Posts Tagged ‘Construction

25
Feb
18

Dismantling a hard drive

Note that in the following post I’m describing taking a hard drive apart in order to reuse some of the parts, but have no intention of putting it back together, or making it work again as a hard drive!

This the 3.5″ hard drive I took apart as my first experiment:

Front & Back IMG_1515

I’m sorry the PCB side is rather blurry, but I was less interested in that than what was inside.

The tools required for the job were a small screwdriver set, from which I mostly used a Torx or ‘star’, which I think was size 8, and a very small Philips or crosshead for a couple of screws inside:

Tools IMG_1525

I also needed a large flat-bladed screwdriver, which I used two or three times.  If you’re going to do the same, you may find a few differences in the details – type and positioning of screws, differently shaped fittings, and so forth, but the principles should be the same.

I first removed the circuit board, and put that aside.  Turning it over, you can clearly see in the first picture the 6 screws round the edge of the ‘lid’ which needed removing.

Having taken these out, it seemed that the top was glued in place as well as screwed, so I went round with the large screwdriver, prying it open.  This almost freed it, but it was only after still experiencing considerable difficulty in getting it completely open that I realised there must be another screw somewhere in the middle, under the label.  I scraped away the label until I found it and took it out.  The arrow shows where it was.

Top IMG_1527

I was then able to take the lid right off and expose the inner workings – of which there aren’t actually that many.

Top removed Captioned IMG_1528

The picture shows the disk or disks, one on top of the other, like a stack of pancakes – except there are gaps between them, and the arm is actually several arms, one for each disk; the arm itself with the delicate heads on the end which read the data from the disks, and with its other end moving between two magnets (not visible at the moment); and finally a flexible plastic multi-way ‘cable’ which joins the arm – and some small circuitry on the arm – to a connector.  This would have poked through a gap in the case to connect to the circuit board  on the other side.

Later on, connections will have to made to some very, very tiny points on the arm, and it’s going to be a lot easier to trace these points back to the connector, so its important not to damage the plastic cable.  The connector could be poked out from the other side, once it two fixing screws had been removed.

The fitting obscuring the back end of the arm wasn’t – in this model of drive anyway – screwed in place, it was just slotted on some pins and just needed prising off.  I believe the magnets in hard drives are made of neodymium.  This is classed as a ‘rare earth’ (although it’s isn’t actually any rarer than, say, copper) and makes very strong magnets.  Just be a bit careful as you remove them, and think where you’re going to put them down as you can be surprised at how firmly they grab lighter metal objects.

This picture shows the top magnet fitting removed:

Top Magnet Out Captioned IMG_1529

Once the top magnet is off, it’s possible to move the arm out of the way and get the disks out.  This involves removing 6 screws around the centre (on top of the motor) and two screws at the side. the disks and the various fittings associated with them all come off in layers.  The disks – there were three of them in this drive, look very much like CD’s, with a large hole in the middle, except they’re made of metal.

I put the disks carefully to one side – I had an idea they might be good for chimes or cymbals – and focused on the arm.

With the top magnet out of the way, it was possible to see the so-called ‘voice’ coil’.  Two impossibly tiny wires connected the voice coil with the arm actuation circuitry, and to test that the arm was working I needed to attach a battery to these wires.

In the end these wires were just too small, so I traced them back through the plastic cable to the connector, where it was slightly easier to get at them.  Attaching the battery leads to the two points produced nothing at 4.5v, but at 9v there was a loud and satisfying clunk, which showed that the arm was working fine.

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The procedure with the next disk I worked on, a smaller 2.5″ was exactly the same.  The top came off once I had removed the 6 visible screws and the 7th screw hidden under the label.  I needed a smaller Torx/star screwdriver – a size 5 or 6 – for this disk compared to the other one.

1_IMG_1555

This exposed the single disk and arm:

2_IMG_1557

A single screw in the middle of the motor housing allowed the disk to come out.

3_IMG_1558

Removing two screws freed the unit in the bottom right, which connected the arm with the circuit board on the other side.

4_IMG_1559

I prised off the top magnet (bottom left), just to make sure the construction was the same as the 3.5″ drive – which it was.

I replaced the magnet and tested the drive with a battery.  I’d already removed a plastic retainer on the right, by the heads at the end of the arm; I also had to remove the plastic piece which you can see on the left, which was restricting the arm’s movement.  However, once I had done this, applying 9v to the appropriate pins on the connector reliably operated the arm.

In fact, this smaller mechanism would also work with 4.5v, which was a useful discovery.  If parts of the circuitry which would operate it had to be quite low – say, 5v – it could be handy if the arm would also work at the same voltage.

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So, I had verified that an arm from an inexpensive broken hard drive could operate as an electrically-operate striker, like a solenoid; that arms from both 3.5″ and 2.5″ drives would work; that the 3.5″ drive arm would operate at 9v; and the 2.5″ drive arm would operate at 4.5v.  It will be some time before I get round to the next part of this project, but the next thing will be to see how the arms could be set up to operate outside the hard drive housing.

06
Nov
13

Notes on game controllers

I decided to write this post just to tie together some of my experiences of using game controllers of various sorts to make music.

Generic USB controllers like these are generally pretty easy to use:

Game Controller 3

StyloSim6sm

Since computers come with USB ports on them, it’s usually just a case of plug them in and get going.  There are lots of them about and they can be picked up cheaply on eBay and Gumtree or from local charity shops.

The main consideration is what program to use which can interpret the signals the controller is sending out and allow you to use those signals for your own purposes.  There are many of these, ranging from simple apps to tweak the operation of a particular device, to large and complex  programs designed to customise a device’s every action to the user’s requirements.

This is made possible by the existence of the ‘HID’ standard for USB devices.  HID = ‘Human Interface Device’, a description which can be used to cover devices such as computer keyboards, mice, game controllers, joysticks, and the like – all the things which humans use to interact with computers.  As long as the device is made to conform to the standard – and manufacturers have readily got used to the idea of doing so – these programs can interpret the input and make it available to be changed to a different input; to perform an action completely unrelated to the device’s original purpose; or send data to another program which can use it creatively.

I’ve used several of these for different purposes.  There’s Multicontrol, which I used for this MIDI Drum controller:

MultiControlDrums1

Multicontrol has the ability to interpret the game controller’s signals and pass them on in the form of MIDI messages, or OSC (Open Sound Control).  Designed by Alexander Refsum Jensenius, it’s distributed free for Mac OS.  There is a source file downloadable from the site referenced above, although I have no idea if this can be compiled for Windows PC’s.

I’ve also used a commercial program, ControllerMate, which enables very sophisticated interpretation of controller signals.  This allows not only for simple button ‘mapping’, where you specify, for example, keystrokes for each controller button, but also, with this window you can build up complicated series of events, initiated by a button press.:

ControllerMate window

The small drop-down list to the right indicates the wide variety of actions that can be incorporated into the instructions for each button or other control.

The list in the left-hand column indicates a couple of devices which I’ve made customised groups of special controls for: once you’ve set the controls up, you can save them and call them up by name.  It’s possible in this way to have several different set-ups for the same device, depending on what you want to use it for at different times.

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My favourite program is PureData, or Pd for short.  Using Pd means you have to write the programs yourself – but this is done graphically, rather in the manner of flow-charts, rather than by writing lines of code, and the program is specifically designed for making music, so it has typical audio and MIDI functions (Pd calls them ‘objects’) ready to use.

I’ve used Pd both for creating instruments, like the Theresynth, which uses the PCLine Rumble Pad pictured above, and for sound and sample manipulation.  The blog post for the Theresynth (which uses one of the joysticks on the controller for changing pitch in a way reminiscent of a theremin), also has quite a detailed description of the Pd programming.  I’ve also blogged about various sound manipulation apps (or ‘patches’) in the past, including the StyloSim, which uses the joystick controller pictured above, and the Black Widow.

The StyloSim patch isn’t very extensive, and looks like this:

StyloSim2

The small box with ‘hid’ in it, near the top right-hand corner, is the Pd object which recognises input in the HID standard; the ‘route’ objects below split up the different inputs, and then you can send them off to do whatever you need them to do – control oscillators or filters, perform mathematical functions, create MIDI messages, and so on.

While on the subject of software, a handy piece of freeware which I often use is Joystick and Gamepad Tester from AlphaOmega Software.  AlphaOmega produce a number of simple but ingenious apps which help you with your Mac, including an app which cuts out that annoying ‘chime’ when the computer opens (my car doesn’t sing at me when I turn the ignition, my hi-fi stays silent until I put in a CD, my TV remains mute until I select a channel – why on earth do computer manufacturers think we want to hear the machine start up!  One of life’s unexplained mysteries . . .), but also some apps which can have a value in computer music.  I may well have blogged about some others elsewhere.

The purpose of Joystick and Gamepad Tester is to tell you what controls your USB device has, and if they are devices like joysticks, what are the minimum and maximum readings you can get from them: 0 – 127, 127 – 255, etc.

I recently bought a game controller like this from a charity shop:

Logitech Buzz

It looked as if it was originally part of a quiz game, and had a USB connector, so it looked as if it would be easy to use with the computer.

I took it home, plugged it in and started up Joystick and Gamepad Tester.

JAGT 1

The instructions say to press all the buttons and move joysticks and other controls so they’re recognised. but when I clicked ‘OK’ on the screen above, I saw this:

JAGT 2

I found out first of all what the device was – a ‘Logitech Buzz Controller V1’ – and was able to select it from the drop down list.  Note by the way that all the normal USB-connected devices are also listed: in my case, there’s the laptop keyboard, the infrared receiver on the front and the trackpad.

The Apple IR Remote – listed in the screenshot above as ‘IR Receiver’ – isn’t exactly a game controller, and isn’t exactly an HID device like the others discussed here, but it’s worth a brief digression as its uses are very much the same.

As far as  Joystick and Gamepad Tester is concerned, nothing was listed when I selected ‘IR Receiver’ or registered when I pressed buttons on any of my Apple remotes – only when I selected one of the two entries ‘IOSPIRIT IR Receiver Emulation’.  I don’t know why there are two entries, but they’re identical and are the result of installing either the app Remote Buddy, or its free driver Candelair – or very probably both – as I’ve been working on using Apple Remotes recently (see blogposts, starting here).

A useful feature of  Joystick and Gamepad Tester in this respect was that it showed the remote’s individual ID No. in the ‘Now’ column.  (The ID numbers in the ‘Min’ and ‘Max’ columns are irrelevant, as they will just show the highest and lowest Remote ID numbers used in the past).  Just picking up a remote and pressing a button will change the now column to verify the number.

