Stalking Last.fm Streams On Spotify

Back in the early days of social media and Web 2.0, Last.fm was one of the premier music sites on the internet. With a huge library containing what felt like every song ever, along with an excellent algorithm for recommending new tracks, it quickly gained a large following. Unfortunately, its business model and following changed over the years, but there’s still a diehard userbase. [Hexalyse] was unhappy with Spotify’s algorithms, so built a tool to allow her to shadow what Last.fm users were listening to in real time.

Last.fm’s major feature is that it allows you to tell others what you’re listening to, by “scrobbling” your tracks as you play them. It’s possible to scrape this live data from any user via the Last.fm API, making the project possible. [Hexalyse] whipped up a Python script to query a selected user’s current playing track via Last.fm, before then handing the song data to the Spotify API to play the music locally.

It’s a fun way to find new music, relying on human taste rather than a pile of data center algebra. [Hexalyse] has uploaded the code to Github if you’re eager to try it for yourself. Of course, you get bonus points if you integrate it with Spotify on the Macintosh SE/30.

The PC Speaker Lives On As A New Album

The speaker in the original IBM PC is nearly the worst electronic musical instrument ever created. This isn’t because amazing works of art were never created for the PC speaker; no, that’s been done, and it’s amazing. The PC speaker is terrible because of how limited it is. It does one note at a time, only square waves, driven by an 8253 Programmable Interval Timer. Polyphony? Forget about it. Volume control? Nope. These aren’t really shortcomings, because music is art, and you can write a novel without using the letter ‘E’; the trick is in how you manage to do it.

[shiru8bit] took a deep dive into the PC speaker and decided to make an album. The video, with the completely necessary CRT graphic display, can be seen here. This alone is impressive, but what makes it amazing is how this album happened.

If you want to play more than a simple melody on a PC speaker, there are two or two and a half ways to do it. The first is to (virtually) set up two (or more) channels, loaded up with frequency values. At set intervals, the CPU changes the 8253 to output one frequency, then in the next chunk of time, sets the 8253 to another frequency. It sounds ‘bubbly’ for lack of a better term, but the results can be amazing; just check out the PC speaker version of Monkey Island. The 8253 can also be turned into a rudimentary DAC, but this was a rare technique thanks to patents, and by the time the patents expired everyone already had a Soundblaster. Oh well.

[shiru8bit]’s album uses the first technique, cycling through monophonic square waves at 120 Hz, but the real trick here is how the individual channels were composed. This required creating a VSTi plugin called PCSPE. This emulates a PC speaker, and sort of, kind of, implements arpeggios, pitch, and priority of different channels. Effectively, it’s a PC Speaker tracker.

The result is classic chiptune goodness, made on an instrument that really shouldn’t be used for music. It can be played on DosBox, but the weirdness of the real hardware including transients and the inefficiencies of a tiny speaker make real hardware almost a necessity here. You can check out the entire album below.

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You Are Your Own Tactile Feedback

[Maurin Donneaud] has clearly put a lot of work into making a large flexible touch sensitive cloth, providing a clean and intuitive interface, and putting it out there for anyone to integrate into their own project.. This pressure sensing fabric is touted as an electronic musical interface, but if you only think about controlling music, you are limiting yourself. You could teach AI to land a ‘copter more evenly, detect sparring/larping strikes in armor, protect athletes by integrating it into padding, or measure tension points in your golf swing, just to name a few in sixty seconds’ writers brainstorming. This homemade e-textile measures three dimensions, and you can build it yourself with conductive thread, conductive fabric, and piezoresistive fabric. If you were intimidated by the idea before, there is no longer a reason to hold back.

The idea is not new and we have seen some neat iterations but this one conjures ideas a mile (kilometer) a minute. Watching the wireframe interface reminds us of black-hole simulations in space-time, but these ones are much more terrestrial and responding in real-time. Most importantly they show consistent results when stacks of coins are placed across the surface. Like most others out there, this is a sandwich where the slices of bread are ordinary fabric and piezoresistive material and the cold cuts are conductive strips arranged in a grid. [Maurin] designed a custom PCB which makes a handy adapter between a Teensy and houses a resistor network to know which grid line is getting pressed.

