The Quadrivium EnsembleBot Is A Labour Of Love

The Quadrivium EnsembleBot project is a mashup between old school musical instruments and the modern MIDI controlled world. Built by a small team over several years, these hand crafted instruments look and sound really nice.

The electronics side of things is taken care of with a pile of Arduinos and off-the-shelf modules, but that doesn’t mean the design isn’t well thought through, if a little more complicated than it could be in places. Control is taken care of with a PC sending commands over the USB to an Arduino 2560. This first Arduino is referred to as the Master Controller and has the immediate job of driving the percussive instruments as well as other instruments that are struck with simple solenoids. All these inductive loads are switched via opto-isolators to keep any noise generated by switching away from the microcontroller. A chain of four sixteen-channel GPIO expander modules are hung off the I2C bus to give even more opto-isolated outputs, as even the Arduino 2560 doesn’t quite have enough GPIO pins available. The are a number of instruments that have more complex control requirements, and these are connected to dedicated slave Arduinos via an SPI-to-CAN module. These are in various states of development, which we’ll be keeping our beady eyes on.

One of the more complex instruments is the PipeDream61 which is their second attempt to build a robotic pipe organ. This is powered by a Teensy, as they considered the Arduino to be a little too tight on resources. This organ has a temperature controller using an ATTiny85, in order to further relieve the main controller of such a burden and simplify the development a little.

Another interesting instrument is Robro, which is a robotic resophonic guitar which as they say is still work in progress despite how long they have been trying to get it to work. There’s clearly a fair bit of control complexity here, which is why it is taking so much fiddling (heh!) to get it work.

This project is by no means unique, lately we’ve covered controlling a church organ with MIDI, as well as a neat Arduino Orchestra, but the EnsembleBot is just so much more.

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Arduino Orchestra Plays The Planets Suite

We’ve seen a great many Arduino synthesizer projects over the years. We love to see a single Arduino bleeping out some monophonic notes. From there, many hackers catch the bug and the sky is truly the limit. [Kevin] is one such hacker who now has an Arduino orchestra capable of playing all seven movements of Gustav Holst’s Planets Suite.

The performers are not human beings with expensive instruments, but simple microcontrollers running code hewn by [Kevin’s] own fingertips. The full orchestra consists of 11 Arduino Nanos, 6 Arduino Unos, 1 Arduino Pro Mini, 1 Adafruit Feather 32u4, and finally, a Raspberry Pi.

Different synths handle different parts of the performance. There are General MIDI synths on harp and bass, an FM synth handling wind and horn sections, and a bunch of relays and servos serving as the percussive section. The whole orchestra comes together to do a remarkable, yet lo-fi, rendition of the whole orchestral work.

While it’s unlikely to win any classical music awards, it’s a charming recreation of a classical piece and it’s all the more interesting coming from so many disparate parts working together. It’s an entirely different experience than simply listening to a MIDI track playing on a set of headphones.

We’d love to see some kind of hacker convention run a contest for the best hardware orchestra. It could become a kind of demoscene contest all its own. In the meantime, scope one of [Kevin’s] earlier projects on the way to this one – 12 Arduinos singing Star Wars tracks all together. Video after the break.

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How Many Commodores Does It Take To Crack A Nut?

It’s brilliant enough when composers make use of the “2SID” technique to double the channels in a Commodore 64 with two sound chips, but even then some people like to kick things up a notch. Say, five times more. [David Youd], [David Knapp] and [Joeri van Haren] worked together to bring us just that, ten Commodore computers synchronously playing a beautiful rendition of the Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy at this year’s Commodore Retro eXpo.

The feat is composed of nine Commodore 64 computers and one Commodore 128, all fitted with the SID chip. It is a notorious synthesizer chip for utilizing both analog and digital circuitry, making each and every one of its revisions unique to a trained ear, not to mention impossible to faithfully reproduce in emulation. The SID was designed by Bob Yannes at MOS Technology, who later went on to co-found Ensoniq with his experience in making digital synthesizers.

How this orchestra of retro computers came to be, including details on how everything is pieced together can be found on this slideshow prepared by the authors of the exhibition. It’s interesting to note that because of timing differences in each computer’s crystal clock and how only the start of the song is synchronized between them, they can’t play long music tracks accurately yet, but a 90-second piece works just fine for this demonstration.

These synthesizer chips are slowly going extinct since they’re no longer being manufactured, so if you need a new replacement solution, FPGAs can fill that SID-shaped hole in your heart. If you need the whole computer though, the newer Teensy 3.6 will do just fine emulating it all. Check out this beast of a display in action after the break. While we’re at it, this isn’t the only time multiple 8-bit computers have been combined as an orchestra, though these Commodores sound a lot better than a table full of ZX Spectrums.

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The Hovalin: Open Source 3D Printed Violin Sounds Great

[Matt and Kaitlin Hova] have created The Hovalin, an open source 3D-printed violin. Yes, there have been 3D-printed instruments before, but [The Hovas] have created something revolutionary – a 3D printed acoustic instrument that sounds surprisingly good. The Hovalin is a full size violin created to be printed on a desktop-sized 3D printer. The Hovas mention the Ultimaker 2, Makerbot Replicator 2 (or one of the many clones) as examples. The neck is one piece, while the body is printed in 3 sections. The Hovalin is also open source, released under the Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial Share Alike license.

A pure PLA neck would not be stiff enough counter the tension in the strings, so [The Hovas] added two carbon fiber truss rods. A handful of other components such as tuners, and of course strings, also need to be purchased. The total price is slightly higher than a $60 USD starter violin from Amazon, but we’re betting the Hovalin is a better quality instrument than anything that cheap.

The Hovalin was released back in October. There are already some build logs in the wild, such as this one from [Emulsifide]. Like any good engineering project, the Hovalin is a work in progress. [Matt and Kaitlin] have already released version 1.0.1, and version 2.0 is on the horizon. Hearing is believing though, so click past the break to hear [Kaitlin] play her instrument.

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Gamelatron, A Fully Robotic Indonesian Gamelan Orchestra.

Last summer we got to have a little chat with [Aaron Taylor] about his automated Gamelan orchestra, Gamelatron. The robotic orchestra features a large collection of Indonesian gongs,  metallophones, xylophones and cymbals actuated using simple pull solenoids attached to mallets.  Gamelatron’s custom controller activates the various 24V solenoids using MIDI,  the whole thing is essentially a gigantic MIDI instrument that can be played by whatever sequencing device you so please.

[Aaron] has a variety of ways to pump MIDI into the controller including the “Padma Bhuwana”, a wooden box with 16 arcade buttons wired to an Arduino. The Arduino can either activate sequences on a computer running Ableton live or the MIDI sequence can be pumped directly out of the Arduino for a computer free interactive installation. [Aaron] also plugs his Akai MPD32 to the computer for live shows or he can just let the laptop do all the work for non-interactive installations.

The really interesting thing about having 170 or so simply actuated instruments is the ability to spread them out and fill every facet of a space. A great example of this was the Temple of Transition at Burning man 2011 where the gongs and what not else would span multiple floors. Here is a recent Wired magazine video published where [Aaron] gives a quick overview of the setup, or if you are too impatient for the ads check out a few videos of Gamelatron in at burning man and PEX summer festival after the jump. We also included [Aaron]’s kickstarter video which has a few more details on the setup (as well as irrelevant stuff about the kickstarter project that has since expired). With all the crazy midi instrument hacks we get around here it is not stretch of the imagination to see this has lots of interactive potential.

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