When I selected ‘Logitech Buzz Controller V1’, all the controls were already listed:

JAGT 3

There are 5 buttons on each of the controls, and the list suggests that they are unique – that’s quite a decent number of buttons for a game controller, so that could be handy in some situations.  Buttons usually show up with a minimum and maximum of ‘0’, so it was quite interesting see that 4 of them with a different reading in ‘Max’: perhaps these were the big red buttons, one on each handset?

Actually, there weren’t: as you go round the buttons pressing them, you can see exactly which is which – the value appears in the ‘Now’ column: ‘1’ for pressed, ‘0’ for not pressed, which is typical for buttons, so by the time you’ve finished, they all have ‘0’ in the ‘Min’ column and ‘1’ in the ‘Max’ column.  If you’re intending to modify the controller you’re testing by taking it out of its case and fixing new buttons to it, this is very useful because you can make a note at this point of which one is which.

Better still, if you click the ‘Save’ button – indicated by the arrow on the screenshot above – you can save the list as a text file, print it out and make your notes on that.

First you’re given the usual ‘Save’ options:

JAGT 4

Then  Joystick and Gamepad Tester confirms that the text file has been saved and it’s safe to quit or begin testing another device.

JAGT 5

I was impatient and clicked ‘Save’ before testing all the buttons, so the text file shows an incomplete test – I haven’t verified yet that each of the buttons gives a maximum ‘1’ when pressed and goes back to a minimum ‘0’ when released.

JAGT 6

I was intrigued by the two entries at the bottom for ‘X-Axis’ and ‘Y-Axis’.  I studied the device carefully, and could find no control on it which resembled a joystick, which is what an entry like this would be for: data from these sources wouldn’t just be a ‘0’ or ‘1’, but a number moving from perhaps as low as -255 to +255.  I’m assuming this indicated that the chip used in the device is capable of supporting a joystick, but this hasn’t been implemented.  Perhaps, if one knew how, one could hack the PCB which controls the buttons and add this capability.

*

There are two things worth mentioning about HID devices at this point.  The first is that, provided you leave the USB output leads intact, you can remove the circuit board from the original case, solder your own buttons and potentiometers to it and it will still be recognised as the same device by the computer.  This was the theory tested by the Cybersynth, which is basically a Theresynth, as described above, with the PCB removed from the Rumble Pad and put into a completely different case.  It doesn’t look like it any more, but the computer still thinks it’s a game controller.

Cybersynthsm

In fact, you can also do this with an old computer keyboard.  It’s possible to remove the PCB from these, work out which connections make which letters and wire these connections to your own buttons or switches.  I did this with the board from inside an old Apple keyboard (as described here):

Blueberry keyboardsm

It was very cheap, having been scrapped as being broken, but what was wrong with it was nothing to do with the electronics.  I took the board out, rewired it, and use it for controlling a looping program.

MIDI CPU insidesm

You may be able to tell from this picture – although the scale isn’t particularly evident – that the PCB inside this particular brand of keyboard is ridiculously large.  You could undoubtedly find a make with a much smaller board which would be more practical.

As it happens, I’m using this particular board for an application which requires letters as an input, and no remapping – i.e. ‘A’ is ‘A’, ‘B’ is ‘B’ and so on.  However, since the keyboard is an HID device, using one of the programs above, you could change the functions of the buttons and have a very large number of different control buttons available: the equivalent of 26 letters, 10 numbers, numerous punctuation keys; and programs will normally distinguish between lower and upper case letters, increasing the total number of controls even further.

The second thing to mention is that there are many PCBs on the market with circuitry on them to output HID standard signals, and allowing you to attach your own combinations of buttons, switches, knobs and joysticks.  People who make their own arcade games like them, so this is where you’re likely to come across them (on sites like this, for example).

Some of these are relatively inexpensive.  I got this one, which can encode 12 buttons and 2 joysticks for £8.00, complete with connecting leads for the buttons, joysticks and USB:

Zero Delay Encoder Board Rev2 -2

You have a free choice of what kind of buttons to attach, and using a board like this is easier than extracting and rewiring an existing game controller board

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As for other types of controller: there are many.  This one by Nyko for Playstation – which I have in the collection, but haven’t worked on yet – combines the traditional game controller with a QWERTY keyboard:

Nyko IMG_1668

This one, the Airpad, is interesting because it contains a tilt mechanism which enables control by tipping the device up:

Airpad IMG_1667

You may notice something odd about the above two controllers – the funny connectors on the end.  Your computer probably doesn’t have sockets that shape.  This is no problem, though, as Playstation to USB adapters are easy to come by and not expensive.  This one cost less than £2:

PS Adapter IMG_1669

It’s also possible to find extenders and hubs for Playstation devices, and these don’t usually cost much second-hand on eBay:

Extension IMG_1255

Hub IMG_1561

Using PS3 (wireless) controllers is also perfectly possible.  There are drivers for Windows; later versions of Mac OS (from 10.6 upwards, I believe: see here for further details) have drivers built in, using Bluetooth.  Earlier versions of the Mac OS can work with a driver from Tattiebogle.

USB adapters also exist for XBox controllers, although replacing the proprietory connector with a USB plug doesn’t seem difficult,  according to this illustrated article.

[Edit: unfortunately, both the sites I used for this information are unavailable now.  I’ve left the link in case that site’s unavailability is temporary, and I have an image from the other one:

xboxcablemodpaintThis implies that the Xbox cables have wires using the standard USB colour-coding, so if the wire attached to your USB plug uses these standard colours, they can simply be attached like-for-like].

Once again, Tattiebogle provides a driver for wireless XBox controllers – although you’ll also need one of these wireless receivers:

wireless receiver2

Third-party receivers can cost as little as £5.

At the time of writing, the most advanced consumer-oriented controllers are the Nintendo wii and Microsoft’s Kinect.  The wiimote controller is a hand-held device which uses accelerometers and infrared to detect position and motion in addition to control by button-presses; Kinect uses infrared, cameras and microphone to detect spoken commands as well as hand and body positions from a distance.  I’ll be looking at musical uses of these two systems in the next post in this series.

04
Nov
13

Fun with the Apple IR Remote, Part 3: Additions

In the previous post in this series, I dismantled and modified a white Apple infrared (IR) Remote control.

In this post I describe a foot controller which can be plugged into the DB9 socket on the modified remote, and then go on to consider what you can do if your Mac doesn’t have an IR receiver built in.

I had already constructed a very simple foot controller, which I had used with the Superstylonanophone.  The controller was  – well it was exactly what it looks like: a length of plastic guttering with a few push switches inserted into it, and a multi-way socket.

Footswitches1

There were just 4 buttons on the foot controller: two for bass drums and two for hi-hats.  These were connected very simply underneath: one side of each switch was a common connection, the other sides went to 4 appropriate pins on a 15-way D socket.

Footswitches2

It occurred to me that the same controller could also be used for the IR Remote, which also required a number of push switches with a common connection.  There would need to be more of them – at least 6 – and an alternative 9-way connector, but provided both connectors weren’t used at the same time, the controller could operate either device.

I had some spare buttons of the same type, so I added 3 extra ones in the spaces between the 4 originals (not in a very straight line between the 4 originals, it has to be said!), a new DB9 connector, and an LED which would come on when the foot controller was connected to the modified remote.

Outside DSCF0004

Only 6 of the buttons were required to duplicate the functioning of the Apple remote.  Using my IR Remote Tester in iRedLite, I verified that all the button presses – short, long and double – were being received and transmitted correctly from the six buttons I had wired up.  I connected the seventh so that the LED – which can be seen illuminated at the bottom of the picture – would go out if it was pressed, as a warning that it had no function.

Inside DSCF0003

I moved the bass drum triggers to the two leftmost buttons, and hi-hat triggers to the two rightmost.  At some point, when I revisit the Superstylonanophone, I can consider adding in further drums as there are now 3 spare buttons in the middle of the controller.

Connection DSCF0002

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The foregoing is all very well if you have a MacBook, MacBook Pro or whatever, which has a built-in IR receiver – but what if your Mac doesn’t have this capability?

Fortunately, if this is your situation, all is not lost.  As I implied when discussing Joystick and Gamepad Tester, the Mac’s IR receiver is part of the USB system – this can be verified by checking the machine’s System Profiler:

system profiler ir receiver2

So, to add IR control, the ideal thing to get hold of would be an Apple IR receiver module which has a USB connection.

Luckily just such a device exists!

There may be a number of these, but the one I got was either Apple part number 922-7195 or 922-8355, not sure which: one is from a MacBook 15″, the other from a MacBook Pro; both have an IR receiver input and a USB output, so I daresay both would work equally well in this application.

IR Rec module IMG_0679L

I bought mine here: http://www.powerbookmedic.com/MacBook-Pro-Infrared-board-p-18041.html at a cost of less than £10, including postage from the U.S. – a bargain!  [Edit: and apparently still available 5 years later!  The part is still shown for sale on that website in October 2018.  The current MacBook/MacBook Pro no longer has this IR receiver in it].

I got the idea for this part of the IR project from this article: http://photos.pottebaum.com/2009/IR.  The aim was to install this module in a new case with a USB lead, thus enabling a Mac with no IR receiver to benefit from the remote, or to use  the remote at a distance or from an angle where a direct line of sight to the computer wasn’t available.

The new case I chose was this one:

IR REC front IMG_1567

It’s a Fisher Price ‘CD Player’.  It doesn’t, in fact, play CDs at all, but I picked it partly because of a definite stylistic connection with the modified Apple remote described above, partly because of its large front ‘window’ – which might allow for a certain degree of repositioning of the IR receiver inside – and partly because it was powered by three AA batteries, somewhat similar to the 5v provided by USB.

IR Rec back IMG_1568

I undid the 6 screws in the back (four of them are already out in the above picture, the two at the top remain), revealing the internal structure.

IR Rec inside IMG_1571

It was very well made, and very difficult to get apart as a matter of fact, as the two large white surfaces you can see were glued together.  It looked like blobs of a sticky adhesive which stretched when pulled, so I was able to prise the two halves apart slightly and cut the glue with a craft knife.

The speaker is visible in the top right-hand corner.  One of the three circuit boards in the unit can be seen at the bottom of the back section; the other two are underneath the two sides of the front section.

Circuit boards IMG_1569

The 8 press switches that can be seen on the tops of the circuit boards are operated by the 4 buttons on the front of the unit.  The switches are in pairs and the two switches in each pair are identical.

