How To MIDI Interface Your Toys

There’s a great number toys in the world, many of which make all manner of pleasant or annoying noises for the entertainment of children. If you’re a musician, these toys may be of interest due to their unique or interesting sounds. However, due to their design being aimed at play rather than performance, it may be difficult to actually use the toy as a musical instrument. One way around this is to record the sounds of the toy into a sampler, but it’s not the only way. [little-scale] is here to demonstrate how to MIDI interface your toys. 

[little-scale] starts out by discussing the many ways in which one can interface with a toy. The article discusses how a simple button can be replaced with a relay, or a multiplexer, and be interfaced to all manner of other devices to control the toy. This is demonstrated by using a mobile phone toy which makes sounds when buttons are pressed.

A Teensy 3.6 is used to run the show, acting as a USB-MIDI interface so the toy can be controlled by music software like Abelton. It’s connected to the toy’s buttons through a multiplexer. The toy’s speaker is cut off and used as an audio output instead, allowing the toy to be easily connected to other audio hardware for performance or recording. It’s also fed through a digital pot so MIDI commands can control the volume. A resistor is used to control pitch in the toy, so this too was replaced with a digital pot as well, to allow sample pitch to be controlled.

The project is incredibly well documented, with [little-scale] first tearing down the toy and highlighting the points of interest, before stepping through each stage of interfacing the toy to the digital world. We’ve seen some of [little-scale]’s work before, too – namely, this MIDI DAC for controlling vintage synthesizers. Video after the break. Continue reading “How To MIDI Interface Your Toys”

Retro-Styled Raspberry Pi Radio

Ok, so you want a radio — but not just any radio. It has to be wireless, access a variety of music services, and must have a vintage aesthetic that belies its modern innards. Oh, and a tiny screen that displays album art, because that’s always awesome. This 1938 Emerson AX212-inspired radio delivers.

Building on the backbone of a Raspberry Pi Zero W and an Adafruit MAX 98357 mono amp chip, the crux of this single-speaker radio is the program Mopidy. Mopidy is a music player that enables streaming from multiple services, with the stipulation that you have a premium Spotify account. Once signed up, [Tinkernut] helpfully outlines how to set up Mopidy to run automatically once the Pi boots up. The addition of a screen to display album art adds flair to the design,  and Adafruit’s 1.8″ TFT LCD screen is small enough to fit the bill.

But wait — there’s more!

Continue reading “Retro-Styled Raspberry Pi Radio”

An Enchanted Rose For A Beauty

Being a maker opens up so many doors in terms of ways to romance one’s partner through passion projects. If their passion is Disney films, then you may handily make them the enchanted rose from Beauty and the Beast for their birthday. Easy-peasy.

In addition to the love and care that went into this build, redditor [Vonblackhawk2811] has included a set of LEDs, salvaged from cheap flashlights and electronic candles, which are controlled by four toggle switches and offer multiple lighting selections — candlelight, soft white, colour cycling, and bright white — to appropriately set the mood. As if that wasn’t enough to romance his sweetheart, he’s also included an aux cord input and a pair of speakers so they may be serenaded by a tune or two as they dance the night away.

Liberal use of hot glue and duct tape are keeping the electronics secured, preventing any shorts. After all — what would it say if this gift went up in flames? An inspired stencil design — hand drawn and cut out — was used to apply a spray-on frosted glass finish to the cloche, and a romantic phrase was burned into the base, completing this heartfelt gift. The only quibble we have is that now we all have to step up our game in the courtship department.

That is, unless one is sporting the Romance Pants.

[via /r/DIY]

Hackerspace Jukebox!

Depending on whom you talk to, music can be an integral part of getting work done. At the Hackheim hackerspace in Trondheim, Norway, [Nikolai Ovesen] thought that the previous system of playing music over Bluetooth took away from the collaborative, interactive spirit of the space. Solution: a weekend build of a Raspberry Pi-powered jukebox.

The jukebox is simply laser-cut from plywood and bolted together. Inside, the touchscreen is mounted using double-sided tape, with the Raspberry Pi 3 and buck converter mounted on its rear with motherboard spacers. An IBM ThinkPad power cable was re-purposed and modified so it supplies the amp, as well as the Pi and touchscreen through the buck converter.

Once everything was connected, tested, and fired up, a bit of clever software working around had to be done in order to get Golang working, along with setting up the touchscreen and amp. Hackers interact with the jukebox using the Mopidy music server and its Mopify(Spotify) plugin — but they can also request songs through a bot in the Hackheim Slack channel.

Continue reading “Hackerspace Jukebox!”

Music Reading for Machines

“Dammit Jim, I’m a hacker, not a musician!”, to paraphrase McCoy Scotty from the original Star Trek series. Well, some of us are also musicians, some, like me, are also hack-musicians, and some wouldn’t know a whole note from a treble clef. But every now and then the music you want is in the form of sheet music and you need to convert that to something your hack can play. If you’re lucky, you can find software that will read the sheet music for you and spit out a MIDI or WAV file. Or, as with my hand-cranked music player, you may have to read just enough of the music yourself to convert musical notes to frequencies for something like a 555 timer chip. We’ll dive into both cases here.

Continue reading “Music Reading for Machines”

A MIDI Harmonica

MIDI, or Musical Instrument Digital Interface, has been the standard for computer control of musical instruments since the 1980s. It is most often associated with electronic instruments such as synthesisers, drum machines, or samplers, but there is nothing to stop it being applied to almost any instrument when combined with the appropriate hardware.

[phearl3ss1] pushes this to the limit by adding MIDI to the most unlikely of instruments. A harmonica might seem to be the ultimate in analogue music, yet he’s created an ingenious Arduino-powered mechanism to play one under MIDI control.

The harmonica itself is mounted on a drawer slide coupled to a wheel taken from a pool sweeper and powered by a motor  that can move the instrument from side to side with a potentiometer providing positional feedback to form a simple servo. The air supply comes from a set of three bellows driven via a crank from another motor, and is delivered by what looks like a piece of PVC pipe to the business end of the harmonica.

The result is definitely a playable MIDI harmonica, though it doesn’t quite catch the essence of the human-played instrument. Judge for yourselves, he’s posted a build video which we’ve placed below the break.

Continue reading “A MIDI Harmonica”

DIY Tiny Single-PCB Synthesizer

[Jan Ostman] has been pushing the limits of sound synthesis on the lowly AVR ATMega microcontrollers, and his latest two project is so cute that we just had to write it up. The miniTS shares the same basic sound-generation firmware with his previous TinyTS, which we’ve covered here before, but adds a lot more keys, an OLED, and MIDI, while taking away some of the knobs.

Both feature keyboards that are just copper pads placed over a ground plane, and the code does simple capacitive-sensing to figure out if they’re being touched or not. The point here is that you could pick up a PCB from [Jan] on the cheap, and experiment around with the code. Or you could just take the code and make a less refined version for yourself with a cheapo Arduino and some copper plates.

Either way, we like the combination of minimal materials and maximum tweakability, and think it’s cool that [Jan] shares the code, if not also the PCB designs. Anyone with PCB layout practice could get a clone worked up in an afternoon, although it’s going to be cheaper to get these made in bulk, and you’re probably better off just buying one from [Jan].