On today’s episode of “Will it MIDI?” we have the common slide whistle. Spoiler alert: yes, it will, and the results are just on the edge of charming and — well, a little weird.
As maker [mitxela] points out, for all its simplicity, the slide whistle is a difficult instrument to play. Or, at least a difficult one to hit a note repeatably. It’s a bit like a tiny plastic trombone, in that both lack keys or stops that limit the vibrating column of air to a specific length. Actually, the beginning of the video below shows a clever fix for that problem on the slide whistle using magnets, but that’s mainly a side project.
[mitxela]’s MIDI-fication of the slide whistle required a bit more than a few magnets. To move the slide to defined positions, a pair of high-precision servos was connected by a laser-cut plywood scissors linkage. The lung-power of the musician is replaced by a small electric blower, mounted away from the whistle and supplying air through a long hose. The fan’s speed, and therefore the speed of the airflow, can be varied; this prevents low notes from shifting up in register from over-blowing, if that’s the right term. Another servo controls a damper that shuts off the flow of air from the mouth of the whistle to control notes without having to turn off the fan completely. The main article goes into detail about the control electronics and the calibration process.
The video has a few
YouTube copyright strikes demo songs, and we have to say we’re impressed with the responsiveness of the mechanism. Some will object to the excess servo noise, but we found it nice — almost like guitar string-squeak. We like the tunes where [mitxela]’s servo-plucked music box joined in, too.