I tested each switch in turn and noted their outputs.  They worked by cycling through a number of samples: a short bell-like tune, some spoken phrases (‘Sing with me!’, ‘Oh, yeah!’ and ‘Let’s Boogie!’) and some longer songs with voices and instruments (‘One, two, buckle my shoe’, ‘Itsy-bitsy spider’, ‘Row, row, row the boat’, and some songs that sounded as if they may have been specially written for the unit).  Three of the pairs had a 9-step sequence, one of them a 6-step.

I wasn’t, in this instance, interested in the songs, as I wasn’t intending to circuit bend the device, but I wanted the LEDs to come on when IR input was received.  The best LED display was seen while a song was playing; during the bell tune and the spoken phrases the lights came on only for a short time.  The sequences weren’t the same for each button, and I decided that button three (bottom left)  was the best one to concentrate on, as there was a higher proportion of songs in the sequence compared to short phrases.

Steps in the sequence were initiated simply by a short +V pulse to an appropriate point on the PCB, which should be easy to generate.

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First of all, however, I needed to connect up the IR receiver module.

Being color-blind, I’m always nervous about connecting up colour-coded wires – especially to a USB plug which would be going into my laptop.  However, the module seemed – to my eyes at least! – to follow the conventional red-white-green-black USB wiring scheme (+5v, Data +, Data -, Ground, in that order), so I snipped off the small 4-way connector it came with and connected the four wires to a short length of multi-core cable.  The other end of the multi-core cable was connected to a USB plug, via a small PCB connector.  There was no PCB: this was just a convenient way of joining together various wires – the four USB wires, power leads from the batteries and some others I’ll explain shortly.

So, the Apple IR receiver module was connected to a USB plug.  I didn’t want the unit to have a long lead trailing out from it, so the lead to the plug was kept very short, and plugged into a small USB hub which I fixed to the battery compartment lid on the back of the unit:

hub IMG_1585

hub 3 IMG_1587

It was an excellent little hub – only £2 or £3 on eBay, and capable of being powered, if required.
Now ready for testing, the unit looked like this:
Back&Front_IMG_1603

The new receiver module can be seen lying in the middle of the front of the unit.  The short USB lead and plug can be seen emerging from the back, and at the bottom of the picture the mini-USB lead goes from the hub to the laptop.  The purpose of the three unused wires in the multi-core cable is explained later on, and is not to do with the Apple receiver.

Checking in the System Profiler, I now saw two IR Receivers instead of one:

System profiler 2510

I experimented simply by covering up one or other of the receivers and making sure, using iRed Lite, that my remotes – especially the new modified one – were able to control various functions in Safari and would print the correct numbers in Text Edit.  The two receivers seemed to work in tandem on the MacBook – it didn’t matter which of the two I covered up, the other would immediately register the button presses and carry out the required function.

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The vital question was: what would happen if I connected the unit up to a computer that didn’t have a built-in IR capability?

I started with my eMac, which runs the same OS as the MacBook, 10.5.8.  I checked the System Profiler – no mention of an IR receiver; then I plugged the unit in and was gratified to see the IR receiver shown (I needed to close the System Profiler and reopen it to make the new device show up):

eMac before&after IMG_1605

I didn’t have Joystick and Gamepad Tester or iRed Lite installed on the eMac, so I had to content myself with testing the functions the remote normally performs on a Mac – opening and closing Front Row and turning the volume up and down.  Using the new modified remote, I confirmed that it would do this.

I then tried the same procedure on an old G5.  I can’t remember what OS it uses, but I think it’s either 10.5 or 10.6.  Once again, using the System Profiler, I verified that no internal IR receiver showed up at first, but when plugged in the new device was registered:

G5 before and after IMG_1608

The one thing that did appear first of all in the USB section was my iPazzPort.  I’ve described in a past post what this is – a very handy little device, no more than 4 or 5 inches tall, which duplicates the function of the keyboard and trackpad:

iPazzPort_IMG_1607

As can be seen, it connects via USB – not a problem, even on the G5, which only has one USB socket on the front, as I was able to plug it into the hub on the back of the new receiver and use the two devices together.

Once again, the remote worked exactly as intended, proving that IR functionality could be added to a Mac which originally had none.

*

I didn’t immediately reassemble the unit, as there were a couple more things I wanted to do with it.  First of all, as mentioned earlier, I wanted to include a method of making the lights flash when an infrared signal was received from the remote.  As described, this needed something to give a +V pulse when the signal came in.

I didn’t want to interfere with the Apple receiver module, so added a second IR receiver like this:

AX1838

This device, an AX1838, has three leads: two for the power supply, with the third giving an output when it detects an IR input.  It wouldn’t be necessary to interpret the input – which is what the Apple module does – just give an output pulse on receipt of a signal.  Unfortunately, according to the data sheet, the output of the device goes low when IR input is detected, not high, which is what the ‘CD Player’ circuit requires.

I was under the impression that the low level output from the device would be sufficient, when inverted, to operate the switch in the CD Player, but this wasn’t the case.  In the end I looked around at circuits for simple infrared-operated switches, and used an adapted version of this one, using just three components, a BC588 transistor, a 22μF capacitor and a 100k resistor.

Apart from the existing electronics concerned with playing the samples and sequencing the lights, the electronics I added to the device looked like this:

IR Receiver Electrics Revised2

In fact, this is what I intended, but as I didn’t have a 100Ω resistor, I added a 470Ω instead.  I don’t know if this was too large a value, but I’ll find out when I come to use the wii later.

I didn’t bother with a piece of stripboard, I just wired everything up to the three legs of the transistor.  This addition to the circuit seemed to have the desired effect: the output of the transistor is normally kept low; an incoming IR signal is detected by the AX1838 and as the capacitor charges up the multiple signals are smoothed out into one.  The output of the transistor goes high and is boosted to a level sufficient to operate the CD Player switch and turn on the lights, giving a visual indication that an instruction has been received by the Apple IR receiver.

Stiff wires were attached to the two IR detectors, anchored inside the unit, so the detectors could be repositioned within the CD Player front window.

*

Finally, while on the infrared theme, I just had two more things to do  before reassembling the finished unit.

Firstly, I added two infrared LEDs to the front of the unit.  These had nothing to do with the receiver or the flashing lights: they’re a little closer together than the original, but they’re designed to duplicate the function of the wii ‘sensor bar’.

IR LEDs IMG_1609

I’ll be blogging about the wii system later, but the ‘sensor’ bar’ is a most inaptly named device, since it doesn’t ‘sense’ anything at all, but instead provides two points of infrared light which the wii remote controller – or ‘wiimote’ – uses to fix its position.  Being a little closer together than the Nintendo original isn’t a problem – the wiimote might just think it was further away from the sensor bar than it really was.  As I’m not proposing to use my wii controller for playing sports, I don’t anticipate a problem with this.  Further information will appear in my wii posts.

The new infrared device had one more secret, hidden in the carrying handle:

Candles 1 IMG_1612

There are many reports on the internet of wii users who have substituted candles for infrared LEDs when using their wiimote, so I thought I’d guard against battery failure in the unit by adding candle holders – the kind you buy for birthday cakes.  Believe it or not, this does work!

*

Front & Back

After reassembling the unit, and thinking again about the wii remote, I added an extra external item to the USB hub: a tiny Bluetooth dongle.  I found this in Poundland, for £1 (obviously!) and thought for that price it would be worth experimenting with.

22
Oct
13

Fun with the Apple IR Remote, Part 2: Modifications

In the first part of this series of posts, I described the Apple infrared (IR) Remote system and some software which allows you to use the IR signals for controlling apps on the Mac.

In this post I take a closer look at the Remote controller itself, and describe the way I modified mine.

I must say that I’m not familiar with the silver aluminium remote, although I have no reason to believe it’s substantially different on the inside from the original white remote.  This is the one I have experience of.

What’s good about the white remote is also what’s bad about it – it’s very tiny.  This is great if you just want to tuck it away somewhere and not have a bulky TV/DVD player-type remote to lug about, but not so good from the point of view of it easily being overlooked or mislaid.

So, one reason you might want to modify the remote is to make it larger and more suitable for the human hand.

Frankly, the most cunning solution to his problem is the one described here by Brad Moon.  I hope he won’t mind me using his picture:

Remote wood block

Yes, what Brad has done is simply to glue his Apple remote to a hand-sized piece of wood.  Job done!  As he says in his blog post: ‘Too big to lose, too big to slip behind a cushion or slip into a pocket . . . The Apple TV remote hack has been in place for roughly a month.  In that time, the remote has been lost exactly zero times.’

This certainly takes care of the problem of the unit itself being rather small, but to address the problem of the size of the buttons themselves and their awkward layout, the unit has to be taken apart.  At the time of writing, you can still get hold of these white remotes on eBay for about £3, so if you want to try this, there’s no need to sacrifice the one that came with your Mac.

This is how it’s done:

1_IMG_1533

The picture above shows the unit and the tool (or maybe one of the two tools) you need to open the remote unit.  This is a small Philips or crosshead screwdriver.

As well as being used in a moment for taking out screws, the first thing you can do with it is poke the small depression on the right-hand side of the base of the remote unit.  This releases the battery tray, which pops out on a spring:

2_IMG_1534

Next, you have to undo a screw which is right down inside, next to the release button:

3_IMG_1536

Undo the screw and take it out:

4_IMG_1535

The next bit is the most difficult.  On the opposite side – the lower side in these pictures – is the spring which pushes the battery compartment out.  The spring is firmly attached to the bottom of a small piece of plastic, and you have somehow to grab this piece of plastic and pull it out, with the spring on the bottom of it.

The next picture shows what the spring and the plastic piece look like.  You might reach in and grab it with tweezers or narrow long-nosed pliers, but it’s right up against the edge of the case, and hard to get hold of:

6_IMG_1538

If you look at the full-size version of the picture, you can see that the piece of plastic has tags on it, so I was able to poke the screwdriver under a tag and drag the plastic and spring out.

Underneath where the spring was is another small screw.  Unscrew this and take it out:

7_IMG_1539

You can then pull the battery compartment out.  I did this with a pair of narrow pliers, gripping the white release button, which you can see in this photograph.

8_IMG_1540

Then you can push out the remaining parts left inside the case.  I did that by inserting the screwdriver here:

9_IMG_1541

The circuit board, with the springy battery connectors behind, slid out very easily:

10_IMG_1542

You can carefully detach the end  piece from the circuit board, clicking it off the tabs which hold it in place over the end of the board and the IR LED:

11_IMG_1543

This an exploded view of the remote, with all the parts visible:

11B_IMG_1547

Putting it back together, of course, is the reverse of this procedure.  The trickiest part is undoubtedly getting the spring and its plastic top back in.  This video by Andrew Williams, to which I’m greatly indebted: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vuP6CH770NM shows a remote being put back together, and explains the direction in which the tabs must face – front and back – for the plastic piece to go back in the correct position.

