The Fart Box, A Synthesizer Not Quite Like Others

[lookmumnocomputer] enjoys creating synthesizers, and early last year he created one called The Fart Box. It is an entirely analog synthesizer with which, according to its creator, it is difficult to make anything that doesn’t sound gassy. It’s not quite like any other synthesizer, and while it is capable of acting like a regular analog synth it is never very far from cranking out farty sounds.

One may think this is just a gimmick, but it can actually be quite musical. There’s a good demonstration at the 7:09 mark in the video of what it can do. Entirely hand-made, it’s definitely a labor of love. There’s a bill of materials and a wiring diagram (of a sort) for anyone who is interested in such details, but it looks like it was a limited run only. [lookmumnocomputer]’s whole video is embedded below, and he demonstrates its ability to act more like a “normal” synthesizer around 8:30.

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Hackaday Podcast 055: The Most Cyberpunk Synthesizer, Data In Your Cells, Bubbly In Your Printer, And The Dystopian Peepshow

Hackaday editors Mike Szczys and Elliot Williams discuss the many great hacks of the past week. Just in case you missed the fact that we’re living in the cyberpunk future, you can now pop off your prosthetic hand and jack directly into a synthesizer. The robot headed for Mars has a flying drone in its belly. Now they’re putting foaming agent in filament to make it light and flexible. And did you ever wonder why those pinouts were so jumbled?

Take a look at the links below if you want to follow along, and as always tell us what you think about this episode in the comments!

Direct download (~60 MB)

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Hacked Prosthesis Leads To Mind-Controlled Electronic Music

As amazing as prosthetic limbs have become, and as life-changing as they can be for the wearer, they’re still far from perfect. Prosthetic hands, for instance, often lack the precise control needed for fine tasks. That’s a problem for [Bertolt Meyer], an electronic musician with a passion for synthesizers with tiny knobs, a problem he solved by hacking his prosthetic arm to control synthesizers with his mind. (Video, embedded below.)

If that sounds overwrought, it’s not; [Bertolt]’s lower arm prosthesis is electromyographically (EMG) controlled through electrodes placed on the skin of his residual limb. In normal use, he can control the servos inside the hand simply by thinking about moving muscles. After experimenting a bit with an old hand, he discovered that the amplifiers in the prosthesis could produce a proportional control signal based on his inputs, and with a little help from synthesizer manufacturer KOMA Electronik, he came up with a circuit that can replace his hand and generate multiple control voltage channels. Plugged into any of the CV jacks on his Eurorack modular synths, he now has direct mind control of his music.

We have to say this is a pretty slick hack, and hats off to [Bertolt] for being willing to do the experiments and for enlisting the right expertise to get the job done. Interested in the potential for EMG control? Of course there’s a dev board for that, and [Bil Herd]’s EMG signal processing primer should prove helpful as well.

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Synthfonio Makes Music Easy Like Sunday Morning

This one goes out to anyone who loves music and feels it in their soul, but doesn’t necessarily understand it in their head. No instrument should stand in the way of expression, but it seems like they all do (except for maybe the kazoo).

[FrancoMolina]’s hybrid synth-MIDI controller is a shortcut between the desire to play music and actually doing it. Essentially, you press one of the buttons along Synthfonio’s neck to set the scale, and play the actual notes by pressing limit switches in the controller mounted on the body. If you’re feeling blue, you can shift to minor scales by pressing the relative minor note’s neck button at the same time as the root note, e.g. A+C=Am. Want to change octaves? Just slide the entire controller up or down for a total of three.

All of these switches are muxed to two Arduinos — an MKR1010 for USB MIDI control, and a bare ‘328 to provide the baked-in synth sounds. Power comes from a stepped-up 18650 that can be charged with an insanely cheap board from that one site. [Franco] has all the code and files available, so go have fun making music without being turned off by a bunch of theory. Push that button there to check out the demo.

If ‘portable’ means pocket-sized to you, then let this mini woodwind MIDI controller take your breath away.

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One Chip Does It All In This MacGuyver Synth

When you think of simple synths, what components come to mind? All you really need to make one is an oscillator, an amplifier, and some kind of input such that you can play different notes. Our favorite go-to for churning out square waves is probably the 40106 IC, which has six inverting Schmitt triggers, and then usually a 386 to amplify the output.

But it’s possible to go even simpler than that, and school is in session with [Jule] giving the lesson. [Jule]’s little analog synth uses a single IC for both the oscillator and the amplifier — a TL072 op-amp. The rest is made of purely discrete components.

[Jule] says those momentary switches are sub-par, and will add a vibrato effect if properly wiggled while pressed. To us, the buttons looks pretty nice, and much easier to jam out with than the ones with 1/8″ diameter actuators. Plus, whenever you press multiple buttons, the additive resistance unlocks the synth’s inner R2D2 voice. We really see no downsides here.

By default, this is an eight-button synth tuned to C major. But there’s a surprise — you can plug different capacitors into a piece of header and change the octave on the fly. Check it out after the break.

Making pitch-correct frequencies requires weird resistor values, which we can usually satisfy with two resistors in series. But wait, what’s up with resistor values, anyway? And why do they have a color code?

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Additive, Multi-Voice Synth Preserves Sounds, Too

For his final project in [Bruce Land]’s microcontroller design class, [Mark] set out to make a decently-sized synth that sounds good. We think you’ll agree that he succeeded in spades. Don’t let those tiny buttons fool you, because it doesn’t sound like a toy.

Why does it sound so good? One of the reasons is that the instrument samples are made using additive synthesis, which essentially stacks harmonic overtones on top the fundamental frequency of each note. This allows synthesizers to better mimic the timbre of natural, acoustic sounds. For each note [Mark] plays, you’re hearing a blend of four frequencies constructed from lookup tables. These frequencies are shaped by an envelope function that improves the sound even further.

Between the sound and the features, this is quite an impressive synth. It can play polyphonically in piano, organ, or plucked string mode through a range of octaves. A PIC32 runs the synthesizer itself, and a pair of helper PIC32s can be used to record songs to be played over. So [Mark] could record point and counterpoint separately and play them back together, or use the helper PICs to fine-tune his three-part harmony. We’ve got this thing plugged in and waiting for you after the break.

If PICs aren’t what you normally choose, here’s an FPGA synth.

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A STM32 Tonewheel Organ Without A Single Tonewheel

The one thing you might be surprised not to find in [Laurent]’s beautiful tonewheel organ build is any tonewheels at all.

Tonewheels were an early way to produce electronic organ sounds: by spinning a toothed wheel at different frequencies and transcending the signal one way or another it was possible to synthesize quite an array of sounds. We like to imagine that they’re all still there in [Laruent]’s organ, albeit very tiny, but the truth is that they’re being synthesized entirely on an STM32 micro controller.

The build itself is beautiful and extremely professional looking. We were unaware that it was possible to buy keybeds for a custom synthesizer, but a model from FATAR sits at the center of the show. There’s a MIDI encoder board and a Nucleo development board inside, tied together with a custom PCB. The UI is an momentary encoder wheel and a display from Mikroelektronika.

You can see and hear this beautiful instrument in the video after the break.

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