Posts with «music» label

Creating A Sonic Landscape With Glitching CD Player

CDs were a great advancement in audio quality when they were first put on the market. There’s no vinyl-style degradation of the medium if it’s played over and over, and there’s no risk of turning them into a giant pile of ribbon while rewinding like a cassette tape. The one downside was that if you were to take them on the move you needed special hardware and software to prevent the inevitable skipping. If you look at the skipping not as a downside, though, but as a way to produce interesting music, you might end up with a pretty unique piece of hardware.

[Dmitry] is known for his interesting art installations, and the latest one uses parts from three 1988 Sony D2 CD players that have been reassembled in order to take advantage of a skipping and glitching CD. The modified equipment is able to play during pause or rewind thanks to a processor modification, and can also change the rotational speed of the disc. There are other pieces of hardware included for more fine control of glitching and skipping of the audio being read off of the CD.

The new device functions as a working musical instrument, although [Dmitry] says that it is more useful for deconstructing the information stored on the disc, and exploring the medium itself. Of course if you have enough motivation, you can find sounds from almost anywhere on (or in) the planet too.

Hack a Day 28 May 06:00

Bitty is a tiny Arduino-compatible drum machine/synth

There are a wide variety of ways to create electronic music. For a capable machine that fits in the palm of your hand and is loud enough to use outdoors, however, it’s hard to imagine a battery-powered device cooler than Bitty from Curious Sound Objects. 

The pocket-sized drum machine and synthesizer, currently on Kickstarter, was prototyped using an Arduino Nano and will be fully Arduino-compatible when released. This means that in addition to changing the sound and interface around with readily-available sound packs—which include Theremin Bitty, Techno Bitty, Basement Bitty, Trap Bitty, Lofi Bitty, and Beach Bitty—it can be programmed with the Arduino IDE. The device can even run sound software written for other Arduino boards.

Bitty features four sample trigger buttons, a pair of knobs, and a speaker. Designed for entry-level EDM enthusiasts and studio musicians alike, you can play the drums and melodies manually, as well as trigger patterns to produce dance music or hip hop beats. These can be chosen via the left knob, while the right knob handles pitch, note selection, and arpeggiation.

Check it out in action below!

The Blade is a dual Game Boy chiptune keytar

Keytars may have had their moment of popularity in the 1980s, but instruments of the day can’t hold a candle to “The Blade” by makers Sam Wray, Siddharth Vadgama, and Greig Stewart. 

The musical device feeds signals from a pair of Guitar Hero necks, along with a stripped down keytar from Rock Band, into an Arduino Mega. This data is then sent to a Raspberry Pi running PD Extended, and is used to control a pair of Game Boys to produce distinct 8-bit sounds. Audio output can be further modified with a Leap Motion sensor embedded in one of the two necks. 

What makes up The Blade?

– 3D-printed housing

We custom modeled and printed a housing for the instrument to ensure it would be ergonomic to wield, hold together with all the components, and also look badass.

– Two Guitar Hero necks

The necks, hacked off a couple of old Guitar Hero controllers, were totally rewired to output the button presses to jumper cables.

– Arduino Mega

All the wiring from the Guitar Hero necks fed into the Mega, which then registered the button presses and output appropriate MIDI signals over USB serial into the Raspberry Pi.

– Rock Band keytar

We stripped this down to the bare keyboard and had the MIDI also going into the Pi.

Raspberry Pi

Taking in all the MIDI, and running PD Extended we got this to manage and re-map all the button presses we needed. This then output to a MIDI thru box.

– Arduino Boy

This fed the MIDI signals from the thru box into the Game Boy.

Game Boy

These were heart. With MIDI fed in from a multitude of sources, the Game Boy, running mGB, was the synthesizing the signals into sound, output via a standard 3.5mm jack. 

Leap Motion
The Leap Motion was used for further sound modulation.

Arduino Blog 16 Apr 19:47
arduino  keytar  mega  midi  music  

Laser Light Show Turned Into Graphical Equalizer

The gold standard for laser light shows during rock concerts is Pink Floyd, with shows famous for visual effects as well as excellent music. Not all of us have the funding necessary to produce such epic tapestries of light and sound, but with a little bit of hardware we can get something close. [James]’s latest project is along these lines: he recently built a laser light graphical equalizer that can be used when his band is playing gigs.

To create the laser lines for the equalizer bands, [James] used a series of mirrors mounted on a spinning shaft. When a laser is projected on the spinning mirrors it creates a line. From there, he needed a way to manage the height of each of the seven lines. He used a series of shrouds with servo motors which can shutter the laser lines to their appropriate height.

