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EGDR606 Drum Machine

While I’ve been doing this DAWless thing and avoiding using computers for music making I haven’t completely moved away from what might be called “computer music”. I was exploring iOS music applications and found the EGDR606 Drum Machine which was $3.99 USD.

It’s a recreation of the Roland TR-606 which means it’s similar to the Behringer RD-6 Analog Drum Machine I use. For that reason I gave it a try. While I would rather use the RD-6 every time, while on the move the EGDR606 can be a fun little thing to play with. Occasionally I’ll make some drum pattern than I can then try out on my RD-6, which is nice.

You can find a nice review on synthanatomy.com or check out the PDF manual.

I did find the application a little rough as far as saving out patterns, but it it can export WAV files and you can grab them to move elsewhere. Honestly that’s probably due in part to the clunkiness of the iOS file system, so it’s not a huge deal. It could just be a bit cleaner.

(If you’re more of an 808 fan you can check out the EGDR808 from Elliot Garage instead.)

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That DAWless Thing

Recently I posted about my history of music making and my love of the Pocket Operators. Now if you don’t know what a DAW is, DAW stands for Digital Audio Workstation, and basically it’s a computer with music making software. GarageBand, Ableton, Logic, even Audacity. There are tons of pieces of software to turn your computer (or tablet or mobile device) into a music making machine… and I don’t really want to use any of them right now.

Don’t get me wrong, I love computers, and I love creating things. I mean, I often spend 8 to 10 hours a day using a computer, staring at the screen, moving a mouse and typing on a keyboard. And for my own sanity, I want some time away from that. I want to be able to get away from my desk and be creative and have fun and not have to be disrupted by alerts and notifications and the lure of my browser and email. Doing DAWless means you can walk away from the computer, disconnect, and still be creative.

One of the reviews I read for the Pocket Operators was from a dad who said it was the perfect gift for his son, “No boot up, no login, no screen time, no advertisements… just him pushing buttons, turning knobs, and making beats.” There’s something kind of beautiful about that.

Another friend of mine who used to play in a few bands said that with a you child at home it became difficult to meet up with other to jam and make songs, but he could do it all at home on his own with synths and other gear. (Jamming at home alone with headphones is also pretty pandemic friendly!)

Honestly I think my goals with this all are to have fun, explore sound, and maybe even make music that I actually like listening to. So far I’m doing well with those goals, so I’m pleased with where things are going. Oh, if you want to check anything out, here’s a YouTube playlist!

Here’s a few interesting articles about the DAWless thing well beyond what I’ve discussed here:

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SoundProp – Sound Effects with Processing & MIDI

Sometimes you forget to document things, and sometimes you try to get ahead of the game. Back around 2009 I was one of the organizers of Web414, Milwaukee’s Web Community Meetup, and at some point Gabe and I turned it into a live talk show. Yeah, I don’t know how we managed to do that, but… it happened. We had guests and we interviewed them, and even had a musical guest once! Anyway, one of the things I did was add sound effects to things because… well, I love that kind of shit. So yeah, my first “Sound Effect Board” was a web page on my web site I called ShowProp which used Flash to play some sound effects at the push of a button. (Still there, still mostly works. Here’s another silly web/sound thing from 2010, Evil-O-Mator.)

Where was I? Oh yeah, sound effects! Typically I was the co-host while Gabe was the primary host, so I would work the sound effects board at the appropriate (or inappropriate time.) It was fun.

And then I started messing around with Processing in 2010 and eventually started a re-write of ShowProp that would run locally on my computer rather than a Flash-enabled web page. (Flash is Dead! Sort of…) Processing is still very much alive, and I use it fairly often for creative coding, and hey, I figured since it’s 2020 it was time to update things.

I should mention that in 2019 I got my first “real” MIDI device, an Arturia Beat Step. A local synth guy was selling it for… wow, less than half the price of a new one. (I guess I got a deal!) I say my first “real” MIDI device because I’ve built them before, for myself, for museum exhibits, etc. but I had never bought a commercial unit before. Since I had this around, and I enjoy screwing around with MIDI, I dug into MIDI support in Processing, and…

I ended up redoing my old ShowProp sketch to be SoundProp, which is a Processing sketch that accepts MIDI input and plays sounds. It’s the second fanciest sound board style device I’ve used this year. (Yeah, I use others.) I also discovered the sound playing capabilities of Processing have greatly improved over the years, so that was an added bonus.

