or Taranis X9D with music files which can be played on the transmitter’s built-in speaker. While it likely won’t win any awards for interface design, the large LCD display coupled with the radio’s numerous physical buttons and switches makes it relatively easy to navigate your music collection.

While the software [GilDev] has written for OpenTX looks straightforward enough, getting the songs on the radio is another story. For each track you need to merge the stereo channels into mono (as the transmitter only has a single speaker), and then convert it to a 32 kHz WAV. But don’t worry about the lack of ID3 tag information, TaraniTunes allows you to create a text file containing not only the filename of each track, but its name and artist.

We’ll admit this one should be filed away in the “Because I Can” category, but it’s still an impressive hack and a clever demonstration of the current state of RC transmitter technology.

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Clever Approach to Stylus Alignment

Digitally stored music is just data. But not long ago, music was analog and required machines with moving parts. If you have never owned a record player, you at least know what they look like, now that there’s a(nother) vinyl revival. What you may not be aware of is that the player’s stylus needs to be aligned. It makes sense, that hypersensitive needle can’t be expected to perform well if it’s tearing across a record like a drift racer.

There are professional tools for ensuring alignment, but it’s not something you’ll need each day. [Ali Naci Erdem] shows us his trick for combining a printable template with a mirror to get the same results without the professional tool costs. Instead of ordinary printer paper, he prints the template on a piece of clear plastic and lays it across a small mirror. These are both items which can be picked up at a hobby store, which is not something we can say about a record player mirror protractor.

We love music hacks like this informative introduction to circuit bending, the wonderful [Martin] from Wintergatan, or if you want to get weird, an organ made from Furbies.

A Jukebox For The 21st-Century Kit Blends Raspberry Pi, Sonos, QR Codes

When [Chris Campbell]’s children wanted to play an album in the background over dinner, switching the outputs on his family’s Sonos sound system was perhaps too involved for their budding mastery of technology. This got him thinking about using kid-friendly inputs so they could explore his music collection. Blending QR codes, some LEGO, and a bit of arts and crafts, a kid-friendly QR code reader media controller comes out!

Working with a Raspberry Pi 3 Model B and a cheap camera, [Campbell] whipped up some code to handle producing and reading the QR codes — though he’s running the media server on another computer to maintain fast response times. Once [Campbell] had his QR codes, he printed them out and got his kids involved in cutting and gluing the double-sided cards. Additional cards access different functions — starting a playlist queue, switching output channels, and full album playback, among others. Cue spontaneous dance-parties!

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There’s Now A New MIDI Spec, And Drones

MIDI, the Musical Instrument Digital Interface, was released in 1983 in a truly bizarre association between musical instrument manufacturers. At no other time, before or since, has there been such cooperation between different manufacturers to define a standard. Since then, the MIDI spec has been expanded with SysEx messages, the ability to dump samples via MIDI, redefining the tuning of instruments via MIDI to support non-Western music, and somewhere deep in the spec, karaoke machines.

Now there’s a new update to the MIDI spec (Gearnews link, here’s the official midi.org announcement but their website requires registration and is a hot garbage fire). At this year’s NAMM, the place where MIDI was first demonstrated decades ago,  the MIDI Manufacturers Association announced an update to MIDI that makes instruments and controllers smarter, and almost self-learning.

There are three new bits to the new update to the MIDI spec. The first is Profile Configuration, a way to auto-configure complex controller mappings, described as, ‘MIDI Learn on steroids’. The second update is Property Exchange, and allows MIDI devices to set device properties like, ‘product name, configuration settings, controller names, and patch data’. This is effectively setting metadata in controllers and devices. The third new bit is Protocol Negotiation, a way to automatically push future, next-gen protocols over a DIN-5 connector.

What does this all mean? Drones. No, I’m serious. The MIDI association is tinkering around with some Tiny Whoops and Phantoms, and posted a video of drones being controlled by a MIDI controller. Play a glissando up, and the drone goes up. You can check out a video of that below.

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Pulling Music Out Of Thin Air with a Raspberry Pi

Pianos are great instruments, but being rather heavy and requiring a fair amount of space they are certainly not known for their convenience. Sure, there are more portable varieties available, but they rarely resemble the elegance and classiness of a grand piano. One option is of course to build a downscaled version yourself — and since you’re already customizing the instrument, why stop at the way you play it. [2fishy] didn’t stop there either and ended up with a wooden, space friendly, light controlled piano housing a Raspberry Pi.

Inspired by the concept of a laser harp, [2fishy] followed the same principle but chose a simpler and safer alternative by using LEDs instead. For each playable tone, a LED is mounted opposite a light dependent resistor, creating an array of switches that is then connected to the Raspberry Pi’s GPIO pins. A Python script is handling the rest, polling the GPIO states and — with a little help from pygame, triggering MIDI playback whenever the light stream is interrupted.

There are enough LED/LDR pairs to play one full octave and have some additional control inputs for menu and octave shifting. This concept will naturally require some adjustments to your playing — you can get an idea of it in the demonstration video after the break. And if this design is still not the right size for you, or if you prefer to play in total darkness, this similar MIDI instrument using ultrasonic distance sensors could be of interest.

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Keeping Magnetized Marbles from Stopping the Music

Take a couple of thousand steel balls, add a large wooden gear with neodymium magnets embedded in it, and what do you get? Either the beginnings of a wonderful kinetic music machine, or a mess of balls all stuck together and clogging up the works.

The latter was the case for [Martin], and he needed to find a way to demagnetize steel balls in a continuous process if his “Marble Machine X” were to see the light of day. You may recall [Martin] as a member of the band Wintergatan and the inventor of the original Marble Machine, a remarkable one-man band that makes music by dropping steel balls on various instruments. As fabulous a contraption as the original Marble Machine was, it was strictly a studio instrument, too fragile for touring.

Marble Machine X is a complete reimagining of the original, intended to be robust enough to go on a world tour. [Martin] completely redesigned the lift mechanism, using magnets to grip the balls from the return bin and feed them up to a complicated divider. But during the lift, the balls became magnetized enough to stick together and no longer roll into the divider. The video below shows [Martin]’s solution: a degausser using magnets of alternating polarity spinning slowly under the sticky marbles. As a side note, it’s interesting and entertaining to watch a musician procrastinate while debugging a mechanical problem.

We can’t wait to see Marble Machine X in action, but until it’s done we’ll just settle for [Martin]’s other musical hacks, like his paper-tape programmed music box or this mashup of a synthesizer and a violin.

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