*

I wasn’t interested in putting it back together again, so I looked more closely at the circuit board:

12&13_IMG_1545&6

You can see in the top part of the picture the infra-red LED and the 6 buttons.  You can also see 4 screws which attach the circuit board the the plastic fitting.

The first thing to do was take off the six silver ‘domes’ which make the contacts when the buttons are pressed, and see what connections they made.  These are often, in my experience, attached together to a transparent sticky sheet which peels off, and so it was in this case.

Remote PCB IMG_1554

As you can see from this photograph – taken after I’d removed the four small screws holding the PCB to the plastic fitting – each button makes a contact between an outer ring and a centre spot.  All the outer rings were connected together, to what looked like +V, while the six centre spots were separate.  What I wanted to do was transplant the board into a larger unit, so I needed to solder seven wires to the board, and connect them to buttons in the new unit.

The larger unit I’d chosen was this one:

vtech_tinytouch_phone

This is a vtech Tiny Touch Phone: it’s powered by two AA batteries – 3v, same as the Apple Remote; has 12 buttons – exactly twice as many as the Remote, which could be handy for dissociating short, long or double presses; and has flashing lights – which is always good.  It also makes sounds, and under normal circumstances I would be looking to ‘bend’ these, but in this instance making noises wasn’t what the project was all about, so I decided I’d remove the sounds completely by taking out the speaker.

The Phone also has a hollow plastic ‘antenna’, which was perfectly placed for installing the IR LED.

aerial

This is what it looked like inside.  In  this picture the large mechanical unit, which looks like the film sprockets in an old 35mm film camera is obscuring the speaker housing.  With the speaker removed there looked as though there’d be plenty of room for the small Apple Remote PCB there.  The wires for the LED could easily pass from there up into the antenna.

Phone inside IMG_1552

The general idea would be to rewire the button connections on the Apple Remote PCB to the Tiny Touch Phone buttons.  The Phone buttons (visible in the first picture above) are, however, hollow, and make connections with a membrane, rather like  QWERTY keyboard, via their edges .

I wanted to leave the membrane intact, to operate the flashing lights, so I decided to add small tactile switches with longish 3.5mm actuators which would be glued in the hollows with the actuators sticking out through a hole in the top of the Tiny Touch buttons.  It was these switches which would actually operate the IR remote.

Gluing these in without gluing them together so they wouldn’t function proved difficult.  Letting superglue anywhere near them – even the gel type which I usually use – could prove fatal, as it has a habit of running everywhere.  In the end I used epoxy, which is stickier and less runny, and tiny pieces of tissue paper soaked in epoxy to keep the switches in place.  The moon and star buttons aren’t hollow, so I stuck tactile switches with short 1mm actuators to the top of them, on the outside, with wires running in through a small hole.

In the end I only connected up the star: it would have been difficult to make the hole in exactly the right place in the moon and route the wires inside without disturbing the membrane too much.  The star operates the ‘Menu’ button, which is less important than the others and doesn’t require more buttons to distinguish types of presses.

Buttons IMG_1550

In the event, all but one of the tactile switches worked after this treatment, which was OK, as there were two new buttons for each button on the original remote, so all functions would still be available.

To modify the new unit, I first removed the speaker and replaced it with a resistor (two 22Ω resistors in parallel, actually, as I had these lying about.  I didn’t have any 8Ω resistors to match the speaker, but 11Ω, I reasoned, was close enough).

This created enough space in the top of the unit for the small Apple remote PCB.

I reinstalled the buttons in their places and connected the tactile switches together.  One side of each switch was connected to +3v, the other sides of the switches were connected together in pairs (except the moon, as explained above).  This made 7 extra wires running down to the bottom of the unit.  The presence of the wires might have an effect on the operation of the TouchPhone’s original buttons, but this wasn’t important as their only function now was to light up LEDs when the remote was operated, a feature which Apple neglected to provide in the original.

Buttons_connector_IMG_1574

As can be  seen in the above picture, there was just about enough room for a 9-way D socket in the base of the unit.  I put this in partly because it would allow for external operation of the 6 remote buttons – perhaps by means of a footswitch – and partly because it provided a handy link point between the tactile switches and the Apple remote PCB.

To attach the remote PCB, wires were connected to the centres of the 6 switch points, and one of the outer rings, which were all connected together on the board.  3v and 0v power cables were connected to the springy metal pieces which formerly connected to the coin-battery in the original remote housing.  These connectors were shortened in order to fit the PCB neatly in the space where the speaker had been.

PCB_LED_IMG_1577

At the same time I detached the infrared LED and put it on the end of a longer lead, so it would reach to the front of the unit when in operation.

At this point everything was connected up, although not back in place, so I made a quick check, using iChat and the laptop camera in the way described before.  I pressed all the buttons in turn, pointed the unit at the camera, and watched for the infrared LED to come on.

When I was satisfied that it did so, I replaced the membrane and the TouchPhone PCB, as this would make pressing and testing the buttons a great deal easier.

*

For the next step I needed a way of thoroughly testing if the remote worked as intended.  I did this by creating a Tester program, using iRedLite.

It takes quite a few steps to create a ‘Layer’ – a set of instructions for each remote button – in iRedLite, but this is how I created a ‘Remote Tester’.

The ‘Menu’ button has special functions in iRedLite, but the other 5 buttons respond to short presses, long presses and double presses, so 15 separate instructions would be required.  What I decided to do was use Text Edit, and simply have it print the numbers 1 – 15, according to which remote button was activated.

Step 1 was to open iRedLite.  You can set it up in various ways in the preferences, but I have it set so it just opens an icon in the menu bar:

1 iredlite menu bar

The first step is to select the Editor from the drop-down menu:

2 Show editor

This brings up the Editor screen.  The top half of the window is a copy of what iRedLite calls the OnScreen Display (OSD).  The bottom half allows you to edit Layers and Buttons, and select the actions the buttons perform.  I began by creating a new Layer for my Text Edit actions:

3 New Layer

Then I entered the details of this Layer:

4 Name new layer

I typed a name for my Layer into the ‘Title’ box, and then made choices about what would happen when the Layer was selected.  I chose not to have the Layer activated when I switched to Text Edit, in case I wanted to type some text while using iRedLite with another application; but I did choose to have Text Edit activated when I switched to this Layer, because the actions all required text to be typed in it.  I have several remotes, so to be certain which remote was being tested, I set it to respond only to a particular one: in this case, the one with the ID No. 214.

Having finished creating the Layer, I clicked on the small arrow in the bottom right-hand corner of the Editor window.  I believe they call this the ‘Expert’ button, but it’s simply for accessing the section where actions are created and organised.

5 Editor window

Clicking this button opens the right-hand side of the Editor.  In here, if you look in the ‘Application’ column and can’t find the application you intend to use the remote with, click the ‘+’ button at the bottom of the column to add it to the list:

6 New Application

Type the application name in the box which appears.  The program will be recognised if its name is written the same as it would appear if you moved your mouse over it in the Dock.  Text Edit is actually written ‘TextEdit’, so that’s what I typed in the box:

7 Type New Application

Next you have to create a ‘Group’ – not for any special reason, I don’t think: it just works that way.  If you create a lot of actions for one particular application, this allows you to put different types of actions together, i.e. Keystrokes in one Group, AppleScripts in another, and so on.

I just wanted keystrokes, so I created a group called ‘Keys’.  Group names are your personal choice.  Once again, I clicked the ‘+’ sign under the ‘Groups’ column, and typed ‘Keys’ in the box which appeared.

8 New Group

Then it was time to create some actions.  Each action is entered individually, so I had to click on the ‘+’ sign at the bottom of the ‘Actions’ column 15 times, name the actions in the boxes which appeared, and specify what was to be done.

They were all more or less the same, and this is an example:

9 Create actions

Click the ‘+’ sign; name the action – again, this is entirely your choice: I just called them ‘1’ to ’15’; type the name of the application, or choose it if it appears in the drop-down list; check the box if you need the application to come to the front – which I did, because I wanted to read what it had printed; and type in what keystroke or keystrokes should be made.

Allocating the actions to the buttons is just a matter of dragging and dropping the action onto the appropriate button, and clicking ‘Assign Action’:

10 Drag and drop

The button will be given the name of the action – in this case ‘1’, which is the name I had given to the first action, which was to print the number 1.

11 Button number 1

You can rename the button, and I did, calling it ‘1/2’.  This is the reason why:

iRedLite shows the pattern of buttons in the way that it does to indicate that the button nearest the centre performs the short press action (which they call ‘Action on click’), while the button on the outside performs the double press action.  In reality, of course, these actions are performed by pressing exactly the same button on the remote, but it makes it clearer to see which number of presses produces which action.

So the ‘short press’ and the ‘double press’ are specified, but the ‘long press’ action (which they call ‘Action when holding’) remains to be allocated.

I decided to add the long press action to the instructions for the inner buttons, so in the example below I selected the appropriate inner button (Action 4, the ‘+’ button on the remote) and the ‘Advanced’ tab.  This allowed me to drag and drop the action I wanted to be performed as the long press action, printing the number ‘5’.

12 Button 4_5

I added a long press action to buttons 1 (the ‘Left’ button on the remote), 4 (the ‘+’ button), 7 (‘Right’), 10 (‘-‘) and 13 (the centre button) and renamed the buttons in iRedLite accordingly (‘1/2’, with ‘3’ being the double press action for that button on the remote; ‘4/5’, with ‘6’ as the double press, and so on).

When I’d finished, the set-up looked like this:

13 Finished

Note the button in the top right-hand corner,  marked ’15’.  There are 12 more places in the grey area of the button window where you can drag and drop actions, 6 on the left and 6 on the right.  If you drag and drop an action somewhere in the grey space, a new button will be created there.  This might come in handy if you had a modified control with differently positioned buttons.  In this case, I used one of the spare places for the double press action associated with the centre button.

Removing buttons, should this be necessary, is one of the functions on the drop-down menu where I chose ‘New Layer’ at the beginning.

I opened Text Edit and pressed all the buttons in order, single press first, then long press, then double press, hoping to see the numbers 1 to 15 displayed.  This what I saw:

14 Text Edit Numbers

The numbers were all printed out in order, so the combinations of short press, long press and double press all worked as predicted – but the long presses produced a continuous stream of outputs, even though I tried to take my finger off the button as quickly as possible.  The exception was the Centre button, which produced a single output of the number ’14’, no matter how long I held the button down.

