Archive for September, 2017


The Animal Band & The Telephone – 2

This post actually concerns The Telephone, to which I decided to make a small further adjustment.

After finishing the Animal Band and The Telephone, I realised it would be a bit limiting to leave them playing in only one key, so I went back to The Telephone and searched for the resistor which controlled the pitch of the notes.

Having found it – by means of the tried-and-tested wetted finger method – I removed it from the circuit board and replaced  the connection with a pair of wires.

In the past I had replaced such a resistor with a potentiometer, enabling continuous – and wide-ranging – adjustment of pitch.  In this instance, however, I just wanted to be able to tune The Telephone to other keys, so instead of a potentiometer I added a 12-way rotary switch, the idea being to tune each step precisely to each key.

The Telephone was in the key of B – B being the lowest note it would play.  Rather than make this the lowest key and have all the others higher, I thought it would be better to have B in the middle, with some of the others lower, and some higher.

After some experimentation, I concluded that the difference in resistance between one note and another was just a few k.  I had a number of spare 10k trimmers, so decided that these could be used.

I connected one of these between each of the 12 pins on the switch.  The last one was connected to the circuit board on one side of where the original 100k timing resistor had been; the pole of the switch was connected to the other side, via a 100k trimmer to bring the resistance roughly into line with the original.  In this way, when the switch was at position 1, it would connect through the 100k trimmer and the first of the 10k trimmers; at position 2 the value of the second 10k trimmer would be added; at position 3 the value of the second and the third would be added, and so on to the end.  The way it worked, the more resistance, the lower the pitch.

In the end, I couldn’t reduce the resistance enough to have B right in the middle – the device wouldn’t operate at the highest frequency required for that – so it ended up in 4th position on the switch.  It was quite OK to go down another 8 semitones so that any key could be selected while The Telephone was being operated by the Bigfoot sequencer.

I found a suitable knob to go on the switch, and put The Telephone back together.  Enabling it to be used in any key would make it a much more versatile addition to the collection.


The Alien Choir

The Alien Choir wasn’t a device I particularly wanted to circuit bend- the alien voices it makes are fine as they are!  – but I wanted to do a couple of things to make is easier and better to use.

The Alien Choir is one of the ‘Finger Beats’ series.  These are recognisable by their distinctive design, and are all operated in a similar way, using light finger pressure in certain places on a colourful illustration on the front.

I don’t have an instruction book with mine, so it’s not clear that all of its functions are working – in particular, recording samples with the built-in microphone – but it makes 8 excellent alien voice sounds.  The volume of the sounds can be turned up or down with the ‘+’ and ‘-‘ buttons on the left-hand side.


First of all, although 3v isn’t an odd or unusual value, I decided to add a socket and dc converter to allow the device to be powered by a mains adapter or larger – e.g. 9v – battery.  To this end I also added a small square of velcro to the back, as I had with other instruments before, to allow one of my 9v battery holders to be attached.

The dc converter was a small and inexpensive (less than 50p) module, which didn’t need any additional components, just an input voltage from 20v down to about 1v higher than the desired output voltage.  The output voltage is set by means of a small trimmer on the board.

In this case I found that the required voltage, as measured on my multimeter, needed to be a little lower (about half a volt lower, in fact) than the anticipated 3v in order for the circuit to work smoothly.  I don’t know if this is something specific to the Alien Choir, a difficulty in measuring the voltage precisely, or what.

Inside the device, I added a switch to choose between the battery or the external socket.  In the following picture  1 indicates the socket, 2 the dc converter and 3 the switch.

The device has a 3.5mm audio out socket (and an audio in, in fact, as can be seen in the lower right-hand corner of the picture above), but I decided to add banana sockets for connection to one of my external speakers.  This always produces a much better sound than the small built-in speakers these devices are fitted with.

The small switch on the right selects either the internal or external speaker.

I hope this will be a useful – and certainly attractive – addition to the ‘Outer Space’ section of my instrument collection.


The Animal Band & The Telephone

This project came about as I was looking through my collection of electronic toys for additional devices that could be controlled by the Bigfoot sequencer or the Chessboard keyboard.

I don’t know if ‘Animal Band’ and ‘Telephone’ are the correct names for these toys, but they are sufficiently descriptive to identify them amongst my various devices.

