Remoticon Video: How To Use Max In Your Interactive Projects

When you want to quickly pull together a combination of media and user interaction, looking to some building blocks for the heavy lifting can be a lifesaver. That’s the idea behind Max, a graphical programming language that’s gained a loyal following among anyone building art installations, technology demos (think children’s museum), and user Kiosks.

Guy Dupont gets us up to speed with a how to get started with Max workshop that was held during the 2020 Hackaday Remoticon. His crash course goes through the basics of the program, and provides a set of sixteen demos that you can play with to get your feet under you. As he puts it, if you need sound, video, images, buttons, knobs, sensors, and Internet data for both input and output, then Max is worth a look. Video of the workshop can be found below.

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Making Music With A Go Board Step Sequencer

Ever wonder what your favorite board game sounds like? Neither did we. Thankfully [Sara Adkins] did, and created a step sequencer called Let’s Go that uses the classic board game Go as input.

In the game Go, two players place black and white tokens on a grid, vying for control of the board. As the game progresses, the configuration of game pieces gets more complex and coincidentally begins to resemble Conway’s Game of Life (or a weird QR Code). Sara saw music in the evolving arrangement of circles and transformed the ancient board game into a modern instrument so others could hear it too.

To an observer, [Sara’s] adaptation looks fairly indistinguishable from the version played in China 2,500 years ago — with the exception of an overhead webcam and nearby laptop, of course. The laptop uses OpenCV to digitize the board layout. It feeds that information via Open Sound Control (OSC) into popular music creation software Max MSP (though an open-source version could probably be implemented in Pure Data), where it’s used to control a step sequencer. Each row on the board represents an instrumental voice (melodic for white pieces, percussive for black ones), and each column corresponds to a beat.

Every new game is a new piece of music that starts out simple and gradually increases in complexity. The music evolves with the board, and adds a new dimension for players to interact with the game. If you want to try it out yourself, [Sara] has the project fully documented on her website, and all of the code is available on GitHub. Now we’re just left wondering what other games sound like — [tinkartank] already answered that question for chess, but what about Settlers of Catan?

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Rock Out With Toilet Paper Rolls

Singing in the shower is such a common phenomenon, rarely anyone ever bats an eye about it. Singing in the toilet on the other hand is probably going to raise an eyebrow or two, and it’s not for nothing that the Germans euphemistically call it “stilles Örtchen”, i.e. the little silent place. But who are we to judge what you do in the privacy of your home? So if you ever felt a lack of instrumental accompaniment, or forgot to bring your guitar, [Max Björverud] has just the perfect installation for you. (Video, embedded below.)

Inspired by the way bicycle computers determine your speed, [Max] took a set of toilet paper holders, extended each roll holding part with a 3D-printed attachment housing a magnet, and installed a Hall-effect sensor to determine the rolling activity. The rolls’ sensor data is then collected with an Arduino Mega and passed on to a Raspberry Pi Zero running Pure Data, creating the actual sounds. The sensor setup is briefly shown in another video.

Before you grab your pitchforks, [Max] started this project a little while back already, long before toilet paper became an object of abysmal desire. Being an artist in the field of interactive media, this also isn’t his first project of this kind, and you can find some more of his work on his website. So why of all things did we pick this one? Well, what can we say, we definitely have a weakness for strange and unusual musical instruments. And maybe there’s potential for some collaboration here?
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An Open Source Toy Synth

If you thought the future of electronic musical instruments was massive Emerson-class modular synths, giant MPCs with pads the size of Dance Dance Revolution machines, or hilariously expensive polysynths, you couldn’t be more wrong. The future is, effectively, toys. Those tiny little Korgs you can stuff in your pocket are selling like hot cakes, and Pocket Operators are king of the hill. One of the more interesting musical toys is the Organelle, an aluminum enclosure with maple buttons laid out in a keyboard configuration. It’s a synth, it’s a sound engine, and it does produce some interesting noises. All the software is Open Source, but the hardware isn’t. That leaves it up to someone else to make the hardware for the rest of us. That’s exactly what [mitchell] is doing for his Hackaday Prize entry.

The core of this build is a Nanopi Neo Core, or basically an Allwinner H3 breakout board with 256 MB of RAM running at 1.2 GHz. This runs the basic Organelle scripts, and has all the drivers to become a MIDI device. Added to that, there’s a DAC, a small TFT screen, an STM32F103 for reading the buttons, encoders, and pots, a sound card, a USB hub IC, and a battery torn from a Kindle.