This behaviour might not be what you require if, instead of printing numbers, you want a single specific action to be performed.  You might find the action repeated many times unless you’re able to take other steps to avoid this.

However, for testing purposes, this was fine, and I had established that the remote should, with iRedLite, be able to distinguish between 15 separate actions, despite only having 6 buttons.

*

The final stage of the project was to try out the new Tiny Touch Apple IR Remote to see if it would function correctly, using the iRedLite TextEdit Tester.

I quickly opened Joystick and Gamepad Tester to check the ID number of the new remote, which was 211.  I then opened iRedLite, went to the correct Layer for my Tester, and changed the remote number to which it would respond from 214 – the remote I had originally use to create the Layer – to 211.

The TouchPhone has a Power switch, but in fact the IR Remote worked even when it was in the ‘off’ position; in the ‘on’ position it worked with added lights.  As before, I pressed each button in turn with a short press, a long press and a double press, checking to see that the correct numbers were printed in Text Edit.

They were, so now it was safe to put the unit back together.  I glued the IR LED into the ‘antenna’:

top IMG_1580

fixed the 9-way socket in place:

bottom IMG_1584

and  wrote the ID number on the back.  Now I had the world’s most colourful Apple IR remote!  It could have been the world’s noisiest, had I not removed the speaker, but I felt this would be gilding the lily – and would probably have been a distraction, given that I had conceived of the remote as being part of a sound-modifying system, not a sound-producing system.

Alternative Remote

I was a little upset as, just as I was putting it back together, I broke the plastic link behind the ‘telephone’ button that mechanically ‘winds the film’ and changes the picture on the screen.  However, this only deprived me of more ways of turning LEDs on, and didn’t in any way affect the IR  controls, so ultimately I was satisfied with my achievement.  I didn’t want to spend more time on it at this stage as I wanted to move onto the next part of the IR project.

For this, see Part 3: Additions.

 

[Edit: I’ve since managed to get hold of another Tiny Touch Phone and replace the broken film winder, although I haven’t yet had time to change the tactile switch that got glued together].

15
Sep
13

The StyloSound

front_IMG_1497

The idea for the StyloSound came to me when, at about the same time, I acquired two small sound effect devices.  One was a ‘Sound Machine’, a small hand-held unit with 16 push-buttons, the other was a Sound effect kit with PCB, also with 16 different sounds.  I thought it would be a good idea to combine the two things into one unit and use the Stylophone stylus to trigger the sounds; plus I was also working on devices to interact with the ‘Bigfoot’ trigger/sequencer, so I decided to add the capability for the sounds to be triggered by the Bigfoot’s 4-bit binary output.

*

There are several varieties of Sound Machine.  The one I got was the silver ‘SciFi’ version.  This has a number of interesting ‘spacey’ effects, some of which I recognised from Star Wars, Close Encounters and others; some I didn’t.

sound-machine-sci-fi-box2

These Sound Machines aren’t all exactly the same inside, apparently (this site gives a very good first-hand account of looking inside them: http://www.magicmess.co.uk/cb/sm.php)*, but I guess the sounds are all initiated the same way – a +V pulse into the appropriate input of the dedicated chip which stores the samples.

*[Edit: unfortunately, this site is no longer up; I saved some of it, which had this information in it: http-www-magicmess-co-ukcbsm-php.pdf].

Having opened the Sound Machine and taken the PCB out, it was easy to attach a wire to each of the 16 inputs.  These wires went to the middle 16 notes on a Stylophone keyboard, salvaged from a broken instrument – via 16 SPDT switches, as I wanted to be able to choose either the sound from the Sound Machine or the sound from the Sound effect kit individually in each of the 16 positions.  This picture shows how the switches were arranged on the front of the StyloSound:

StyloSound outside in prep IMG_1469

The Stylophone stylus was connected to +V, and the output from the Sound Machine PCB went to the Stylophone speaker, which was much better than the small speaker in the original.

The Sound Machine is powered by three small 1.5v button cells, so it was no problem to use the Stylophone’s own battery compartment, which takes three AA batteries.  With all the switches to the left, the Sound Machine PCB was selected, and it was possible to play all 16 sounds from the Stylophone keyboard.  It was clearer from this than using the original buttons that each sound has to play right through before a new one can be selected.

The next obvious step was to interfere with the playback speed of the sample.  This version of the Sound Machine has only four visible components, two resistors and two capacitors – all tiny SMD (surface-mount) type – with the main chip embedded in its plastic blob.  Using the wetted finger method, I found the resistor responsible for playback speed, which is marked ‘R2’.  I removed it and replaced it with a potentiometer, which slowed down and speeded up the playback.

In this photograph you can see the points at which wires are soldered to the Sound Machine PCB.  In the magnified area you can just about make out the resistor on the left marked ‘R1’, the removed resistor, ‘R2’ (detached but still lying beside the place it was removed from), the wires going to the potentiometer and the two SMD capacitors behind the wires:

SMachine PCB IMG_1473

Unusually in my experience, the chip reacted badly to both too low a resistance and too high, and a 1M potentiometer, my usual first choice, was too big for it, causing it to crash.  In the end, I settled on a 470K potentiometer with 100k trimmers either side.  When the trimmers had been adjusted, this seemed to keep the resistance within acceptable levels.

(Later, I read the website referenced above, and the writer had a different solution to this problem, but I didn’t have time to check it out).

*

The above is all you would need to do to bend a Sound Machine, but the next thing in my case was to unpack the Sound Effect kit, which contained the following components:

Kit unpacked IMG_1471

The two logic chips are a 4066 (quad analog SPST switch), and 4011, (quad 2-input NAND gate); the sound effect chip was on a separate board, inserted, strangely, at right angles to the main board in the slot on the right.  The 4 SPDT switches enable the sound to be selected manually – the input is 4 bit binary – as an alternative to the 4 inputs on the left-hand side of the board.  Output is  through what looked like a small piezo element (the round black component in the bottom left of the picture).

The small board which the sound effect chip itself sits on is one of a range in the 9561 series.  This one has the prefix ‘LX’, but there are others, such  as ‘CK’, ‘CL’, ‘CW’, ‘KD” and others: all have the same general purpose, finding use in alarms, doorbells, and simple toys, making noises such as police sirens, machine guns and so on.  Simple circuits such as this one can be found on the internet utilising very few external components to produce the required sound (generally only one or two in each application):

LX9561

In fact, the kit I bought in an eBay auction only cost about the same as the module itself, and took full advantage of the range of sounds available by using the two switching terminals (F1 and F2) and a more complex array of resistors in place of the single 200k resistor shown in the circuit above.  The full list of sounds available is as follows:

0000: Machine gun voice
0001: Fire truck voice
0010: Ambulance voice
0011: The police car voice
0100: Crickets sound
0101: Alarm
0110: Electronic signal sound
0111: Koh
1000: Insect song
1001: Whistle
1010: Telegraph sound
1011: Bird song
1100: ChongJi gunfire
1101: Car sirens
1110: Bass instruments sound
1111: Racing sound

Some of these interpretations are rather fanciful, but that was no problem as I was more interested in making noise than repeating recognisable sounds.

This chart – for a similar chip in the series – gives some idea of the variations in binary inputs, combinations of selection inputs and resistances that produce different sounds.  If you read Chinese, which I don’t, it probably tells you in the right-hand column what sounds these combinations make.

KD9561 selection chart2

The PCB was robustly constructed and I put it together omitting the four slide switches, as I intended to control it externally, and didn’t attach the piezo sounder, which wasn’t going to be used.

Several of the resistors, when tested, had an effect on the pitch and speed of the sounds – the main job of the 4066 and 4011 is to select different combinations of resistors to affect the sound produced, much as indicated in the chart above – so I picked the likeliest one and replaced it with a 1M potentiometer.  This seemed to do the trick – perhaps taking things slightly too far in the upper direction, so I added a preset in series to keep it from going to its maximum – although it had happily done this without any danger of crashing the chip.

I only had a log potentiometer available, and in the end this was quite fortunate.  I found that connecting it the opposite way round from what would be expected – i.e. turning it clockwise decreased the pitch and speed, rather than increasing it – exploited the logarithmic scale well, making a much slower and smoother transition through the higher pitches and speeds.  I could have bought an ‘anti-log’ pot, but additional time and expense didn’t seem worth it.

This was a timely reminder that a useful part of experimentation would be to compare lin and log pots in particular situations, and reversing the log ones to see what difference this produced. (Reversing the linear ones would, of course, do no good, as they progress evenly through the scale from top to bottom, whichever way round they are).

This part of the circuit (the kit PCB) now looked like this:

Sound Effect Kit circuit 3

The original circuit diagram was provided by the supplier, Chip_Partner_Store, a Chinese company with an eBay shop at http://stores.ebay.com/Chip-Partner-Store.  Places like this – and there are many of them on eBay – are great for browsing through: you can find great deals on bulk buys of common components, as well as somewhat more unusual ones at very reasonable prices, and odd chips and modules like this one, which could always come in handy.

I’ve indicated in the diagram where I added the 1M potentiometer and preset, plus four LEDs, connected, via 470Ω resistors, to the A B C D inputs, the other ends connected to ground.  These were not there for any reason, particularly, except as an indicator of the code being received – and on the principle established with Bigfoot that flashing lights are always good.  I was sceptical as to whether the circuit supplying the four inputs would be able to power these as well as operate the Sound effect module correctly, but it all seemed OK.

The greyed-out section at the output wasn’t used in the final circuit.

Actually, this unit begins sounding repeatedly as soon as power is connected to it, since the default input 0 0 0 0 has an associated output – ‘Machine gun voice’ – and I couldn’t find a way of stopping it, so I also added a power on/off switch to this board, which isn’t shown, in case this feature became annoying.

*

SInce the circuit has four binary inputs, and I wanted to control the unit with the Bigfoot, which has a 4-bit binary output, it would seem logical to connect the Bigfoot output directly to the A B C D inputs.

Unfortunately, this wouldn’t allow the Sound effect module to be operated by the Stylophone keyboard, or the Bigfoot to control the Sound Machine, so additional circuitry was needed to convert the binary input into 16 individual outputs, and then convert that back into binary . . .

. . . Fortunately, the first of those would be a duplicate of part of the Bigfoot circuitry, which I was familiar with, using a 4067 chip.  This part of the circuit looked like this:

StyloSound - 4050_4067_3

The input from the 5-pin DIN socket goes first to a 4050 hex buffer.  Four of the six buffers are used.  The reason for doing this is to exploit an unusual and very useful feature which the 4050 shares with its more common sibling, the 4049.

