Learn What Did and Didn’t Work In this Prototyping Post-Mortem

[Tommy] is a one-man-shop making electronic musical things, but that’s not what this post is about. This post is about the outstanding prototyping post-mortem he wrote up about his attempt to turn his Four-Step Octaved Sequencer into a viable product. [Tommy] had originally made a hand-soldered one-off whose performance belied its simple innards, and decided to try to turn it into a product. Short version: he says that someday there will be some kind of sequencer product like it available from him, “[B]ut it won’t be this one. This one will go on my shelf as a reminder of how far I’ve come.”

The unit works, looks great, has a simple parts list, and the bill of materials is low in cost. So what’s the problem? What happened is that through prototyping, [Tommy] learned that his design will need many changes before it can be used to create a product, and he wrote up everything he learned during the process. Embedded below is a demo of the prototype that shows off how it works and what it can do, and it helps give context to the lessons [Tommy] shares.

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Basic Sequencer for your Synth Rack

Sequencers are useful for bringing regular structure to your music, particularly if you enjoy noodling around with rackmount synthesizers. [little-scale] is here to share an ADC Binary Gate sequencer for your setup.

In a quest for ever greater minimalism, the build relies on a barebones ATMega328p without an external oscillator. Instead, the chip’s internal RC oscillator is used instead. It’s possible to still use this with the Arduino IDE, as [little-scale] shares here.

The music production begins with a clock input signal, which is patched in from elsewhere in the rack synth. The sequencing is controlled with potentiometers. There are four potentiometers, and four corresponding output channels.  The pots are all read with the onboard analog to digital converters, and the position transformed into an 8-bit value, from 0 to 255. Our best understanding is that the 8-bit number is then used as the sequence to follow. For example, if the potentiometer is set to 255, which is 11111111 in binary, the sequencer will trigger on every beat. If instead the potentiometer was turned to around 2/3rds of the maximum, and the ADC reads a value of 170, in binary this is 10101010 which would trigger on every second beat.

It’s an interesting way to sequence several channels with the bare minimum of input devices. While it may not be the most intuitive system, it really suits the knob-and-dial noodling so relished by rackmount fanatics. Be sure to check out the video below for [little-scale]’s rackmount sounds and impressively pretty videography.  Never before did breadboards look so good.

New to rack mount synths? Check this one out.




The Grafofon: An Optomechanical Sequencer

There are quick hacks, there are weekend projects and then there are years long journeys towards completion.  [Boris Vitazek]’s grafofon falls into the latter category. His creation can best be described as electromechanical sequencer synthesizer with a multiplayer mode.
The storage medium and interface for this sequencer is a thirteen-meter loop of paper that is mounted like a conveyor belt. Music is composed by drawing on the paper or placing objects on it. This is usually done by the audience and the fact that the marker isn’t erased make the result collaborative and incremental.
 These ‘scores’ are read by a camera and interpreted by software.This is a very vague description of this device, for a reason: the build went on over six years and both hard- and software went through several revisions in that time. It started as a trigger for MIDI notes and evolved from there.
In his write up [Boris] explains the technical aspects of each iteration. He also tells the stories of the people he met while working on the grafofon and how they influenced the build. If this look into the art world reminds you of your local hackerspace, it is because these worlds aren’t that far apart.

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Four Chords Should Be Enough For Anyone

You might be surprised at how many pop songs are exactly the same. Cat Scratch Fever is the exact same song as Smoke on the Water. Even one of Yeezy’s songs is strikingly similar to a weird 90s French electronic group. Musically, though, there are an incredible number of songs that follow a I-V-vi-IV progression. Let it Be is one of them, as is Beast of Burden. Lady Gaga’s Poker Face is another. Now, finally, we have automated most of the pop songs you know and love. [Sven] has created a small MIDI device that only plays a I-V-vi-IV progression, and it’s everything you could ever imagine.

The idea for this build comes from an Axis of Awesome routine demonstrating the fact that hundreds of pop songs follow the same progression. After the idea, the implementation, like the music all those millennials are listening to, is simple.

