Co41D 2020 MIDI Theremin Sounds Pretty Sick

As the pandemic rages on, so does the desire to spend the idle hours tinkering. [knaylor1] spent the second UK lockdown making a sweet Theremin-inspired noise machine with a low parts count that looks like a ton of fun.

It works like this: either shine some light on the photocells, cover them up, or find some middle ground between the two. No matter what you do, you’re going to get cool sounds out of this thing.

The photocells behave like potentiometers that are set up in a voltage divider. An Arduino UNO takes readings in from the photocells, does some MIDI math, and sends the serial data to a program called Hairless MIDI, which in turn sends it to Ableton live.

[knaylor1] is using a plugin called TAL Noisemaker on top of that to produce the dulcet acid house tones that you can hear in the video after the break.

If you’ve never played with light-dependent resistors before, do yourself a favor and spend a little bit of that Christmas cash on a variety pack of these things. You don’t even need an Arduino to make noise, you can use them as the pots in an Atari Punk console or make farty square waves with a hex inverting oscillator chip like the CD40106. Our own [Elliot Williams] once devoted an entire column to making chiptunes.

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The Theremin Is 100 Years Old; Celebrating The Spookiest Of Instruments

It wouldn’t be October without Halloween, and it wouldn’t be Halloween without some spooky music. There’s no instrument spookier than a Theremin, which also happens to be one of the world’s first electronic instruments.

Leon Theremin plays his namesake instrument. Image via Linda Hall Library

You’ve no doubt heard the eerie, otherworldly tones of the Theremin in various 1950s sci-fi films, or heard the instrument’s one-of-a-kind cousin, the Electro-Theremin in “Good Vibrations” by the Beach Boys. The Theremin turns 100 years old this month, so we thought we’d take a look at this strange instrument.

One hundred years ago, a young Russian physicist named Lev Sergeyevich Termen, better known as Leon Theremin, was trying to invent a device to measure the density of various gases. In addition to the standard analog needle readout, he wanted another way to indicate the density, so he devised an oscillator whistle that would change pitch based on the density.

He discovered by accident that having his hand in the field of the antenna changed the pitch of the whistle, too. Then he did what any of us would do — played around until he made a melody, then called everyone else in the lab over to check it out.

Theremin soon showed his device to Lenin, who loved it so much that he sent Lev on a world tour to show it off. While in New York, he played it for Rachmaninoff and Toscanini. In fact you can see a video recording of Leon playing the instrument, a performance that’s more hauntingly beautiful than spooky. In 1928, he patented the Theremin in the United States and worked with RCA to produce them.

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Hackaday Podcast 026: Tamper-Proof Electronics, Selfie Drones, Rocket Fuel, Wire Benders, And Wizard-Level Soldering

Hackaday Editors Mike Szczys and Elliot Williams are back after last week’s holiday break to track down all of the hacks you missed. There are some doozies; a selfie-drone controlled by your body position, a Theremin that sings better than you can, how about a BGA hand-soldering project whose creator can’t even believe he pulled it off. Kristina wrote a spectacular article on the life and career of Mary Sherman Morgan, and Tom tears down a payment terminal he picked up in an abandoned Toys R Us, plus much more!

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 (48 MB)

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The Theremin Gets A Voice

Every once in a while, we come across a project that adds a ridiculously good twist on an existing design. This is exactly what [Xiao Xiao] and the team at LAM research group at the Institut d’Alembert in Paris have done. Their project T-VOKS is a singing and Speaking Theremin that is sure to drive everyone in the office crazy. (YouTube link, embedded below for your viewing pleasure.)

For the uninitiated, the Theremin is an electronic music instrument that does not require physical contact. Instead, it uses two antennas to sense the distance of the operators hands and uses that to modulate the pitch and volume of the output audio. From music concerts to movie background music to even scaring the neighbours, this instrument can do it all.

T-VOKS is a different take on the instrument, and it interfaces with a voice synthesizer to sing. There is an additional sensor that is used for the syllable sequencing, and the video below shows the gadget in operation. The icing on the cake is the instrument playing, or should that be singing in an actual concert. There is also a research paper detailing the operation on Dropbox[PDF] if you need the nitty-gritty.

We wonder how a TTS engine would work with this idea and hope to see some more projects like it in the future. Fore those looking to get started, have a look at the build guide for a DIY theremin.

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A Tube Theremin, Just Like Grandpa Leon Used To Make

Next year we’re arguably coming up on the centennial of electronic music, depending on whether you count the invention or the patent for the theremin its creation. Either way, this observation is early, so start arguing about it now. If you want to celebrate the century of the theremin, how about you do it just like grandpa Leon and build one out of tubes? That’s what this crowdfunding campaign is all about. It’s a theremin, and it’s made out of tubes.

Theremins are a dime a dozen around these parts, and yes, if you walk into a Guitar Center you can walk out the door with one. They’re pretty common. But being almost a hundred years old, the first theremin wasn’t made made with only silicon, this one had some dioxide thrown in. The first theremin was a tube device, which we all know has a warmer sound when connected to oxygen free cables in an oxygen free room. In any event, messing around with tubes is fun, so here’s a tube theremin.

The circuit for this theremin is constructed around two EF95 tubes and two ECF80 tubes with a heater voltage of 12 V, with 40 V used as the the rest of the circuitry. Unlike virtually every other crowdfunding campaign we’ve ever seen, there are pages of documentation, written down in text, with actual words, and no ominous clapping ukulele glockenspiel hipster music. It’s in German (Google Translatrix with the save) but we’ll take what we can get. It’s really great to see the development of this theremin, and now we’re wondering where we too can get a breadboard that’s just a piece of copper being used as a ground plane.

My Oscilloscope Uses Fire

If you want to visualize sound waves, you reach for your oscilloscope, right? That wasn’t an option in 1905 so physicist [Heinrich Rubens] came up with another way involving flames. [Luke Guigliano] and [Will Peterson] built one of these tubes — known as a Rubens’ tube — and will show you how you can, too. You can see a video of their results, below. Just in case a flame oscilloscope isn’t enough to attract your interest, they are driving the thing with a theremin for extra nerd points.

The guys show a short flame run and one with tall flames. The results are surprising, especially with the short flames. Of course, the time base is the length of the tube, so that limits your measurements. The tube has many gas jets along the length and with a sound source, the height of the flames correspond to the air pressure from the sound inside the tube.

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A $4 Ultrasonic Theremin Looks Cheesy On Purpose

We don’t think [bleepbit] will take offense when we say the “poor man’s theremin” looks cheesy — after all, it was built in a cheese container. Actually, it isn’t a bad case for a simple device, as you can see in the picture and the video below. Unlike a traditional theremin, the device uses ultrasonics to detect how far away your hand is and modifies the sound based on that.

There are also two buttons — one to turn the sound off and another to cycle through some effects. We liked how it looked like a retro cassette, though. The device uses a cheap Arduino clone, but even with a real Arduino, the price wouldn’t be too bad. However, the price tag quoted doesn’t include a few connectors or the speaker that appears in the schematic. There’s a note that the model built uses a jack instead of a speaker, but it would be nice to include both and use the kind of jack that disconnects the speaker when you plug speakers or headphones in.

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