Both the Bigfoot and the Chessboard encode the 15 pitches (2 octaves) they can produce into 4-bit binary numbers so that they can use standard 5-pin DIN connecting leads – the same as MIDI leads – rather than more complex multi-way connectors to control sound-making instruments.

I came across two devices, which were rather limited in that they played only a one octave scale; but it was the same scale – B major – and one of them had not only small animal musicians who moved as the notes were sounded, but was also capable of playing a scale with various animal noises.  For some reason, this scale turned out to be A major, but this was only a minor inconvenience.

The additional electronics required would be similar to those in The StyloSound, the main thing being a circuit to convert the binary number input from the Bigfoot or The Chessboard to the individual notes of the scale.  Both the devices would need one of these.

The basic circuit I use looks like this:

Receive circuit 3

At the beginning, the input passes through a non-inverting buffer.  (There are 6 connections from the input to the buffer in case a later plan for operation via MIDI is implemented, which is designed to use 6 bits.  For the time being, only the first 4 are being used, the other 2 remaining unconnected).

The purpose of the buffer is to reduce the incoming signal level (which, from both the Bigfoot and the Chessboard, is at 9v) to 4.5v, the voltage of the Animal Band.  The 4050, unusually, is able to deal with an input signal which is higher than its supply voltage, which makes it ideal for this purpose.

When functioning, the 4067 will interpret the 4-bit binary input on pins 11, 12, 13 and 14 as a decimal number from 0 (0000) to 15 (1111) and act as a switch, connecting pin 1, the Common, to one of its 16 outputs on pins 2-9 and 16-23.  Each of the 4 binary inputs is held at 0v by 100k resistors, interpreted as a ‘0’ by the 4067, so a +v pulse on one or more of the inputs pulls them high, acting as a ‘1’

To avoid silences – Bigfoot produces 16 notes, the Animal Band produces only 8 – the output pins for notes 9 – 15 are connected to the pins for notes 2 – 8.

Pin 15 is brought out to an SPDT switch.  When connected to +v, the 4067 is turned off; when connected to 0v, it is turned on.  The Telephone would have a similar switch.  In this way either instrument can be set to work or not work without disconnecting the power.


To find exactly where to connect the Common and output pins of the 4067 I needed to search inside and test different points on the printed circuit board.

I removed the top:

Animal Band top

and examined the inside:

Animal Band inside marked

The important sections are marked.  (Normally the LEDs are pointing upwards, but I was in the process of examining them when I took this picture and had unscrewed the circuit board on which they are mounted).  In the centre of the device you can also see the rod by which the stepper motor moves the figures of the animal band when notes are sounded, and at the bottom the actuators which are pressed by the keys.

The first thing I did after opening the case was to give the actuators a clean.  They are the typical type – like computer keyboards or game controllers – which, when pressed, connect together two narrow tracks on the PCB.  If dust and dirt get inside them, they can operate erratically.

This is a typical example (from The Telephone) of the PCB tracks underneath a button:

Button pad

Apart from cleaning these small PCB tracks, I gave the carbon or graphite blocks which make the connection a light scrape to make sure their surfaces were also free of dirt and dust.

The important connections inside the Animal Band seemed to be grouped together in the bottom left-hand corner, so these are the connections I looked at first.  After testing them, I could see that the following connections needed to be made:

Animal Band PCB

The point marked ‘Common’ needed to be connected to pin 1 of the 4067, and the 8 notes to first 8 output connections on the 4067.  (Actually, output 1, pin 8, in the Bigfoot system is not connected, so the unit is silent on receipt of 0000.  The first note sounded is 0001, so the outputs used are 2-9, starting with pin 7).

In the Bigfoot system, an instrument which can sound all 12 notes  in an octave would have switches to raise or lower some notes of the scale (the 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 6th and 7th notes), but the Animal Band and the Telephone are fixed to play a major scale, so these switches aren’t needed.


Finally, there needed to be a circuit to connect the Animal Band and The Telephone.  This would have to combine the input from Bigfoot, the Chessboard (or other 4-bit binary input) and send this in binary form to The Telephone.

This consisted only of inputs from two DIN sockets, entering via diodes, and passing through a second 4050 buffer.

