Mechanizing A Eurorack Sequencer

Eurorack has taken over the synthesizer community, and hundreds of people are building their own eurorack modules. [Michael Forrest] designed and built his own Eurorack sequencer module that doesn’t use weird things like capacitors and chips to store a signal. Instead, he’s doing it with stepper motors and some clever engineering.

The basic idea of a Eurorack sequencer is to somehow store a series of values and play them back repeatedly. Connect that sequence to a clock, and you get the same pattern of sounds out of your synth. This can be done digitally with a circular buffer, in the analog domain with a bunch of FETs and caps, or in this case, on a piece of paper glued to a stepper motor.

The key bit of mechanism for this build is a stepper motor with 96 steps per rotation. This is important, because the module is controlled by a clock pulse from the sequencer. Since 96 is evenly divisible by 8 and 16, that means this sequencer will play back in 4/4 time. That NEMA 17 motor with 200 steps per resolution simply won’t work in this situation. Rather, it will technically work, but it’ll be unusable.

The electronics for this build are surprisingly simple, with an Arduino taking in the clock pulse and sending the step signals to an H-driver. The motor spins a paper disk, which is read with a photoresistor and a LED. It’s simple enough to be fun, and yes, it is mounted to a proper Eurorack-sized panel. You can check out the video of this build below.

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An Englishman And 48 Gameboys Walk Into A Bar…

The original Nintendo Gameboy is perhaps one of the most revered platforms for the music known as chiptune. Primarily, artists will use the console with software like LSDJ or Nanoloop to produce their compositions. Some artists will even use two consoles when performing live. However, that’s all fairly quaint as far as [LOOK MUM NO COMPUTER] is concerned.

Back in 2016, a rig was constructed with three Gameboys. With each console having 3 oscillators and a noise channel, this gave plenty of scope. There was even a facility to detune the oscillators for a fatter sound.

Yet there remains a universal human philosophy – more is always better. In this vein, the plan is to create a monster machine consisting of 48 Gameboy consoles. This offers a somewhat maddening 144 oscillators and 48 noise channels to play with. The plan is to produce a massive synthesizer capable of producing incredibly thick, dense tones with up to six note polyphony.

The hardware side of things is at once simple and ingenious. Buttons on the consoles are connected together for remote control using ribbon cables and transistors. System clocks for the consoles are provided by a LTC1799 oscillator chip, which allows the clock to be modulated for audio effects. Initial tests with up to six Gameboys running from a single clock source have been remarkably successful.

Any mad scientist could see the genius involved in this project, and we can’t wait to see the full rig in operation. If you’re just getting started with Gameboy music, check out this primer on modding your Gameboy for hi-fi sound. Video after the break.

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With Grinning Keyboard and Sleek Design, This Synth Shows It All

Stylish! is a wearable music synthesizer that combines slick design with stylus based operation to yield a giant trucker-style belt buckle that can pump out electronic tunes. With a PCB keyboard and LED-surrounded inset speaker that resembles an eyeball over a wide grin, Stylish! certainly has a unique look to it. Other synthesizer designs may have more functions, but certainly not more style.

The unit’s stylus and PCB key interface resemble a Stylophone, but [Tim Trzepacz] has added many sound synthesis features as well as a smooth design and LED feedback, all tied together with battery power and integrated speaker and headphone outputs. It may have been originally conceived as a belt buckle, but Stylish! certainly could give conference badge designs a run for their money.

The photo shown is a render, but a prototype is underway using a milled PCB and 3D printed case. [Tim]’s Google photo gallery has some good in-progress pictures showing the prototyping process along with some testing, and his GitHub repository holds all the design files, should anyone want a closer look under the hood. Stylish! was one of the twenty finalists selected for the Musical Instrument Challenge portion of the 2018 Hackaday Prize and is therefore one of the many projects in the running for the grand prize!

The Solution To DJs Playing Their MacBooks

The greatest invention relating to music in the 20th century was multi-track recording, for which we have Les Paul to thank. The second greatest? Non-linear editing and Pro Tools. For some bizarre reason, we have Ricky Martin to thank for that because Livin’ La Vida Loca was the first #1 single to be recorded and mixed entirely in Pro Tools.

The third greatest invention in recording since Edison is the plugin. If you’ve already got a computer sitting in front of you, you’ve got every instrument ever made. All you need is a plugin. [Jan] was working on his live setup recently, and didn’t want to look like a DJ playing the MacBook. Instead, he built a box that combines those powerful plugins into a single, easy to use box that sits right on top of his keyboard.

Inside this box is a modern Windows machine with a PCI Express audio interface. The display is not a touchscreen, because [Jan] originally thought a touchscreen wouldn’t be good for a live performance. He’s reconsidering that now. Other than that, you’re looking in effect at a microATX motherboard and a 10″ LCD in a box, but that’s where this build gets interesting.

The mechanical design of this build is of paramount importance, so [Jan] is using two mod wheels on the side, a bunch of silicone buttons on the bottom, and a few rotary encoders. These are MIDI controls, able to change whatever variables are available in the custom VSTs. That in itself is a pretty interesting build, with circuit bent MIDI controllers and off-the-shelf buttons.

The completed build attaches right to the Nord Stage master keyboard, and eight VST instrument channels are right at [Jan]’s fingertips. You can check out a video of this build in action below.

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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.

Don’t Forget Your Mints When Using This Synthesizer

While synthesizers in the music world are incredibly common, they’re not all keyboard-based instruments as you might be imagining. Especially if you’re trying to get a specific feel or sound from a synthesizer in order to mimic a real instrument, there might be a better style synth that you can use. One of these types is the breath controller, a synthesizer specifically built to mimic the sound of wind instruments using the actual breath from a physical person. Available breath controllers can be pricey, though, so [Andrey] built his own.

To build the synthesizer, [Andrey] used a melodica hose and mouthpiece connected to a pressure sensor. He then built a condenser circuit on a custom Arduino shield and plugged it all into an Arduino Mega (although he notes that this is a bit of overkill). From there, the Arduino needed to be programmed to act as a MIDI device and to interact with the pressure sensor, and he was well on his way to a wind instrument synthesizer.

The beauty of synthesizers is not just in their ability to match the look and sound of existing instruments but to do things beyond the realm of traditional instruments as well, sometimes for a greatly reduced price point.

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OTTO: A Pi Based Open Source Music Production Box

Want an open source portable synth workstation that won’t break the bank? Check out OTTO. [Topisani] started OTTO as a clone of the well-known Teenage Engineering OP-1. However, soon [Topisani] decided to branch away from simply cloning the OP-1 — instead, they’re taking a lot of inspiration from it in terms of form factor, but the UI will eventually be quite different.

On the hardware side, the heart of the OTTO is a Raspberry Pi 3. The all-important audio interface is a Fe-Pi Audio Z V2, though a USB interface can be used. The 48 switches and four rotary encoders are wrangled by a pair of Arduino pro micros which pass the data on to the Pi. Data is related to the user through a 320×200 LCD.

The software is being written from scratch in C++17. If you’re not a hardcore C++ developer, don’t worry. The synth engines, audio effects, and other DSP software is written in Faust, which is a bit easier to learn.

OTTO is actively being developed, with synth engines already running, a prototype in progress, and fleshed out guidelines for programming the UI. If you’re into creating music, this one is worth checking out, as is Zynthian, another Raspberry Pi based synth.