Categories
Uncategorized

Raspberry Pi as USB MIDI Host

I’ve been building USB MIDI devices for a few years now, and in the past I’ve built a MIDI controller using a Teensy that controlled an Akai MPX16, but overall I’ve not had the need to connect things up for my own needs. But now that I’ve got a few things around that have MID inputs, outputs, and throughs, I need to expand my MIDI capabilities.

It seems there are a whole bunch of devices that just do MIDI over USB and don’t have MIDI jack for “true” MIDI output. I think this is just due to it being cheaper/easier to add a USB jack to devices instead of MIDI jack. (Even though there are TRS MIDI jacks, so size/price shouldn’t be much of an issue. It may be due to demand, since most USB MIDI keyboard/devices sold are just going to be connected to a computer.

If you want to connect your USB MIDI input device to a piece of hardware that has MIDI in but is not a computer you’ll need a USB MIDI Host device. There’s the DOREMIDI USB MIDI Host Box which is about $50 and appears to be USB 1.0. There’s also the DOREMIDI High Speed USB MIDI Host Box which seems to support USB 2.0 for around $60.

As usual, I’ve got a lot of stuff laying around from past projects, so I’m recycling/pulling from existing stock here. I’ve got a Raspberry Pi 3 B (which was probably around $35 when I got it) and then you need a power supply (add $9) and a Micro SD card (add $8) so we’re up to $52 right there… and we need one more thing. I’ve had this USB MIDI Converter Cable for years, and it was about $6 when I got it. So hey, we’re under $60 but just barely.

So what do we do with this Raspberry Pi and other stuff? Well, we grab the disk image from this post titled Raspberry Pi as USB/Bluetooth MIDI host and burn it to the SD card and boot it up. Now, I was convinced I’d need to configure things but… it just worked! There’s a complete install post as well which I perused, especially when I tried to add an OLED screen. (That did not work.) To be honest I was a bit surprised it just worked out of the tin. It even worked fine with one of my 8K Controllers programmed for MIDI output.

Categories
Uncategorized

Music X 3

I started playing music around 1987 and quickly formed a band (we were terrible) and then joined another band when that one ended, and on and on, until about 1994 when I was sort of done playing in bands. We had recorded, released music, toured, etc. It was a blast. As I’ve been reminded by The Beastie Boys, one of the greatest things you can do in life is hang out with your friends and make music together. Oh, since this was the 1980s/1990s things were not all computer/digital/fancy. We sometimes went into the studio and had someone record us, and sometimes I’d use a 4-track and engineer it myself. Simple. Did it sound great? Well, good enough!

Life throws a lot at you, and things change, and you change, and I didn’t really play music much again until around 2007 or so… And in 2008 I recorded and released an album as part of the RPM Challenge, which was a challenge for the month of February to record and release an entire album. By this time I had been doing some audio engineering at work and it was a great way to learn more about recording and engineering and using a DAW (Digital Audio Workstation; aka a Computer) to create music. Typically I’d find/create some drum tracks, then record myself playing bass, and then record myself playing guitar. It was handy to be able to plug my bass or guitar into a box, feed it into the computer, and have dozens of different effects pedals in software. It was a lot of fun, and I’m proud of the fact that between 2008 and 2011 I recorded three albums worth of material. Again, some of it terrible, some of it not terrible. The important thing was that I enjoyed doing it, and I learned a lot in the process.

Well, it’s been a while, so it must be time for the Third Wave, as it were. This “wave” sort of started around 2017 I think. I started something called NoiseMaster 3000 which was me convincing myself and at least two other people that we should make all sorts of “sound sculptures” for Maker Faire Milwaukee in 2017. And we did. I built all sorts of noise machines and I had a lot of fun doing it. I even had some of them in a gallery show in 2018.

NoiseMaster VII

I then started to get interested in synth stuff, influenced partly by people I knew and was hanging around with at the time, but I also decided I did not want to jump into building a modular synth setup because, well… it seemed like a great way to spend way too much money and get sucked into something way too deep. Well, 2020 was a shit-show in many ways, and I didn’t feel creative at all for so much of it, but as 2021 rolled around and I had a modest budget for music gear, I jumped in (slowly) and got a few things. A Behringer CRAVE and RD-6, and some Pocket Operators. And… I’ve been loving it.

I am (once again) probably making terrible music, but that’s okay, because I am really enjoying it. It has actually really helped me creatively, and helped my mental health more than I could have imagined. So anything I spend on gear is really spent on improving my mental health, and when you put it that way, it’s worth it, right?

So if you want to check out anything I’m doing, see Instagram or YouTube (or even Twitter) where I post some of the (terrible?) music I make. I do plan to get better, but hey, maybe I won’t and that’s okay. I’m just here to learn new things, enjoy myself, and not go insane. So far it’s been working just fine…

Categories
Uncategorized

Sam McPheeters, Author

I just finished reading Mutations: The Many Strange Faces of Hardcore Punk, by author Sam McPheeters. It’s a great book, and I recommend it. And I don’t recommend a lot of books! (Because I don’t read a lot of books…)

Besides being a great storyteller, I share this odd kinship with Sam, though it may be one-sided. I’ve always admired his work, and we’ve crossed paths a few times. Now, in the book he mentions interactions with people and failures (perceived or real) throughout his life. I thought I would share a few times I encountered Sam.