The final part of the project came in getting the programming done. The brain of this project is an MSGEQ7 which  takes an audio input signal and splits it into seven frequencies for the equalizer. Each one of the seven frequencies is fed to one of the seven servo-controlled shutters which controls the height of each laser line using an Arduino. This is a great project, and [James] is perhaps well on his way to using lasers for other interesting musical purposes.

Hack a Day 14 Feb 03:00

Visualize tunes with James Bruton’s laser projector graphic EQ display

If you’d like to visualize your music, VU meters make an excellent tool. While they are generally built into audio equipment, maker James Bruton had the idea to construct his own using lasers. His setup features an MSGEQ7 module to separate sound frequencies, sending data on seven different ranges to an Arduino Mega board.

The Arduino then uses this information to selectively lower seven shutters via servos. When lowered, these shutters hide part of the lines formed by lasers and a spinning mirror assembly to indicate each sound frequency’s intensity.

The resulting machine not only effectively projects a visual of the music playing on a nearby wall, but also looks like some sort of mythical beast or contraption, progressively waving its appendages while emitting eerie green light!

Although this kind of project can be fun, be sure to wear the proper safety equipment when dealing with powerful lasers!

“Rare Candy” played on even more rare electronic instrument

According to musician/maker Ruben Dax, “Few things make him happier than being able to create things that create things.” As seen in the video below, what he’s created is a very strange cylindrical instrument with an array of buttons and what appears to be an auxiliary loop controller. 

What he creates with it is music that starts off as simple “plink-plonk” sounds, but builds up into something of an orchestral arrangement.

The DIY device utilizes an Arduino Mega for control, with a bunch of pushbuttons and a dual-axis joystick for inputs. Button info is then sent to his computer over Bluetooth, which takes care of actual MIDI generation. 

As cool as this is, a new gadget is in the works, which uses a Leonardo and other hardware for plug-and-play functionality. Whether this will interfere with the instrument’s unique rotating action remains to be seen!

Brandon’s Player Piano Took Patience, and A Whole Lot of Solenoids

Brandon Switzer had a grand image in mind when he set off to create this player piano. Like most of us, he had an arduino that had been sitting there doing nothing for quite some time. He needed a project to focus his attention and learn some things. He landed […]

Read more on MAKE

The post Brandon’s Player Piano Took Patience, and A Whole Lot of Solenoids appeared first on Make: DIY Projects and Ideas for Makers.

Musical lighting pattern changes based on automatic analysis

LED strips reacting to sound is nothing new; however, Paul Shulman’s setup does things a bit differently. Instead of responding to the tune’s overall volume, one musical frequency is analyzed and averaged; if the intensity changes sufficiently on that particular frequency, the corresponding lighting effect is also changed. This avoids the problem of analyzing a music source that doesn’t necessarily change with the final output volume.

A SparkFun Spectrum Shield is used for frequency separation. An Arduino handles signal analysis, which sends a change effect command to the lighting controller when needed. There’s also a wireless remote available to adjust the lighting manually. 

This system was designed with the goal of having color-chasing LED effects that automatically sync with a hard music line. The color-chasing effects observed in the video are actually not synchronized to the music, but the changing of effects is. The system works well across many genres of music. This system is unique in that music volume does not matter. Many commercial implementations control lighting effects based off of overall volume intensity. This is problematic, as many people do not control final music volume with the source of the music (i.e. leaving your PC volume constant and controlling speaker volume instead.

An additional feature of this system is that it contains a wireless remote and the ability to control the lights independent of the music. This allows for rapid light patterns at parties, and soothing ambient lighting at all other times.

Code for the project is available in Shulman’s write-up, and the results can be seen in the demo video below. 

Ask Hackaday Answered: The Tale of the Top-Octave Generator

We got a question from [DC Darsen], who apparently has a broken electronic organ from the mid-70s that needs a new top-octave generator. A top-octave generator is essentially an IC with twelve or thirteen logic counters or dividers on-board that produces an octave’s worth of notes for the cheesy organ in question, and then a string of divide-by-two logic counters divide these down to cover the rest of the keyboard. With the sound board making every pitch all the time, the keyboard is just a simple set of switches that let the sound through or not. Easy-peasy, as long as you have a working TOG.

I bravely, and/or naïvely, said that I could whip one up on an AVR-based Arduino, tried, and failed. The timing requirements were just too tight for the obvious approach, so I turned it over to the Hackaday community because I had this nagging feeling that surely someone could rise to the challenge.

The community delivered! Or, particularly, [Ag Prismatic]. With a clever approach to the problem, some assembly language programming, and an optional Arduino crystalectomy, [AP]’s solution is rock-solid and glitch-free, and you could build one right now if you wanted to. We expect a proliferation of cheesy synth sounds will result. This is some tight code. Hat tip!

