Sara Adkins Is Jamming Out With Machines

Asking machines to make music by themselves is kind of a strange notion. They’re machines, after all. They don’t feel happy or hurt, and as far as we know, they don’t long for the affections of other machines. Humans like to think of music as being a strictly human thing, a passionate undertaking so nuanced and emotion-based that a machine could never begin to understand the feeling that goes into the process of making music, or even the simple enjoyment of it.

The idea of humans and machines having a jam session together is even stranger. But oddly enough, the principles of the jam session may be exactly what machines need to begin to understand musical expression. As Sara Adkins explains in her enlightening 2019 Hackaday Superconference talk, Creating with the Machine, humans and machines have a lot to learn from each other.

To a human musician, a machine’s speed and accuracy are enviable. So is its ability to make instant transitions between notes and chords. Humans are slow to learn these transitions and have to practice going back and forth repeatedly to build muscle memory. If the machine were capable, it would likely envy the human in terms of passionate performance and musical expression.

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Electric Dreams Help Cows Survive The Desert Of The Real

Pictures of a cow wearing a pair of comically oversized virtual reality goggles recently spread like wildfire over social media, and even the major news outlets eventually picked it up. Why not? Nobody wants to read about geopolitical turmoil over the holidays, and this story was precisely the sort of lighthearted “news” people would, if you can forgive the pun, gobble up.

But since you’re reading Hackaday, these images probably left you with more questions than answers. Who made the hardware, what software is it running, and of course, why does a cow need VR? Unfortunately, the answers to the more technical questions aren’t exactly forthcoming. Even tracking the story back to the official press release from the Ministry of Agriculture and Food of the Moscow Region doesn’t tell us much more than we can gather from the image itself.

But it does at least explain why somebody went through the trouble of making a custom bovine VR rig: calm cows produce more milk. These VR goggles, should they pass their testing and actually be adopted by the Russian dairy industry, will be the newest addition to a list of cow-calming hardware devices that farmers have been using for decades to get the most out of their herds.

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Secret C64 Program Found On A Christian Rock Band’s Vinyl Record

How often do you find Easter eggs in old vinyl records?

It sure was a surprise for [Robin Harbron] when he learned about a Commodore 64 program hidden on one of the sides of a record from the 1985 album of Christian rock band Prodigal. The host of the YouTube channel 8-Bit Show and Tell shows the “C-64” etching on one side of the vinyl, which he picked up after finding out online that the record contained the hidden program.

The run-out groove on records is typically an endless groove that keeps the record player from running off the record (unless there is an auto-return feature, which just replays the record). On side one of the vinyl, the run-out groove looks normal, but on side two, it’s a little thicker and contains some hidden audio. Recording the audio onto a cassette and loading it onto a dataset reveals a short C64 program.

The process is a little more troublesome that that, but after a few tries [Harbron] reveals a secret message, courtesy of Albert Einstein and Jesus Christ. It’s not the most impressive program ever written, but it’s pretty cool that programmers 35 years ago were able to fit it into only a few seconds of audio.

Unfortunately, we won’t be hearing much actual music from the album – [Harbron] chose not to play the songs to avoid copyright issues on YouTube.

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Turntable Spins Color And Sound Together

If you can’t grow your own synesthesia, buying electronics to do it for you is fine. Such is the case with the CHROMATIC by [Xavier Gazon], an artist who turns all kinds of electronics into circuit-bent musical art pieces. His project turns an old Philips Music 5120 turntable into a colorful MIDI sequencer, inspired by older 20th century instruments such as the Optophonic Piano and the Luminaphone.

The CHROMATIC uses colored pucks placed on a converted turntable to perform a looping sequence of chords in a given musical scale, generating MIDI data as output. Where its inspirations used primitive optics as their medium, this project employs a Teensy microcontroller and two modern optical sensors to do the work. One of these is a simple infrared sensor which tracks a white spot on the edge of the turntable, generating a MIDI clock signal to keep everything quantized and in sync. The other is a color sensor mounted on the tone arm, which can tell what color it sees and the height of the arm from the turntable.

While the instrument is still in beta testing phase details on how notes are generated aren’t yet given, though the general idea is that they are dictated by the color the tone arm sees and its position above the platter. Moving the tone arm changes which pucks it tracks, and the speed of the turntable can also be adjusted, changing how the melody sounds.‚Äč

The CHROMATIC is a very interesting project, but it’s not the first optical-based turntable hack we’ve seen here. We’ve also seen a much weirder use for a color sensor, too. Check out the video of this one in action after the break.

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Wiping Your Windscreen To The Beat

Nothing spoils your mood quite like your windscreen wipers not feeling it when the beat drops. Every major car manufacturer is focused on trying to build the electric self driving vehicle for the masses, yet ignoring this very real problem. Well [Ian Charnas] is taking charge, and has successfully slaved his car’s wipers to beat of its stereo.

Starting with the basics, [Ian] first needed to control the speed of the wiper motor. This was done using a custom power supply adapted from another project. The brain of the system is a Raspberry Pi 3B+ which runs a phase locked loop algorithm to sync the music and the motor. Detecting the beat turned out to be the most difficult part of the project, and from the research [Ian] did, there is no standard solution. He ended up settling on “madmom“, a Python audio and music signal processing library, which runs a neural net to detect the beat in real time. The Raspi sends the required PWM and Enable signals to an Arduino over serial, which in turn controls the power supply. The entire system was neatly integrated in the car, with a switch in the dash that connects the motor to the new power supply on demand, to allow the wipers to still be used normally (and safely).

[Ian] filed a provisional patent application for the idea, and will be putting it on auction on eBay soon, with the hope that some major car manufacturer would be interested. For older cars, you can shove an Arduino into the stereo, or do a super cheap bluetooth upgrade. Check out the video after the break. Continue reading “Wiping Your Windscreen To The Beat”

Modular Music Synthesis On The Web

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.

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Professional Audio On An ESP32

Audiophiles have worked diligently to alert the rest of the world to products with superior sound quality, and to warn us away from expensive gimmicks that have middling features at best. Unfortunately, the downside of most high quality audio equipment is the sticker price. But with some soldering skills and a bit of hardware, you can build your own professional-level audio equipment around an ESP32 and impress almost any dedicated audiophile.

The list of features the tiny picoAUDIO board packs is impressive, starting with a 3.7 watt stereo amplifier and a second dedicated headphone amplifier. It also has all of the I/O you would expect something based on an ESP32 to have, such as I2S stereo DAC, an I2S microphone input, I2C GPIO extenders and, of course, a built-in MicroSD card reader. The audio quality is impressive too, and the project page has some MP3 files of audio recorded using this device that are worth listening to.

Whether you want the highest sound quality for your headphones while you listen to music, or you need a pocket-sized audio recording device, this might be the way to go. The project files are all available so you can build this from the ground up as well. Once you have that knocked out, you can move on to building your own speakers.

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