Synthbike Rolls To The Beat

Modular synthesizers are some of the ultimate creative tools for the electronic musician. By experimenting with patch leads, knobs and switches, all manner of rhythmic madness can be conjured out of the æther. While they may overflow with creative potential, modular synths tend to fall down in portability. Typically built into studio racks and composed of many disparate modules, it’s not the sort of thing you can just take down the skate park for a jam session. If only there was a solution – enter the madness that is Synth Bike.

Synth Bike, here seen in the 2.0 revision, impresses from the get go, being built upon a sturdy Raleigh Chopper chassis. The way we see it, if you’re going to build a synth into a bicycle, why not do it with some style? From there, the build ratchets up in intensity. There’s a series of sequencer modules, most of which run individual Arduino Nanos. These get their clock from either a master source, an external jack, or from a magnetic sensor which picks up the rotation of the front wheel. Your pace dictates the tempo, so you’ll want to work those calves for extended raves at the park.

The features don’t stop there – there are drums courtesy of a SparkFun WAV Trigger, an arcade button keyboard, and a filter board running the venerable PT2399 digital delay chip. It’s all assembled on a series of panels with wires going everywhere, just like a true modular should be.

The best thing is, despite the perplexing controls and arcane interface, it actually puts out some hot tunes. It’s  not the first modular we’ve seen around these parts, either.


Bringing Guitar Synthesis To The Microcontroller

If you’re working with audio in an embedded environment, the best option for years now has been the Teensy 3 microcontroller board. This choice has mostly been due to its incredible power and audio libraries, but until now we really haven’t seen a stompbox-style interface that used the Teensy to its fullest extent. Now we have, in [Wolkstein]’s GitSynth, everything you could want in a synthesizer that processes the signals from an electric guitar.

The core of this build is a Teensy 3, and all the audio goodies that come with that. Also included is a USB MIDI and audio interface, smartly both attached to a panel-mount USB-B connector on the back of the stompbox. Other controls include a single mono in jack for guitars and synths, two mono out jacks for stereo-ish output, a bunch of footswitches for bypass, tap tempo, preset selection, a jack for an expression pedal, and some buttons to move around the LCD user interface.

While putting a powerful microcontroller in a stomp box for is a project we’ve seen many times, this project really shines with the MIDI GUI that’s built for a device with a real display and a mouse. [Wolkstein] built a PyQt-based app for this synth, and it’s a plethora of buttons and sliders that looks similar enough to a real synthesizer. There’s enough configurability here for anyone.

You can check out the demo video (in German, but auto-translate subtitles exist) below.

Thanks [Mynaru] for the tip!

Continue reading “Bringing Guitar Synthesis To The Microcontroller”

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.

Continue reading “Learn What Did and Didn’t Work In this Prototyping Post-Mortem”

Water Level Sensors, Alexa in a Fish, and Modular Synths During World Create Day

On Saturday we saw a flood of interesting hacks come to life as more than 100 community organized meetups were held for World Create Day. Thank you to all of the organizers who made these events possible, and for everyone who decided to get together and hack.

Students Learning Hardware Design in Islamabad, Pakistan

The students at LearnOBots took on a slew of great projects during World Create Day like a smart medicine dispenser, electronics that control mains appliances, parking sensors, and a waste bin that encourages you to feed it. The group did a wonderful job of showing off their event by publishing several updates with pictures, stories, and video presentations from all the students. Nice work!

Continue reading “Water Level Sensors, Alexa in a Fish, and Modular Synths During World Create Day”

Google Builds A Synthesizer With Neural Nets And Raspberry Pis.

AI is the new hotness! It’s 1965 or 1985 all over again! We’re in the AI Rennisance Mk. 2, and Google, in an attempt to showcase how AI can allow creators to be more… creative has released a synthesizer built around neural networks.

The NSynth Super is an experimental physical interface from Magenta, a research group within the Big G that explores how machine learning tools can create art and music in new ways. The NSynth Super does this by mashing together a Kaoss Pad, samples that sound like General MIDI patches, and a neural network.