Both perform a similar function, but the 4049 inverts the input (high level voltage in = low level voltage out, low level voltage in = high level voltage out), and the 4050 doesn’t.

What both of them are able to do is accept an input voltage level higher than the supply voltage, a vital consideration here as the output from Bigfoot is at 9v, whereas the circuitry of the StyloSound is at only 4.5v.  The 4050 is able to acccept the 9v input from Bigfoot and safely reduce it to 4.5v for the other circuits.  9v isn’t a problem for CMOS chips, but the Sound Machine and the Sound effects module are both rated at 4.5 – maybe 5 or 6 maximum – volts.

The four outputs of the 4050 go into the A B C D inputs of the 4067.  Each of the 16 outputs of the 4067 goes to the pole of one of the SPDT switches described earlier.  According to the binary coding on the inputs, one of the 16 outputs of the 4067 is connected to +V, and this signal is sent in the direction either of the Sound Machine when the switch is to the left, or the Sound effect module when it’s to the right.

*

The Sound Machine has 16 separate inputs, so no further circuitry was required: each switch was connected to one of the 16 places on the Sound Machine PCB where there used to be buttons.

For this signal to operate the Sound effect module, however, it needed to be changed back into binary.

Fortunately, this change is not difficult to implement, using a pair of 4532 chips and a 4071.  The 4532 is essentially the opposite of the 4067: it takes individual inputs and converts them to binary.  Each one has only 8 individual inputs and outputs in 3-bit binary, but the datasheet showed this 16-input, 4-bit binary output circuit, which is the one I used:

16 input encoder w pin Nos

The 16 inputs marked ‘From Stylophone Keyboard’ were all connected to ground with 100k resistors so that each one would be at 0v if not receiving a +V signal from the keyboard or the 4067.  The outputs of the 4071 were connected to the Sound effects module where marked A B C D in the earlier diagram.

Here’s how the physical connections are made, and what the chips look like on the board:

StyloSound 4532_4071_3

inside_IMG_1472_2

I’m not entirely sure that the correct order of those 16 inputs is as implied in the datasheet circuit.  Since I had LEDs on the inputs of the Sound effects module – i.e. effectively at the outputs of the 4071, I was able to check the sequence, and I found myself swapping some of them around.  If you’re using this method of converting single outputs to binary, it would be advisable to check this as you go along.  In my case, the wiring to and from the SPST switches was such a bird’s nest, that it became too difficult to work this out.  If it becomes clearer when I use this system in future projects, I’ll make sure to record the correct sequence.

However, when tested with ‘Bigfoot’, the module was triggered accurately, and the LEDs on the input lit up with the correct numbers when the notes were tested with the stylus and keyboard.

*

So now I had two separate sound effect circuits which differed in several ways: the Sound Machine uses samples, which are played back in their entirety, and are particularly effective when slowed down; the Sound effects module produces electronic sounds from oscillators, which can be cut off and replaced at any time by another sound, and lend themselves to being sped up.

Both sections had separate pitch/speed controls; both could be controlled automatically by Bigfoot, or manually via the Stylophone keyboard.

*

I could have stopped there, but I had another idea which I thought could be included.  I believe this is known in the trade as ‘feature creep’ – just adding that one extra implementation, which then turns into two, then three . . . and eventually makes a simple circuit over-complicated.

But I had  just acquired a number of unwanted ‘Voice Recorder’ key rings – 100, in fact! – at a few pence each.  At this price, they weren’t guaranteed to work, but when I tested some, quite a few seemed OK, and they were powered by 3 little coin cells – i.e. 4.5v, the same as the rest of the circuits in the StyloSound, so I thought I could employ a couple of them here.

Here’s what they look like:

outside_inside

There’s a very small microphone, a Record/Play switch, a button to operate whichever of the two functions it’s switched to, and an LED to indicate that it’s recording, as opposed to playing back.  I thought it would be good to be able to record a small (up to 8.2 seconds, it said) burst of sound while the samples or effects were being manipulated, then be able to play it back precisely the same again, a primitive – but undeniably inexpensive – repeat/looping device.

So I added a couple of these, connected to the outputs of the Sound Machine and the Sound effect module.  Small tactile switches glued to the front of the instrument replaced the ‘Record/Play’ switch and button, and I also moved the small LED’s to the front panel as well.

*

Only one thing remained, as far as the circuit was concerned, which was the output stage.  This turned out to be . . . strange.

First of all, I needed to mix together the four outputs: the Sound Machine, the Sound Effects module and the two recording devices, as well as send the Sound Machine and Sound Effects module outputs to the inputs of the recorders.  I planned to do this  with a passive mixer – i.e. just join the outputs together with resistors.

The Sound Machine worked perfectly with the internal speaker, but the Sound Effects module would only work with the other speaker terminal connected to +V rather than 0v: otherwise, it was extremely quiet.  I got round this by taking the output directly from the output of the LX9561 board, as indicated in the circuit diagram above, and bypassing the output transistor.

The outputs of the recorders were much too quiet, too, and the only way I could make them loud enough was to give them a path to +V by means of a very low value resistor (22Ω).  The sound quality of these didn’t quite match that of the Sound Machine and Effects module – partly, no doubt, because of reduced bandwidth in the recorders – but they definitely added a useful function.

In fact, I had intended to add tone and volume controls at this point, but the device refused point-blank to make any sound if anything other than a very low value resistor was put in the output path, I don’t know why.

In the end, I used 22Ω resistors to join the 4 outputs (two in series for the Sound Machine, which was a little louder than the others) and ran this straight to the speaker and output socket.  So, the final stage looked like this:

StyloSound - Output_3

The resistors are all 22Ω, as opposed to some other equally low value, simply because I had a pile of them which were going spare.

So: strange, but when I plugged it into my mixer, it  sounded fine, and the volume could be adjusted there.

*

The only thing left to do was to finish the case.  There was so much internal wiring and circuitry that the case had to be made 2.5″ deeper.  I constructed sides from an offcut piece of white plastic and superglued them in place – not especially neatly, it has to be said – with a little internal bracing.

top_IMG_1498
rside2_IMG_1494
back_IMG_1493*
This is what the StyloSound sounds like, controlled by ‘Bigfoot’:
21
Aug
13

The X-Terminator

In fact, the X-Terminator is not a new circuit of my own, but my third ‘classic’ reconstruction, following the Hedgehog (a variation on the Atari Punk Console) and the Cracklephone (my version of Michel Waisvisz’s Cracklebox).

The X-Terminator is really Arthur Harrison and Kevin Buckholdt’s Cacophonator.  You can read all about it here: http://theremin.us/Circuit_Library/cacophonator.html.

Essentially, it’s a fairly straightforward six oscillator circuit, using all six parts of a 40106 chip.  Cleverly, though, it’s designed without the usual precautions to keep the oscillators completely separate, and, indeed, has extra features which in operation cause them to affect one another.  Only four of the oscillators actually sound: the other two are just there to interfere with the power supply and cause further mayhem.

The actual circuit looks like this:

Cacophonator New Scan 2

As can be seen, it also contains an enormous 2200μF capacitor which can be switched into the circuit, operating the oscillators for as long as it takes to discharge, and a ‘starve’ control to increase the power supply impedence.

I didn’t make any significant changes to the published circuit in this case, mainly to avoid upsetting the delicate balance created between the oscillators.  I combined the latching and push switches of the original (bottom left of the circuit diagram)  into one, using a single ON-OFF-Momentary switch, and housed the circuit in a plastic Dalek, approximately 20cm tall.

The six 1M potentiometers controlling the pitch of the oscillators were the small PCB preset type with a very small ‘finger-and-thumb’ adjuster, and were attached to the Dalek’s various appendages.  This photo of the beginnings of construction shows more or less how this was done with short sections of brass rod inserted in the ends to link them together:

Basic Parts DSCF0008

The main part of the circuit was housed in the top section of the Dalek body with the large capacitor and associated components in the base:

Top IMG_1462

3 Parts IMG_1460

This view of the inside of the base shows the PP3 battery clip glued in place, with battery standing up in it, and the small secondary circuit board containing the large capacitor and small resistor which are placed between the battery and the 40106.

Base IMG_1459

The speaker and other small circuit board in here are not part of the Cacophonator: the small board comes from a Dr Who talking key ring, which I dismantled.  A button on the outside of the case produces the phrase ‘Exterminate!’ through the speaker.  So as not to interfere with the working of the Cacophonator circuit, I kept this entirely separate, and it’s powered by a small 3v CR2032 coin battery.

In operation, it seems to perform exactly as described in Arthur Harrison’s article referred to above.  It’s worth noting what Harrison says, that the discharge time of the large capacitor is affected by what the output is plugged into: the higher the impedence of the following circuit, the longer the discharge time – and therefore the longer the cacophony continues after the momentary switch is closed before it finally winds down.   With the latching switch closed, of course, it continues to sound, but requires a little manipulation of the controls – especially the ‘voltage starve’ control – to remain interesting.

Front & Back IMG_1463

[Edit: a sound file is available on the page describing an additional module which the X-Terminator can be plugged into, Orac]

12
Oct
12

Bigfoot – automatic/remote stylophone control, Part 2

As described in Bigfoot, Part 1, I was  constructing a device to play a modified stylophone remotely and automatically.  Using a 16 way analogue switch, the 24-pin 4067 chip, I designed a device where any one of 15 intervals on a 2-octave tonic sol-fa scale would be triggered by changing the chip’s 4-bit binary input.

First of all, I had used a physical control, a 16 position binary or hexadecimal rotary controller; what  I needed next to find was chips that could be made to output sequences of 4-bit binary numbers.

There are several of these, and I went for the 4516, which is a pre-settable binary counter.  It can, if left alone, repeatedly count upwards from 0 – 15, outputting numbers in binary form (‘0 0 0 0’ to ‘1 1 1 1’) on the pins marked ‘Q1’ to ‘Q4’ in the diagram below at the speed of a pulse connected to its clock input (Pin 15); or downwards from 15 – 0.  But by pre-setting a certain number, in binary form, on 4 extra binary inputs, marked ‘P1’ – ‘P4’ in the diagram, it can also be made to count upwards from this number to 15; or downwards from this number to 0.

This is how the 4516 is usually represented in circuits:

Q1 – Q4, as mentioned above, are the outputs, and P1 – P4 are the inputs for the number the count starts from, both in the form of a binary number.  The ‘Preset Enable’, pin 1, is usually held low (0v): when it’s taken high (+v) the number on the inputs P1 – P4 is loaded in and the next count starts from that number.  ‘Preset Enable’ is sometimes referred to as ‘Load’ for this reason.  The ‘Carry Out’ is normally high, but goes low when the count ends.

