[Kevin] over at Simple DIY ElectroMusic Projects recently upgraded his Lo-Fi Orchestra. To celebrate his 400th blog post, he programmed it to play Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture. Two Arduino Nanos, four Arduino Unos, four Raspberry Pi Picos, and one Raspberry Pi have joined the Lo-Fi Orchestra this year, conducted by a new Pico MIDI Splitter. Changes were made in every section of the orchestra except percussion. We are delighted that the Pringles tom and plastic tub bass drums remain, not to mention the usual assortment of cheap mixers, amps, and speakers.
Tchaikovsky’s score famously calls for some “instruments” not found in the typical orchestra — a battery of cannon and a carillon, for example. Therefore [Kevin] had to supplement the Lo-Fi Orchestra for this performance with extras — a JQ6500 MP3 module on clash cymbals, a bare metal MiniDexed Raspberry Pi playing the carillon, and a MCP4725 with a Lots-of-LEDs shield firing off cannon and fireworks, respectively.
Although slightly disappointed that the MCP4725 beat out Mr. Fireworks in the auditions, we do like the result. [Kevin] reports that the latest version is much more reliable and predictable, having eliminated various MIDI faults and electrical noise. It presents a stable platform for future musical presentations, a kind of on-demand Lo-Fi Orchestra jukebox, as he describes it. A detailed review of all the changes can be found in his explanatory blog post. Check out an earlier performance of Holst’s The Planets suite from our coverage back in 2021.
Hardware projects often fall into three categories: Those that flash lights, those that make sounds and those that move. This virtuoso performance by [Kevin]’s “Lo-Fi Orchestra” manages all three, whilst doing an excellent job of reproducing the 1973 musical classic Tubular Bells by Mike Oldfield.
Producing decent polyphonic sounds of different timbres simultaneously is a challenge for simple microcontroller boards like Arduinos, so [Kevin] has embraced the “More is more” philosophy and split up the job of sound generation in much the same way as a traditional orchestra might. Altogether, 11 Arduino Nanos, 6 Arduino Unos, an Arduino Pro Mini, an Adafruit Feather 32u4, and a Raspberry Pi running MT32-Pi make up this electronic ensemble.
The servo & relay drumkit is a particular highlight, providing some physical sounds to go along with the otherwise solid-state generation.
The whole project is “conducted” over MIDI and the flashing sequencer in the middle gives a visual indication of the music that is almost hypnotic. The performance is split into two videos (after the break), and will be familiar to fans of 70’s music and classic horror movies alike. We’re astonished how accurately [Kevin] has captured the mood of the original recording.
Playing music as part of a group typically requires that not only are all of the instruments tuned to each other, but also that the musicians play in a specific key. For some musicians, like pianists and percussionists, this is not terribly difficult as their instruments are easy to play in any key. At the other end of the spectrum would be the diatonic harmonica, which is physically capable of playing in a single key only. Other orchestral instruments, on the other hand, are typically made for a specific key but can transpose into other keys with some effort. But, if you have 3D printed your instrument like this bass clarinet from [Jared], then you can build it to be in whichever key you’d like.
The bass clarinet is typically an instrument that comes in the key of B flat, but [Jered] wanted one that was a minor third lower. Building a traditional clarinet is not exactly the easiest process, so he turned to his 3D printer. In order to get the instrument working with the plastic parts, he had to make a lot of the levers and keys much larger than the metal versions on a standard instrument, and he made a number of design changes to some of the ways the keys are pressed. Most of his changes simply revert back to clarinet designs from the past, and it’s interesting to see how simpler designs from earlier time periods lend themselves to additive manufacturing.
While [Jared] claims that the two instruments have slightly different tones, our amateur ears have a hard time discerning the difference. He does use a standard clarinet bell but other than that it’s impressive how similar the 3D printed version sounds to the genuine article. As to why it’s keyed differently than the standard, [Jared] points out that it’s just interesting to try new things, and his 3D printer lets him do that. We’d be happy to have another instrument in our 3D printed orchestra, too.
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.
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.
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.
[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.