Disclaimer: It’s been over 25 years, and I may not get everything right, but I’m going to do my best to be accurate, If I’m wrong about something, let me know.

I first met Sam when Born Against played a show in Waukesha, Wisconsin. The local Waukesha punks booked them to play a bowling alley. Somehow I rented the PA for the show or something. (I would have got it from Lincoln Music on the South Side.) I remember meeting Sam when setting up the mics and I said “Hey, you’re not gonna stick this mic in your mouth are you? I rented these…” and he looked at me and said “No, I’m not gonna stick it in my mouth.” and that was good enough for me. But… there was this hint of mischief when he said it, as if he was saying “I’ll tell you I won’t do it, but yeah, I’m totally gonna do it.”

Now, why the hell I would I ask him such a question? I’m pretty such I saw a photo from a zine (maybe MRR?) where he had a mic shoved in his mouth. I remember it being a great photo, but I was also concerned I’d return the gear to Bob at Lincoln Music and he’d be like “What the he’ll happened to this mic!?!”

I am reasonably sure he did not shove the mic into his mouth. It’s been a long time, and since I don’t remember, I’ll take that to mean it did not happen, because it seems like something I would remember. I’d probably have said “What the Hell, man!?! You said you wouldn’t shove the mic in your mouth!” and Sam would probably have shrugged or something.

The next interaction was in Madison, and I don’t know if this was the same Born Against tour or another one. Maybe it was a year later? (Hell, I don’t even know what year some of these things happened.) Anyway, I think we were near State Street somewhere and Sam saw me and (maybe) Milt, and said something like “Hey, do you guys have Z-Rock in this town?” and I told him we did not, but maybe WORT would work. He then asked where a laundromat was and we may have been able to point him in the right direction. Yeah, this is weird, but Sam is weird, and I am weird, so whatever. I’ve also been know to just randomly ask people if they have Z-Rock in whatever town I’m in. (I never bothered to look up Z-Rock until right now. Huh.)

And then on the Buried tour in 1993 we played in Washington D.C. at Club Heaven with Born Against, and it seemed like somehow there was a small crowd, or like no crowd or I just can’t remember but I do remember watching Born Against play and Sam was Sam and at some point he wandered off during a song and went into the women’s restroom and I think he came back at some point but it’s all a little hazy.

There’s one more interaction I had with Sam but it wasn’t in-person, it was across a computer network where he was asking me questions about something and I remember I felt honored that he was asking me. I’m not even sure I had any great answers for him, but now that I think about it maybe I’ve never had any great answers.

I did a search for Sam with a mic in his mouth and found this photo from ABC No Rio Fondly Recalls the Saturdays of Its Gritty Youth though I’m not even sure that’s the photo I remember seeing.

Sam also makes (or made) art, some of which I find interesting or amusing, and some that makes me worry about his sanity. See the art of Sam McPheeters, Artist.

Categories
Uncategorized

OctoNoise

octonoise-5573

For this year’s WMSE Art & Music event, I created a new board I call OctoNoise. It’s an eight note piano featuring capacitive touch pads, LEDs, a Teensy LC microcontroller, and some fine woodworking. This is somewhat similar to last year’s piece.

octonoise-laser

You may know me for my work with decagons, but I also work with octagons, and this pattern is known as a 16 cell and it worked well for my design which utilizes 8 touch pads and 8 LEDs.

octonoise-5579

I’m not an amazing woodworker, but after laser cutting wood I can typically sand it, stain it, and add some polyurethane. At least it looks (somewhat) nice. I didn’t alter the bottom piece, and I just left it as a square, the way I received it from WMSE. My original design for this piece (over a year ago) was a bit different, but I wanted this to match the style of last year’s WMSE piece (and I was a bit rushed getting this done.)

octonoise-5583

The OctoNoise features and on/off switch, which is handy because it runs on batteries. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve made electronic things for myself and not included and on/off switch. It’s nice to have one! When you turn it on the touch pads calibrate for about 5 seconds. There’s a startup sound that happens during calibration. (I added a note about that on the back of the piece.)

octonoise-5576

There’s a “somewhat” hidden control knob on the side that ajusts the delay between notes. The way the code is written, it plays one note at a time, but you can alter that to very quickly (or slowly) oscillate between multiple notes. You can get some interesting variances in sound by turning the knob.