So basically, my sketch has a bunch of audio files, and each is mapped to a MIDI pitch which is sent by one of the 16 pads. Now, because it’s MIDI and not key commands it always works, no matter what application is in the front. No fumbling around to pull up the right window before you press a key or click a mouse. All the Sounds! All the Time!

The UI is quite minimal. It’s just a window that is 250 pixels by 130 pixels. I typically just launch the application and minimize it. (And hey, this will run as a native—well, Java—application on macOS, Windows, and Linux… in theory.)

If I get around to it I’ll clean it up and upload the code, and maybe create a video showing it work, though it’s not really that exciting, but hey… 2020, whaddaya want!?

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micro:bit Powered Xylophone

A recent fun project over at Brown Dog Gadgets is this automated xylophone controlled with a micro:bit… Check out the build guide.

Full instructions including code and some helpful tips on choosing a (toy) xylophone that will work for this project. (There’s maths and angles involved.) We’re basically controlling two servos to move a mallet left and right and then down (and back up) to strike a bar.

You can control it by playing it like a keyboard, just press the buttons, or you can program and store songs for automated playback later.

The (toy) xylophone isn’t really tuned very well, so we may be working on a larger project that uses a larger instrument. Also of note is the fact that the micro:bit out of the box can only handle three servos (without extra hardware) so we might switch to another board for the next iteration.

As usual, and since we’re using LEGO compatible servos, there are LEGO bits involved, which made building things quick and easy. (And don’t worry if you don’t have the needed LEGO parts on-hand, we’ve listed the parts we used and linked to where you can get them for cheap.)

Here are a few slightly out of tune songs…



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AUDIO FACE [APC-320]

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One of the projects I built for Maker Faire Milwaukee this year was AUDIO FACE [APC-320], which consists of the following things.

  • A cabinet built from scrap wood and plastic found at Milwaukee Makerspace and Brinn Labs
  • An Atari Punk Console that Kathy C. from Milwaukee Makerspace gave me for my birthday (which was already assembled!)
  • A 320 watt car stereo amplifier that someone donated to Milwaukee Makerspace, that I then gave to Jon H. for Disco Dalek, and he then gave back to me a year later
  • A really nice car stereo speaker I got from Andy A. from Milwaukee Makerspace for about $10
  • Some LED lights from Les, a long-time Maker Faire Milwaukee volunteer
  • A hefty 12 volt power supply and a 12v to 9v buck converter, which I purchased from Amazon for about $25
  • Some random arcade button I had lying around, a handful of drywall screws, and probably a few more miscellaneous things I forgot…

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The concept behind this “noisemaker” is a continuation of what Maks, Dustin, and I did back in 2017, which was a series of devices that made sound when action was taken. Typically this was pressing a button, and often with potentiometers of some kind to alter the sound. I ended up building a lot of Arduino-based sound devices. Are these synths? Maybe… Are they noisemakers? I guess so.

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When you press the button you are responsible for the creation of the sound. If creating weird noises embarrasses you, you have to deal with that. If you are getting into it and everyone else hates it, it’s on you. Only momentary switches are used so no one can turn them all on and walk away. If you’re there, you’re the cause of the sound.

Many of the devices from 2017 were somewhat fragile, built from small pieces of scrap material, and they sat on a table. For AUDIO FACE [APC-320] I wanted a large cabinet, which was pretty much a requirement due to the large speaker, amp, and power supply. While all of the 2017 devices were extremely cheap (built from scrap, found and scavenged speakers and components, and $3 Arduino boards or ATtiny chips) AUDIO FACE [APC-320] was a bit more expensive, probably costing close to $40 USD.

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As a sculptural piece, I think AUDIO FACE [APC-320] is interesting because of the contrast. Some of the build material is really nice laminate material or higher quality plywood, but it’s assembled in a slapdash method. There are rough edges that don’t line up, and there’s very roughly drilled holes on each side. While I love precisely designing things, I also love just building with no plans on occasion. Just getting to work and figuring it out as I go. This cabinet is that. At least one person mentioned this at Maker Faire, seeing this as quite a contrast to my other pieces which tend to follow a specific grid or use mathematical concepts. It’s not by accident.

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One other interesting thing about AUDIO FACE [APC-320] is that it’s sort of a bench. I mean, you can sit on it, and if you dial in the right sound and then sit on the button it makes your insides feel funny. I really like this part and may explore this in the future. I also like the fact that it’s sort of a table or a stool. A weird table or stool with controls in the middle of the top surface that makes noise and vibrates, but still… could be a table or a stool.