The ability to count downwards from a set number would be useful for an arpeggiator, which could be set to repeat a sequence with a length of 2 – 16 notes, using the rotary encoder, described in Part 1, connected to the 4 binary inputs to preset the sequence length.

The circuit for this device was extremely simple, requiring only the rotary encoder, a momentary switch to tell the 4516 to load the sequence length number, an on/off switch and two inverters from a 40106 (which has 6 in it altogether) .  One of the inverters was connected as an oscillator, which was connected to the 4516’s Clock input: this determines the speed at which notes sound; the other inverter was connected between the ‘Carry Out’ and ‘Preset Enable’ pins: the ‘Carry Out’ is normally high, so the inverter keeps the ‘Preset Enable’ low; when the count ends the ‘Carry Out’ goes low and the inverter sends a ‘high’ pulse to the Preset Enable, reloading the start number.

Encoder_4516

Pin 10 is connected to 0v in this circuit, which tells the 4516 to count down, not up: this was the easiest way to make sure it counted the right number of notes in the sequence.

In fact, counting up or down would result  only in a scale or part of a scale being played, so I made the output a bit more interesting by reversing the 4 outputs.  Instead of connecting the A output of the 4516 to the A input of the 4067, the B output to the B input, etc., I connected it so that A B C D were connected D C B A.  In essence this meant that consecutive notes in the sequence would not be consecutive notes in the scale, which I thought would be more interesting.

This produced method 2 of controlling the Stylophone: automatic arpeggiation.

*

The third method of controlling the Stylophone automatically used 3 more of the inverters in the 40106 which had been used for the 4516 clock and ‘Carry Out’ inverter.  The inverters were wired as oscillators.

This was the idea that came from the ‘Slacker Melody Generator’, described at http://electro-music.com/forum/viewtopic.php?t=27239&postorder=asc&start=50.  Each of the 4 oscillators is connected to one of the 4 inputs of the 4067; each runs at a different speed, changing the value on that input from low to high, or 0 to 1.  The different successive combinations of 0s and 1s produces a random melody, which can be changed by adjusting the speed of the oscillators, increasing or decreasing the rate at which each particular input changes from ‘1’ to ‘0’.

40106

The reason the four oscillators have two capacitors each is simply because the original circuit I used suggested values of 220n; I soldered these in place, but the oscillators seemed to run too fast for my liking, and it was easier to add new ones in parallel than take the old ones out and replace them.  The result of putting capacitors in parallel is the opposite of putting resistors in parallel – instead of the overall value decreasing, it increases; the capacitance is larger and the oscillators run slower.

Having put the 4067 and the five DPDT switches in place, I then had to connect the relevant input/outputs to 24 different resistors, in a chain (or ladder) like the original one inside the stylophone.  I suppose it would have been possible to calculate the exact resistances, but I had some time ago obtained a hundred 10k presets for about 7p each, for exactly this kind of situation, so decided to use those and tune it by ear.

This took some time, but at the end of it I had a substitute resistor chain for the SoftPot Stylophone and some methods of controlling it automatically.

*

It then occurred to me that with this arrangement, all this extravagance could only control one stylophone at a time, so I had a think about how to connect more instruments (and possibly instruments other than stylophones!).

The way to do it, it seemed to me, was to use the binary inputs to the 4067 as an output: any device could then be controlled, just by installing the 4067 and the five ‘major/minor’ switches in it – or perhaps some other suitable arrangement.

So I added two 5-pin DIN sockets as outputs, the five terminals being A, B, C, D and 0v.  Each of the four A, B, C, D outputs was buffered, using four of the six buffers in a 4050.  The 4050 is similar to its sister chip, the more well-known 4049; but whereas the 4049 inverts its outputs, the 4050 doesn’t.  This chip has even cleverer properties, which I will be using in a later project, but here I used it to ensure the binary outputs were of sufficient strength to make their way through a connecting cable and satisfactorily operate external circuitry.

I also added at this stage Clock In and Clock Out sockets, which would enable Bigfoot to set the tempo of a piece involving different instruments, or follow the tempo set elsewhere.  These two input/outputs passed through the remaining two buffers on the 4050.

The final thing was to add two more 5-pin DIN sockets, this time as inputs.  This would enable external circuitry to control the 4067s.  I had several more ideas of suitable external devices which could be used to do this, and I hope to be able to get around to making these quite soon.

The only other unusual component needed to get all this to work was a suitable master switch, to select the various external and internal inputs to the 4067s.  This had to have 4 poles – the A, B, C, D binary inputs – and 5 positions.  4 pole, 3 way rotary switches are easy to come by, but 4 pole, 4 or 5 way are not.  Fortunately, I was able to source a 4 pole, 5 way switch on eBay from a supplier in Hong Kong for just a couple of quid, so everything was in place.

With a circuit like this – just a handful of chips and a few external components – you either get a neatly laid out PCB or a rats’ nest of wiring.  I ended up with a rats’ nest of wiring . . . however, it worked, even when crammed into the case, with the addition of an extra section underneath the ‘big foot’ I had selected.

This picture shows the two binary input sockets on the left.  The 5 way switch is the knob on the front of the Bigfoot, just the right of centre in this picture.

Bigfoot Left DSCF0002

Due to a certain amount of experimentation along the way, some changes of mind about the functions, and some difficulties in getting all the switches and sockets to fit, there were some extraneous holes which I had drilled in the case.  The plastic frogs are there to hide the holes.  I also added a square of velcro on the back where I could attach a battery holder, as I had done with a number of previous projects.

DSCF0004*

This is what Bigfoot sounds like, controlling the SoftPot Stylophone and the StyloSound at the same time:

 [Edit: there is now a link to a short video of the Bigfoot in action at the bottom of this page].

12
Oct
12

Bigfoot – automatic/remote stylophone control, Part 1

I’d made enough instruments for the time being, and it was time to construct some automatic controllers – sequencers, arpeggiators and the like – as an alternative to playing them by hand.

When I made the SoftPot Stylophone, I had added a socket which allowed external circuitry to replace the chain of resistors which govern the pitch of the instrument.  This project was to make a device which would be able to use this feature to operate the SoftPot Stylophone remotely, and this rather blurry photograph shows the result – Bigfoot:

DSCF0005

I got the inspiration from several places: the arpeggiator and sequencer from Fun with Sea-Mosshttp://milkcrate.com.au/_other/sea-moss/; the melodygenerator by Slacker described on the electro-music.com forum: http://electro-music.com/forum/viewtopic.php?t=27239&postorder=asc&start=50; and the Intro to Lunetta Synths at https://docs.google.com/document/edit?id=1V9qerry_PsXTZqt_UDx7C-wcuMe_6_gyy6M_MyAgQoA&pli=1,  All these sites are full of great ideas and practical examples.

The main chip used in the circuits described above is a 4051, which is basically a single-pole 8-way switch.  It’s usually depicted in circuits like this:

The way it works is like this: it’s an analogue switch, not a digital switch, meaning you can connect anything you like to the pole (pin 3, marked Z in the diagram) and the 8 switch input/outputs (on the right-hand side, marked Y0 – Y7).  It doesn’t have to be logic high or logic low (i.e. +v or 0v) , it can be any voltage, an audio signal, anything – just like a physical switch.  Any one of the 8 input/outputs can be connected – one at a time – to the pole, not by turning a physical switch, but by the logic high or logic low status of the 3 ‘Select’ inputs (pins 9, 10 and 11, marked S1 – S3).

You can have every combination of logic high and logic low on the three Select inputs, ranging from 0v on all of them, 0v on one of the three and +v on two of them, +v on two of them and 0v on one, or +v on all of them.   There are eight possible variations, starting with 0v on all of them, which you could represent as ‘0 0 0’ or the binary equivalent of the number zero, to +v on all them, which could be represented as ‘1 1 1’ or the binary equivalent of the number 7.

If you feed 0v to all three of the Select inputs, or ‘0 0 0’, this is lowest possible binary number, so the lowest or first input/output is connected to the pole (Y0, pin 13); if you connect, say the one on pin 9 (S3) to +v and the other two to 0v, this would be the binary number ‘1 0 0’, the equivalent of the number 4.  Because the sequence starts with ‘0 0 0’ , or zero, feeding in ‘1 0 0’  connects the 5th rather than 4th input/output to the pole (Y4, pin 1).  By connecting all the Select inputs to +v, or ‘1 1 1’ (the number 7), the 8th input/output is connected to the pole (Y7, pin 4).

In the circuits I looked at, a common type of connection would be to have the pole connected to the part of an oscillator circuit that determines the pitch, and 8 input/outputs connected to different value resistors.  This would mean that a different resistance would be connected to the oscillator and a different pitch would be sounded when each of the 8 input/outputs was connected to the pole.

You could determine whether each of the Select inputs was a ‘1’ or a ‘0’  with  three 2 way switches, +v one way, 0v the other way, and change the notes by moving different switches up and down.  But this would be rather tedious.  By adding a circuit that automatically changed the ‘1’s and ‘0’s, you have a melody generator, arpeggiator or sequencer.

This was the kind of circuit I was after.

However, 8 notes was bit restricted.  Not restricted because there are 12 notes in one octave, though: I reasoned that you could make life easier for yourself by only allowing notes in a single scale – the ‘do’, ‘re’, ‘mi’ approach so succinctly captured in the Rodgers and Hammerstein song from The Sound of Music (‘Do a deer, a female deer/Re, a drop of golden sun’, etc.).  There are only 8 notes in a  ‘do’, ‘re’, ‘mi’ scale, including the next ‘do’ up from the one you started from.  If you just use those, you’ll never get an ‘out of tune’ note in your arpeggio or sequence.

The proper name for the ‘do’, ‘re’, ‘mi’ system, by the way, is ‘tonic sol-fa’, and was invented here in East Anglia by Sarah Ann Glover of Norwich, who lived from 1785 to 1867.  This 1868 woodcut shows Sarah Ann teaching ‘do’, ‘re’, ‘mi’ to the musical children of Norfolk:

(Why this public domain picture  is held by Music Department of the Bibliothèque National de France is not adequately explained by the Wikipedia, where I found it.  I suppose the fame of ‘do’, ‘re’, ‘mi’ is international).

No, it was restricted instead because the SoftPot Stylophone has 12 ‘do’, ‘re’, ‘mi’ steps from the bottom of the keyboard to the top – and in any case could be made to produce notes outside the range of the built-in keyboard.