The circuit board ended up looking like this, as I had originally planned to include a further circuit which would convert 16 individual inputs to a 4-bit binary output (as used in the Chessboard):


The large 24 pin chip at the bottom left is the 4067; the two chips above are the input and output 4050 buffers; the other 3 chips are two 4532’s and a 4071 for the unused binary-converting ‘Send’ circuit.  The diodes in the bottom right are for the inputs from Bigfoot and the Chessboard.

The board was designed to fit into the rear section of the Animal Band, behind the ‘organ pipe’ section with the LEDs in it.  I added 6 extra LEDs here, connected to the 6 outputs of the 4050 input buffer.

Most of the connections – including the 6 new LEDs – can be seen in this view of the inside, just before putting the case back together.


This picture shows 3 of the new sockets and switches.  1 = the 5-pin DIN Out socket; 2 = the 4067 Enable/Inhibit switch; 3 = the audio out socket.  When a 3.5mm plug is inserted into the socket, the speaker connection is cut out.



The Telephone needed a similar circuit.  The 4067 is one of my favourite chips, and I’ve been using it for some years, but recently, it seems , the Arduino hobbyists have started to use it, as there is now a reasonably-priced breakout board available, using an SMD version of the chip.  This looked like a real time-saver for me, so I bought a stack of them – at a cost of about 70p each – and The Telephone was my first chance to use one.

4067-Breakout-BoardAs can be seen, the 16 outputs are brought out on the left-hand side of the board, and on the right-hand side are ‘SIG’, which is the Common output on pin 1; the 4 binary inputs S0-S3; ‘EN’, the Enable or Inhibit pin; +v and Ground.

I couldn’t use this breakout board in every situation: the information with it said the maximum voltage should be no more than 7v – elsewhere I have even seen 6v.  I think the intention is that it would be used with 5v, like the Arduino, but in any event the 4.5v I was planning to use with the Animal Band and Telephone would be well within the limits.

Inside, The Telephone looked like this:

Telephone inside

The main circuit board inside The Telephone sits under the 12 buttons of the keypad.  It looked as though the important connections were down the right-hand side of the board, so, tracing the tracks, it was possible work out which ones needed to be connected to produce each of the notes The Telephone was capable of.

Track 8 was the ‘Common’.  This track needed to be connected to one of 8 of the other tracks to produce the notes of the scale.  I identified which 8 tracks these were and connected these, plus the Common, to the 4067.  As with the Animal Band I connected outputs 9 – 15 to outputs 2 -8 to make sure The Telephone would be constantly sounding – except when in receipt of a 0000 input.

According to the circuit diagram of the module, it appeared that the Inhibit or Enable pin  was tied to Ground with a 10k resistor, so the unit would automatically be working when the power was switched on. 4067 breakout board schematicThis meant that only a SPST switch would be required to connect the pin to +v if it was necessary to stop it functioning.

The telephone was a less complicated unit than the Animal Band, so I just needed to connect the 4067 module to the input via a 4050 buffer, for which I just used a 16-pin i.c. socket, rather than a piece of veroboard:

Also visible in this picture are the four 100k resistors connecting the inputs of the 4050 to ground, and the audio out socket, which cuts out the internal speaker when a 3.5mm mono plug is inserted.

The outputs of the module were connected to the appropriate points on the Telephone PCB:

The only other thing to add was a switch attached to the enable/inhibit pin of the 4067 to allow the unit to be switched off without removing the power.  As mentioned above, the enable/inhibit was attached to ground internally in the module, so the switch just required a connection to +v, which would stop the 4067 from functioning.

This switch can be seen on the front left of this view of the outside of the finished unit:

On the rear can be seen the audio out (top) and 5-pin DIN (bottom) which can accept input from the Bigfoot sequencer, or a device compatible with the Bigfoot 4-bit binary note system (e.g. the Chessboard keyboard).


Having reassembled everything, it was time to check the devices in operation with the Bigfoot and the Chessboard, plugging them together with standard 5-pin DIN (or MIDI) cables, like this:

Everything seemed to work as expected, and the two units played in unison – or individually if one or other of the enable/inhibit switches were turned off – when operated either by the Bigfoot or the Chessboard.

Click here for a short film of the set-up taken on my iPhone.



September 2017
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