The idea for this project is to have something along the lines of the Teenage Engineering OP-1, another of the very fancy ‘toy’ synths, but also to build something that anyone else can build. [mitchell] is just about there, and the prototype PCB he made actually works. There’s still a lot more work to do, but this is an exceptionally interesting project we can’t wait to see hit prime time.

Programming An Oscilloscope Breakout Game In Pure Data

[S-ol] wrote in to share his sweet breakout game played on an oscilloscope. Built in a weekend as part of a game development jam, Plonat Atek is a polar breakout game where the player attacks the center and the ball bounces around the perimeter. You can play it either on an oscilloscope or using an online emulator. [S-ol] wrote the game in Pure Data, a visual programming language for audio. The software controls the audio out channels and uses sound to control the game graphics. He also made use of the Zexy extension for Pure Data.

One of the cool things about this setup is that since the game is programmed with sound, all the sound effects also double as visual effects

We love oscilloscopes, and not just because they’re useful as hell. They also make sweet vector displays, like this analog pong game that uses a scope for a display. Even when they’re not being used for retrogaming they can be capable of some pretty amazing graphics.

Friday Hack Chat: Graphical Programming Languages With Boian Mitov

There is a long history of Visual or Graphical Programming Languages, and most of them make more sense than the name of Microsoft’s Visual Basic, C#, and Visual Studio IDE. Some people don’t like to code, and for them, graphical programming languages replace semicolons and brackets with easy-to-understand boxes and wires.

This Friday, we’re going to be talking about graphical programming languages with [Boian Mitov]. He’s a software developer, founder of Mitov Software, and the creator of Visuino, a graphical programming language for the embedded domain. Everything from the Arduino to Teensy, ESP8266, ESP32, the chipKIT, and Maple Mini are supported with this IDE. It’s a simple drag-and-drop way of programming microcontrollers that Scratches an itch (see what I did there?) for an easy way to introduce non-programmers to the embedded world and also provides a faster way to build custom applications.

When it comes to graphical programming languages, we can’t find a better Hack Chat guest than [Boian]. He’s the author of the OpenWire dataflow processing technology — another graphical programming language –, the IGDI+ library, VideoLab, SignalLab, AudioLab, PlotLab, InstrumentLab, and author of VCL for Visual C++. He’s a regular contributor to Blaise Pascal Magazine, too.

During this Hack Chat, we’ll be discussing what makes Visual Programming worth it, how and why it works, when it doesn’t and how to develop a graphical programming language. Visuino will be of special interest, And I’m sure someone will work in a, ‘what’s happening with Max/MSP under Ableton’ question. If you have a question for [Boian], here’s a question sheet to guide the discussion.

Here’s How To Take Part:

join-hack-chatOur Hack Chats are live community events on the Hack Chat group messaging. This Hack Chat will take place at noon Pacific time on Friday, August 11th. Here’s a time and date converter!

Log into, visit that page, and look for the ‘Join this Project’ Button. Once you’re part of the project, the button will change to ‘Team Messaging’, which takes you directly to the Hack Chat.

You don’t have to wait until Friday; join whenever you want and you can see what the community is talking about.

Circuit Bender Artist Bends Fresnel Lens For Art

Give some mundane, old gear to an artist with a liking for technology, and he can turn it into a mesmerizing piece of art. [dmitry] created “red, an optic-sound electronic object” which uses simple light sources and optical elements to create an audio-visual performance installation. The project was the result of his collaboration with the Prometheus Special Design Bureau in Kazan, Russia. The inspiration for this project was Crystall, a reconstruction of an earlier project dating back to 1966. The idea behind “red” was to recreate the ideas and concepts from the 60’s ~ 80’s using modern solutions and materials.

The main part of the art installation consists of a ruby red crystal glass and a large piece of flexible Fresnel lens, positioned in front of a bright LED light source. The light source, the crystal and the Fresnel lens all move linearly, constantly changing the optical properties of the system. A pair of servos flexes and distorts the Fresnel lens while another one flips the crystal glass. A lot of recycled materials were used for the actuators – CD-ROM drive, an old scanner mechanism and old electric motors. Its got a Raspberry-Pi running Pure Data and Python scripts, with an Arduino connected to the sensors and actuators. The sensors define the position of various mechanical elements in relation to the range of their movement. There’s a couple of big speakers, which means there’s a beefy amplifier thrown in too. The sounds are correlated to the movement of the various elements, the intensity of the light and probably the color. There’s two mechanical paddle levers hanging in there, if you folks want to hazard some guesses on what they do.

Check out some of [dmitry]’s earlier works which we featured. Here’s him Spinning a Pyrite Record for Art, and making Art from Brainwaves, Antifreeze, and Ferrofluid.

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