If you don’t need flexible touch surfaces, we can help you there too.

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Laser Light Show Turned Into Graphical Equalizer

The gold standard for laser light shows during rock concerts is Pink Floyd, with shows famous for visual effects as well as excellent music. Not all of us have the funding necessary to produce such epic tapestries of light and sound, but with a little bit of hardware we can get something close. [James]’s latest project is along these lines: he recently built a laser light graphical equalizer that can be used when his band is playing gigs.

To create the laser lines for the equalizer bands, [James] used a series of mirrors mounted on a spinning shaft. When a laser is projected on the spinning mirrors it creates a line. From there, he needed a way to manage the height of each of the seven lines. He used a series of shrouds with servo motors which can shutter the laser lines to their appropriate height.

The final part of the project came in getting the programming done. The brain of this project is an MSGEQ7 which  takes an audio input signal and splits it into seven frequencies for the equalizer. Each one of the seven frequencies is fed to one of the seven servo-controlled shutters which controls the height of each laser line using an Arduino. This is a great project, and [James] is perhaps well on his way to using lasers for other interesting musical purposes.

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TréPhonos Calls Up History In Houston

Houston’s historic third ward, aka “The Tre,” is ripe rife with history, and some of that history is digitally preserved and accessible through an art installation in the form of repurposed payphones. We love payphones for obvious reasons and seeing them alive and kicking warms our hearts. Packing them with local history checks even more boxes. Twenty-four people collaborated to rebuild the three phones which can be seen in the video after the break, including three visual artists, three ambassadors, and eighteen residents who put their efforts into making the phones relevant not only to the ward but specifically to the neighborhood. One phone plays sound clips from musicians who lived or still live in the ward, another phone has spoken word stories, and the third has field recordings from significant locations in The Tre.

Each phone is powered by a solar cell and a USB battery pack connected to a Teensy with an audio adapter board, and a 20 watt amplifier. Buttons 1-9 play back recorded messages exclusive to each phone, star will record a message, and zero will play back the user-recorded message. Apps for smart phones are easy for young folks to figure out but the payphones ensure that these time capsules can be appreciated by people of any age, regardless of how tech savvy they are and that is wise as well as attractive. The coin return lever and coin slot also have associated sound clips unlike regular payphones so the artists get extra credit.

Did we say that we love payphones? Yes, yes we did. The very first post on Hackday was for a redbox and that got the ball rolling.

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Open Source Fader Bank Modulates our Hearts

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.

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A Drum Set In Your Pocket

Cargo pants can fit drumsticks in the pockets if you don’t mind them sticking out. They can also hold this drum set and still have enough room for a pair of headphones, some pens, and a small notebook. At least, guy’s cargo pants can fit all that. Now your pocket is decked out with enough music gear to compose and drum few drum loops and even scribble some notes. We can’t speak for [Tomash Ghz] carrying a notebook, but he wanted a drum set in his pocket badly enough to make a custom circuit board to bring to the 2017 Fasma Festival in Athens. He wrote code for a Teensy 3.2 which fits on the back of his PCB next to a 9V battery. Don’t be afraid, the smallest components are 0805 so even clumsy fingers will be able to build their own. The Gerber files and BOM are all available, so nothing is stopping you.

On the board, we find an array of op-amps to support headphone and line-level outputs, four big ole’ buttons to activate each type of drum: kick, tom, snare, and hat. Then we have four potentiometers to change the sound of each like pitch, decay/length, modulation, and distortion. Once the perfect pattern is recorded, it can be saved in non-volatile memory in case you run out of juice although it can run up to seven-and-a-half hours on one battery. If you find yourself invested in the hardware, there is also a video walk-through about using the drum machine so grab your notebook and beat it.

We have seen simpler drums in simpler chips, and even drums on an entirely different type of chip.

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