Note that it is difficult to turn the knob while also touching the pads to make sound. This is by design, as it’s also difficult (if not damn near impossible without using various parts of your body) to play all the notes at once. This was done to encourage collaboration and playfulness.

octonoise-5589

Here’s a side view. The height was determined by the speaker that was chosen. Once again we’ve put the electronics on display as part of the piece rather than hide them inside an enclosure. They are mean to be celebrated! (Each wire has a label showing what it connects to, if needed.)

octonoise-5591

Here’s the Teensy LC, which runs the code. The board has built it capacitive touch pins, which make writing the code fairly easy. The notes used are C5, D5, E5, F5, G5, A5, B5, C6. This is real piano, and you can play actual songs. I based the code on a project I did for Brown Dog Gadgets a while back. You can check out their Touch Piano on Github.

octonoise-5594

This device also contains a built-in amp with a volume control. Again, a sometimes rare feature in the things I build. Often amps require 12 volts and that’s not always fun to deal with, but I’ve found some that work on variable voltages from 3 to 12 volts, so running them at the same voltage as a microcontroller becomes very easy.

octonoise-3d-parts

Besides all the wood and electronics, there are some 3D printed parts that pull it all together. The on/off switch, delay control, amp, and battery holder all have their own 3D printed part that they attach to and then easily attach to the wood with some #4 screws. Once again, things are left “open” to celebrate rather than hide the electronics.

octonoise-standoff

The other 3D printed pieces are the custom standoffs that raise the top piece above the bottom piece to (partially) enclose the electronics. I created a 2D profile from the original artwork used to laser etch & cut the piece to create the correct angle. I then extruded that design to make the tall standoffs and printed 8 of them.

As usual, I encourage you to check out my Instagram account if you’re interested in seeing confusing photos of these sorts of things coming together.

Oh, one thing I forgot to mention. I liked this piece so much, I made another one so I could keep one for myself. As the old saying goes “If you’re gonna make one, make two!” So I did.

Finally, here are some videos, including one showing me playing both of them at once, which might never happen again!

Here’s a longer video I made in 2021. (Jump to 03:00 if you don’t want to hear me ramble and just want some sound.)

Categories
Uncategorized

WMSE Art & Music

wmse-art-music-0951

When I heard WMSE was doing a fundraising event called Art & Music and was looking for artists to contribute, I wanted in. I got in touch with them and got a blank 12″x12″ board. I’ve done some of these art boards before, once for The Eisner American Museum of Advertising & Design and once for a friend of mine. (And while it’s not a board, I also made this NoiseBowl last year.) Besides myself, I also managed to get most of the people I work with at Brinn Labs to make boards, and a few people at Milwaukee Makerspace also made them.

wmse-art-music-0932

This one is a litte more special to me though… WMSE went on the air in 1981, and while I don’t remember when I actually started listening to it (though I do have my brother to thank) I grew up with WMSE. They played the music I wanted to hear (at least on Wednesday nights when I was in high school.) They introduced me to weird and crazy stuff, and I even got to be a guest on air a few times (and they’ve managed to play a few songs from bands I was in.)

wmse-art-music-0952

Since I’ve been screwing around with making noise with Arduinos in sculptural form I thought I’d continue that obsession practice once again. I’ve been working on a four step sequencer for work, so that’s what this is…

wmse-art-music-0974

If it wasn’t for the stain and attention to fit and finish in creating this piece, it might look like some of my work you’d find inside a museum exhibit. We tend to make a lot of devices that produce sound. (We typically don’t go to great lengths to make them “pretty” though, since they always live inside cabinets and are not seen by the public.

wmse-art-music-0957

wmse-panel-render

Here’s the design for the one cut piece I made. It’s the control panel/user interface, which holds the power switch, potentiometers, and the LEDs. I actually used the CNC router instead of the laser cutter to make it. (Don’t ask why!) It also took some careful drill press operations to get things just right. There was also a lot of sanding involved. (Again, don’t ask.)

wmse-standoff-legs

There are some 3D printed pieces as well. The standoffs used for the speaker, and to hold the control panel in place. They are similar to ones I’ve used before and before, but of course the beauty of 3D printing is that I can change the design each time to match the speaker and hardware used. (Parametric, FTW!)

wmse-art-music-0979

Here’s a short video that demonstrates the noise that this thing makes. The first four knobs adjust the pitch for the four steps, with the fifth knob used to adjust tempo, and the top right knob as a volume control. The LEDs light up showing each step of the sequencer.

wmse-art-music-0983

I also decided when I started to build this that I really wanted one for myself. While I love seeing my artwork go out into the world, sometimes I miss it. Since I was building one, I thought it would be easy to build a second one. Well, it was (fairly) easy, but it was also time consuming. I also had this idea that if anything went wrong, I’d have a backup. Nothing really went wrong, but I did finish the one for WMSE about week before I finished the one for me.

wmse-art-music-0984

If you’re ever curious about the process I go through when building these sorts of things, you might want to head over to Instagram and follow me there. For instance, I posted a photo there… and another, and another, and a video

wmse-art-music-0985

And then I posted more, and then I probably posted even more. So yeah, Instagram tends to be my “in process” photo & video place.

wmse-art-music-0986

And if you’re not hip to Instagram you might find a photo or two (or three) over on Facebook. Not as much shows up there, but we’re still friends, right?

wmse-art-music-0988

wmse-art-music-0989

Enjoy the show!

wmse-art-music-0998

Note: The piece sold for $510! I’m really pleased I was able to support WMSE with this, and I’m thankful a bunch of people liked it enough to bid on it.