Here’s how the NSynth works: The NSynth hardware accepts MIDI signals from a keyboard, DAW, or whatever. These MIDI commands are fed into an openFrameworks app that uses pre-compiled (with Machine Learning™!) samples from various instruments. This openFrameworks app combines and mixes these samples in relation to whatever the user inputs via the NSynth controller. If you’ve ever wanted to hear what the combination of a snare drum and a bassoon sounds like, this does it. Basically, you’re looking at a Kaoss pad controlling rompler that takes four samples and combines them, with the power of Neural Networks. The project comes with a set of pre-compiled and neural networked samples, but you can use this interface to mix your own samples, provided you have a beefy computer with an expensive GPU.

Not to undermine the work that went into this project, but thousands of synth heads will be disappointed by this project. The creation of new audio samples requires training with a GPU; the hardest and most computationally expensive part of neural networks is the training, not the performance. Without a nice graphics card, you’re limited to whatever samples Google has provided here.

Since this is Open Source, all the files are available, and it’s a project that uses a Raspberry Pi with a laser-cut enclosure, there is a huge demand for this machine learning Kaoss pad. The good news is that there’s a group buy on, and there’s already a seller on Tindie should you want a bare PCB. You can, of course, roll your own, and the Digikey cart for all the SMD parts comes to about $40 USD. This doesn’t include the OLED ($2 from China), the Raspberry Pi, or the laser cut enclosure, but it’s a start. Of course, for those of you who haven’t passed the 0805 SMD solder test, it looks like a few people will be selling assembled versions (less Pi) for $50-$60.

Is it cool? Yes, but a basement-bound producer that wants to add this to a track will quickly learn that training machine learning algorithms cost far more than playing with machine algorithms. The hardware is neat, but brace yourself for disappointment. Just like AI suffered in the late 60s and the late 80s. We’re in the AI Renaissance Mk. 2, after all.

Continue reading “Google Builds A Synthesizer With Neural Nets And Raspberry Pis.”

SID Organ Pulls Out All the Stops

Someone left this organ out in the rain, but [Tinkartank] rescued it and has given it a new life as a SID controller. What’s a SID, you ask? That’s the sound chip Commodore used in the C64, a remarkable chip revered among retro gamers that was way ahead of its time.

He threw out everything but the keyboard assembly for the build. Each key press now drives a momentary button, and those are all wired up to an Arduino Mega through some I/O expansion boards left over from another project. The Mega drives the MOS6581 SID chip which generates those sweet chiptunes. There are four CV outs for expanding the organ’s horizons with Eurorack modules.

Our favorite part is the re-use of the stop knobs — particularly that they are actuated the same way as before. The knobs still technically control the sound, but in a new way — now they turn pots that change the arpeggio, frequency, or whatever he wants ’em to do.

The plans for the future revolve around switching to a Teensy to help out with memory issues. Although it’s a work in progress, this organ already has a ton of features. Be sure to check them out after the break.

Once you dive down the chiptunes rabbit hole, you might want to take them everywhere.  When you get to that point, here’s a portable SID player. A SIDman, if you will.

Continue reading “SID Organ Pulls Out All the Stops”

The Tiniest Of 555 Pianos

The 555 timer is one of that special club of integrated circuits that has achieved silicon immortality. Despite its advanced age and having had its functionality replicated and superceded in almost every way, it remains in production and is still extremely popular because it’s simply so useful. If you are of A Certain Age a 555 might well have been the first integrated circuit you touched, and in turn there is a very good chance that your project with it would have been a simple electric organ.

If you’d like to relive that project, perhaps [Alexander Ryzhkov] has the answer with his 555 piano. It’s an entry in our coin cell challenge, and thus uses a CMOS low voltage 555 rather than the power-hungry original, but it’s every bit the classic 555 oscillator with a switchable resistor ladder you know and love.

Physically the piano is a tiny PCB with surface-mount components and physical buttons rather than the stylus organs of yore, but as you can see in the video below the break it remains playable. We said it was tiny, but some might also use tinny.

Continue reading “The Tiniest Of 555 Pianos”