Squeezing Cycles Out of a Microcontroller

Let’s take a look at [AP]’s code. The approach that [AP] used is tremendously useful whenever you have a microcontroller that has to do many things at once, on a rigid schedule, and there’s not enough CPU time between the smallest time increments to do much. Maybe you’d like to control twelve servo motors with no glitching? Or drive many LEDs with binary code modulation instead of primitive pulse-width modulation? Then you’re going to want to read on.

There are two additional tricks that [AP] uses: one to fake cycles with a non-integer number of counts, and one to make the AVR’s ISR timing absolutely jitter-free. Finally, [Ag] ended up writing everything in AVR assembly language to make the timing work out, but was nice enough to also include a C listing. So if you’d like to get your feet wet with assembly, this is a good start.

In short, if you’re doing anything with hard timing requirements on limited microcontroller resources, especially an AVR, read on!

Taking Time to Think

The goal of the top-octave generator is to take an input clock and divide it down into twelve simultaneous sub-clocks that all run independently of each other. Just to be clear, this means updating between zero and twelve GPIO pins at a frequency of 1 MHz or so — updating every twenty clock cycles at the AVR’s maximum CPU speed. If you thought you could loop through twelve counters and decide which pins to flip in twenty cycles, you’d be mistaken.

But recognizing the problem is the first step to solving it. Although the tightest schedule might require flipping one pin exactly twenty clocks after flipping another, most of the time there are more cycles between pin updates — hundreds up to a few thousand. So the solution is to recognize when there is time to think, and use this time to pre-calculate a buffer full of next states.

[Ag]’s solution uses a few different loops that run exactly 20, 40, and 60 cycles each — the longer versions being just the 20-cycle one padded out with NOPs. These loops run inside an interrupt-service routine (ISR). When there are 80 or more cycles of thinking time until the next scheduled pin change, control is returned to the main loop and the next interrupt is set to re-enter the tight loops at the next necessary update time.

All the fast loop has to do is read two bytes, write them out to the GPIO pins, increment the pointer to the next row of data, and figure out if it needs to stall for 20 or 40 additional cycles, or set the ISR timer for longer delays and return to calculations. And this it can do in just twelve of the twenty cycles! Slick.


Taking a step back from the particulars of the top-octave generator, this is a classic problem and a classic solution. It’s worth your time to internalize it, because you’ll run into this situation any time you have real-time constraints. The problem is that on average there’s more than enough time to complete the calculations, but that in the worst cases it’s impossible. So you split the problem in two parts: one that runs as fast as possible, and one that does the calculations that the fast section will need. And connecting together fast and slow processes is exactly why computer science gave us the buffer.

In [AP]’s code, this buffer is a table where each entry has two bytes for the state of the twelve GPIO pins, and one byte to store the number of clock cycles to delay until the next update. One other byte is left empty, yielding 64 entries or 256 bytes for the whole table. Why 256 bytes? Because the AVR has an 8-bit unsigned integer, wrapping around from the end of the table back to the beginning is automatic, saving a few cycles of wasteful if statements.

But even with this fast/slow division of labor, there is not much time left over for doing the pre-calculation. Sounding the highest C on a piano keyboard (4186 Hz) with a 20 MHz CPU clock requires toggling a GPIO pin every 2,390 cycles, so that’s the most time that the CPU will ever see. When the virtual oscillators are out of phase, this can be a lot shorter. By running the AVR at its full 20 MHz, and coding everything in assembly, [AP] can run the calculations fast enough to support twelve oscillators. At 16 MHz, there’s only time for ten, so every small optimization counts.

Some Optimization Required

Perhaps one of the cleverest optimizations that [AP] made is the one that makes this possible at all. The original top-octave chips divide down a 2 MHz square wave by a set of carefully chosen integer divisors. Running the AVR equivalent at 2 MHz resolution would mean just ten clocks per update and [AP]’s fast routine needed twelve, so the update rate would have to be halved. But that means that some odd divisors on the original IC would end up non-integral in the AVR code. For example, the highest C is reproduced in silicon as 2 MHz / 239, so to pull this off at 1 MHz requires counting up to 119.5 on an integer CPU. How to cope?