The 4chord MIDI is a small board with an old Nokia display, four buttons, a single USB port, and an ATMega328 microcontroller. Using MIDI over USB, it plays the I-V-vi-IV progression in any key. It plays in chord mode, arpeggiated mode, or mixed mode at any sensible tempo.

You can check out a video of the 4chord playing several hundred songs simultaneously below.

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Hackaday Prize Entry: Zappotron Super Sequencer

If you fancy a go at circuit bending, where do you start? Perhaps you find a discarded musical toy at a junk sale and have a poke around, maybe you find the timing circuit and pull it a little to produce a pitch bend. Add a few wires, see what interesting things you can do connecting point A to point B, that kind of thing.

Many of us have spent an entertaining afternoon playing in this way, though it’s probable few of us have achieved much of note. [Russell Kramer] however must have persevered to become a circuit bender par excellence, as his latest project is one of the most accomplished circuit bending projects we’ve seen.

Zappotron Super Sequencer is an analog sequencer. Except that sentence simply doesn’t convey what it really is, it’s an analog sequencer with four sound sources: two tape decks, a 4046 oscillator, and a circuit-bent spelling tutor toy, and its sequencer component is controlled with a Nintendo light gun and a CRT screen.

You might be thinking that you could do all that with relative ease on a modern single board computer, but what makes this project so special is that he’s achieved it using only logic chips and diode logic gates, not a microprocessor in sight save for the one in the spelling toy. The build log goes through all the circuitry in detail, and we have to tell you it’s a work of art that demonstrated his mastery of both analog circuitry and digital logic.

To cap it all off he’s mounted it in a gloriously retro console, complete with retro embossed labeling. This is a high-quality item that we’d suggest you take a while to read about in detail. He’s posted a video demonstration if you’d like to see it in action, we’ve posted it below the break.

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LEGO Looper Makes Modular Music

This LEGO synth made by [Rare Beasts] had us grinning from ear to ear.

It combines elements from LEGO Mindstorms with regular blocks in order to make music with color. A different music sample is assigned to each of five colors: red, blue, green, yellow, and white. The blocks are attached to spokes coming off of a wheel made with NXT an EV3. As the wheel turns, the blocks pass in front of a fixed color sensor that reads the color and plays the corresponding sample. The samples are different lengths, so changing the speed of the wheel makes for some interesting musical effects.

As you’ll see in the short video after the break, [Rare Beasts] starts the wheel moving slowly to demonstrate the system. Since the whole thing is made of LEGO, the blocks are totally modular. Removing a few of them here and there inserts rests into the music, which makes the result that much more complex.

LEGO is quite versatile, and that extends beyond playtime. It can be used to automate laboratory tasks, braid rope, or even simulate a nuclear reactor. What amazing creations have you made with it? Let us know in the comments.

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Orbs Light to Billie Jean on this Huge Sequencer

Sequencers allow you to compose a melody just by drawing the notes onto a 2D grid, virtually turning anyone with a moderate feel for pitch and rhythm into an electronic music producer. For  [Yuvi Gerstein’s] large-scale grid MIDI sequencer GRIDI makes music making even more accessible.

Instead of buttons, GRIDI uses balls to set the notes. Once they’re placed in one of the dents in the large board, they will play a note the next time the cursor bar passes by. 256 RGB LEDs in the 16 x 16 ball grid array illuminate the balls in a certain color depending on the instrument assigned to them: Drum sounds are blue, bass is orange and melodies are purple.

Underneath the 2.80 x 1.65 meters (9.2 x 4.5 foot) CNC machined, sanded and color coated surface of the GRIDI, an Arduino Uno controls all the WS2812 LEDs and reads back the switches that are used to detect the balls. A host computer running Max/MSP synthesizes the ensemble. The result is the impressive, interactive, musical art installation you’re about to see in the following video. What better tune to try out first than that of Billie Jean whose lighted sidewalk made such an impression on the original music video.

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