You could imagine counting to 119 half of the time, and 120 the other. Nobody will notice the tiny difference in duty cycle, and the pitch will still be spot on. The C programmer in me would want to code something like this:

uint8_t counter[12] = { 0, ... };
uint8_t counter_top[12] = { 119, ... };
uint8_t is_counter_fractional[12] = { 1, 0, ... };
uint8_t is_low_this_time[12] = { 0, ... };

// and then loop
for ( i=0 ; i<12; ++i){
  if ( counter[i] == 0 ){
    if ( is_counter_fractional[i] ){
      if ( is_low_this_time[i] ){
        counter[i] = counter_top[i];
    is_low_this_time = 0;
      else {
        counter[i] = counter_top[i] + 1;
    is_low_this_time = 1;

That will work, but the ifs costs evaluation time. Instead, [AP] did the equivalent of this:

uint8_t counter[12] = { 0, ... };
uint8_t counter_top[12] = { 119, ... };
uint8_t phase[12] = { 1, 0, ... };

for ( i=0 ; i<12; ++i){
  if ( counter[i] == 0 ){
    counter[i] = counter_top[i] + phase[i];
    counter_top[i] = counter[i];
    phase[i] = -phase[i];

What’s particularly clever about this construction is that it doesn’t need to distinguish between the integer and non-integer delays in code. Alternately adding and subtracting one from the non-integer values gets us around the “half” problem, while setting the phase variable to 0 means that the integer-valued divisors run unmodified, with no ifs.

The final optimization shows just how far [AP] went to make this AVR top-octave generator work like the real IC. When setting the timer to re-enter the fast loop in the ISR, there’s the possibility for one cycle’s worth of jitter. Because AVR instructions run in either one or two clock cycles, it’s possible that a two-cycle instruction could be running when the ISR timer comes due. Depending on luck, then, the interrupt will run four or five clocks later: see the section “Interrupt Response Time” in the AVR data sheet for details.

In a prologue to the ISR, [AP]’s code double-checks the hardware timer to see if it has entered on a one-cycle instruction, and adds in an extra NOP to compensate. This makes the resulting oscillator nearly jitter free, pushing out a possible source of 50 ns (one cycle at 20 MHz) slop. I don’t think you’d be able to hear this jitter, but the result surely looks pretty on the oscilloscope, and this might be a useful trick to know if you’re ever doing ultra-precise timing with ISRs.

The Proof of the Pudding

Naturally, I had to test out this code on real hardware. The first step was to pull a random Arduino-clone out of the closet and flash it in. Because “Arduinos” run at 16 MHz with the stock crystal, the result is that a nominal 440 Hz concert A plays more like a slightly sharp F, a musical third down. It sounds fine on its own, but you won’t be able to play along with any other instruments that are tuned to 440 Hz.

[AP]’s preferred solution is to run the AVR chip at 20 MHz. Since the hardware requirements are very modest, you could use a $0.50 ATTiny816 coupled with a 20 MHz crystal and you’d have a top-octave generator for literal pocket change — certainly cheaper than buying even an Arduino clone. I tested it out with an ATMega48P and a 20 MHz crystal on a breadboard because it’s what I had. Or you could perform crystalectomy on your Arduino to get it running at full speed.

We went back and forth via e-mail about all the other (firmware) options. [AP] had tried them all. You could trim the ISR down to 16 cycles and run at 16 MHz, but then there’s only enough CPU time in the main loop to support ten notes, two shy of a full octave. You could try other update rates than 1 MHz, but the divisors end up being pretty wonky. To quote [AP] from our e-mail discussion on the topic:

“After playing with the divider values from the original top octave generator IC and trying different base frequencies, it appears that the 2 MHz update rate is a “sweet spot” for getting reasonable integer divisors with < +/-2 cents of error. The original designers of the chip must have done the same calculations.”

To make a full organ out of this setup, you’ll also need twelve binary counter chips to divide down each note to fill up the lower registers of the keyboard, but these are easy to design with and cost only a few tens of cents apiece. All in all, thanks to [AP]’s extremely clever coding, you can build a fully-polyphonic noisemaker that spits out 96 simultaneous pitches, all in tune, for under $10. That’s pretty amazing.

And of course, I’ve already built a small device based on this code, but that’s a topic for another post. To be continued.

Notable Board Books are an Arduino-powered way to enjoy music

Annelle Rigsby found that her mother, who suffers from Alzheimer’s, is delighted to hear familiar songs. While Annelle can’t always be there to help her enjoy music, she and her husband Mike came up with what they call the Notable Board Book that automatically plays tunes.

The book itself is well laid-out, with song text and familiar photos printed on the pages. Electronics for the book are in a prototype state using an Arduino Uno and an Adafruit Sound Board to store and replay the audio bits.

Page detection is handled by an array of photocells, and it is meant to turn on automatically when picked up via a series of tilt switches. When a switch is triggered, a relay can then hold the book on until the song that is playing is done, or for a predetermined amount of time.