So I decided I needed 16 steps (2 octaves, including ‘do’ two octaves up from the start), and found a chip, the 4067, to do the job.  The 4067 is a single-pole switch like the 4051, but with 16 switches instead of 8.  The only way it differs in operation from the 4051 is that it requires 4 Select inputs in order to go all the way from ‘0 0 0 0’ (zero, meaning the first input/output is connected) to ‘1 1 1 1’ (15, meaning the 16th input/output is connected).

The 4067 usually appears in circuits like this:

It’s very similar to the 4051: there’s a Pole (pin 1, marked Z); 16, instead of 8, input/outputs (right-hand side, marked Y0 – Y15); and 4, instead of 3, Select inputs (pins 10. 11, 13 and 14, marked S0 – S3).

I also decided to make things slightly more complicated by considering alternative scales.  If you follow the ‘do’, ‘re’, ‘mi’ scale of the Rogers and Hammerstein song, this is a major scale.  If, on the other hand, you wanted to play, for example, a minor scale, you would find that ‘mi’, sometimes ‘la’ and sometimes ‘ti’ have to be changed to be a semitone lower.  And occasionally you might feel like making ‘re’ and ‘so’ lower as well.  (‘Do’ and ‘fa’ can be left alone!).

I’ll explain in a minute exactly what scales I had in mind when doing this, and where I got the idea from, but adding the ability to sharpen or flatten certain notes of  the scale meant that I needed 25 notes instead of 15, so the 4067 was wired up like this:

4067 1 Edit

The notes depicted are the notes that would be used in the key of A.  Since the SoftPot Stylophone has a tuning control (in fact two tuning controls!) on it, it can be made to play in any key, not just A; the circuit here doesn’t need to be changed, only the tuning on the SoftPot Stylophone itself.

Each of the 16 outputs of the 4067 is connected to a resistor in a chain.  The top of the chain is connected to the tip of a 3 way (‘stereo’) 3.5mm socket; the bottom of the chain is connected to the ring, and the sleeve is connected to pin 1 of the 4067 – the pole of the 16-way switch.  When plugged in, it takes the place of the Stylophone’s own resistor chain.

Note that switches allow you to choose between 1) major and minor 2nd (‘re’); 2) major and minor 3rd (‘mi’); 3) major and minor 5th (‘so’); 4) major and minor 6th (‘la’); and 5) major and minor 7th (‘ti’), as you see fit.  C1/C#1 and C2/C#2, D#1/E1 and D#2/E2 etc. use the same switch, so there are 5 of these switches, not 10.

The reason I chose to do it this way is because of an extremely interesting article – series of articles, actually – which I read on The Tonal Centre website, written by Andrew Milne.  I’m not in the slightest bit concerned that the theory described there is ‘unconventional and some of the concepts . . . quite novel’, as it seems to me to make perfect sense, and presents a coherent view of scales and chords which I’ve found quite easy to understand, and useful to use.  Furthermore, Milne’s motives for writing the articles are ones with which I would hope none of my readers could disagree: ‘not for theory to be an intellectual straight-jacket which smothers spontaneity, but as a springboard for creativity and, even more importantly, as a foundation for exploration’.

Essentially, the articles do precisely as the author says in his introduction: ‘convince you that there is a lot more for the tonal composer to experiment with . . . than just the major and the minor scale.’

I can’t explain everything in the articles because a) there is too much, and b) I don’t understand it all; but essentially, the points I want to draw attention to are these:

1. What constitutes a useful and versatile scale?

A scale should constitute ‘a unified collection of notes – a selection which is in some sense complete and to which any addition is heard to be extraneous’.

2.  What makes a scale useful as a melodic resource?

A scale should be ‘reasonably smooth and even, without sudden gaps which sound as if a note has been omitted, or sudden concentrations of notes which sound as if an extraneous note has been added’.

3.  What makes a scale useful as a harmonic resource?

Because three-note major and minor chords are the basis of our kind of western music (like C-E-G and C-Eb-G), a scale shouldn’t have any notes which aren’t part of a three-note major or minor chord.

Of all possible scales there are only five prime scales which satisfy Milne’s criteria, as above. (These are the main criteria, but see the full article for a couple of others).

All of these scales contain, as it happens, seven notes, and these are clearly the most useful and versatile scales to use.  This was good news for me, as the Bigfoot would inevitably use 7-note scales.

There are 8 different scales altogether in Milne’s system, not just 5, because of  differences between major and minor, and so on, and these 8 variations of the 5 ‘prime scales’ (in the key of C) are:

1.  The diatonic scale, major and ‘aeolian’:

C-D-E-F-G-A-B

C-D-Eb-F-G-Ab-Bb

2.  The harmonic minor scale:

C-D-Eb-F-G-Ab-B

3. The harmonic major scale:

C-D-E-F-G-Ab-B

4.  The melodic scale, major and minor:

C-D-E-F-G-Ab-Bb

C-D-Eb-F-G-A-B

5.  The double harmonic scale, major and minor:

C-Db-E-F-G-Ab-B

C-D-Eb-F#-G-Ab-B

So, there are 8 different scales you can use, which all allow you to make interesting melodies and chords.  Each one has its own ‘character’, and some are much more commonly used than others.

This series of articles seemed to me when I came across it to be an extremely good guide to useful scales, and could be a help to anyone: you could use the description above to work out what scale or scales you commonly use, and then try writing a composition or improvising a solo using a completely different one.  There’s bound to be at least one you’ve never thought of using before!

Bigfoot allows the 2nd, 3rd, 5th, 6th and 7th (D, E, G, A, B in the above examples) to be individually adjusted, so arpeggios and sequences in all – well, almost all! – of these scales are possible.  The double harmonic minor isn’t possible because Bigfoot can’t produce F# and G at the same time; but 7 out of 8 isn’t bad!

So, 16 individual intervals are available  from the Bigfoot, spread over two octaves; the tonic is repeated 3 times, at 3 octaves; the 4th is repeated twice, at two different octaves; the other 10 notes are switchable between a ‘normal’ or ‘flattened’ version, which is semitone lower.

Hang on, that’s only 15 intervals . . . Well, since all 16 Select input combinations from ‘0 0 0 0’ to ‘1 1 1 1’ could be used to produce notes, there might in some circumstances be no way of stopping the Stylophone from sounding; so what I did was to start with ‘0 0 0 1’ (the second output) and make that the lowest note, reserving ‘0 0 0 0’ (the first output) for a rest where no note would sound.  I added a switch so that the first and second inputs could be connected together for those situations when this would be better.

I also added a START/STOP switch, which is what pin 15 of the 4067 does: if connected to +v it stops, and all the switches are disconnected, regardless of the state of the Select inputs; if pin 15 is connected to 0v the switches start to work.  (The 4051 also has this feature).

In practice, I actually installed a second 4067, with the two 4067’s being connected only at the 4 Select inputs (pins 10, 11, 13 and 14).  I wanted to have an LED indication of which switch was connected, and had to separate this function from the resistor chain that produced the notes.

So the pole pin of the second 4067 was connected to +9v via two 1k resistors [not one, as shown in the diagram], and each of the 16 outputs was connected to a green LED (matching the green case the circuit was built into).

4067 2

In order to test the LEDs – and later to test the notes which were being produced – I needed some way of connecting exactly the right input/output to the pole of the switch, so I would know I was adjusting the right preset.  This meant feeding exactly the right combination of  +v (‘1’s) and 0v (‘0’s) to the Select inputs, to get exactly the right output.

I considered four 2-way switches, +v one way, 0v the other way, and changing the notes by moving different switches up and down, as I described before – but it turns out there is a device which does this job very simply, just like turning a rotary switch: a 4 bit binary (sometimes called hex) rotary encoder.  I wouldn’t say these are extremely easy to come by, but this is the one I got:  http://uk.mouser.com/ProductDetail/Alpha-Taiwan/RE2001F-40E2-20F-4B/?qs=yA6kp8fx8Y4fjZ7sDt2l6A%3d%3d.

rotary encoder2

(The above picture shows a typical rotary encoder made by Alpha Electronics.  RS online sell a couple, but looking at the product details, I don’t think the connections of the ‘Code 033’ version they sell is right.  There are lots of 2 bit encoders, and lots of encoders which are not binary or hex.  They won’t work – it has to be 4 bit binary with 16 positions, starting with ‘0 0 0 0’ at position 1 and stepping through the binary numbers 1 – 15, ending up at ‘1 1 1 1’ at position 16. These are referred to as ‘hex’ because the hexadecimal system has 16 numbers in it [usually written as ‘0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 A B C D E F’ – a more user-friendly way of depicting ‘0 0 0 0’ to ‘1 1 1 1’]).

I needed to use the encoder for another part of the circuit, which I’ll come to later, but for the time being its 4 outputs were connected directly to the 4 Select inputs, ‘A B C D’, of the 4067s.  Its other connection, ‘Common’, was connected to + volts.  To test it, I used  4 LEDs, and could see that turning it from position 1 to position 16, it automatically output the binary numbers in order from ‘0 0 0 0’ to ‘1 1 1 1’.

It’s worth mentioning an important point, to avoid later confusion, which is that ‘D’ is actually the bit on the left in a binary number such as ‘1 1 0 0’, and ‘A’ is the bit on the right.  You might sometimes see ‘D’ referred to as the ‘Most Significant Bit’ (or ‘MSB’) and ‘A’ as the ‘Least Significant Bit’ (‘LSB’).  That means the number sequence goes like this:

D  C  B  A

0  0  0  0

0  0  0  1

0  0  1  0

0  0  1  1

0  1  0  0

etc.

The other thing about rotary encoders is that they don’t usually have a stop, they just go round and round.  This is fairly useless if you need to know where ‘1’ is, or where ’16’ is, and this is the main reason why I decided to incorporate the LEDs as a visual indication.  The other reason is that sequencers and so forth really ought to have flashing lights on them.

The rotary encoder is the knob on the right-hand side of the Bigfoot, just to the right of centre in this picture:

DSCF0003

I glued the LEDs in place on the top and connected up the rotary switch.  Sure enough, with each turn the LEDs lit up one by one, one at a time, and now it was possible to tell which was position 1, which was position 2, etc.

Not only that, with the lack of a stop at 1 and 16 – which you would expect with a normal rotary switch – if nothing else I had Method 1 of controlling the Stylophone remotely: a manual method of arpeggiation by spinning the encoder backwards and forwards! . . .

. . . Entertaining, but not the automatic method I was looking for, however, so I moved on to Part 2 of the construction.

23
Aug
12

BigBoy BeatBox

You’ve got a Stylophone, you’ve got a Stylophone Beatbox – but don’t you sometimes wish the two could be combined into one instrument? . . .

Well, now that wish has become reality, with the ‘BigBoy BeatBox’: two great Stylophone products in one!

New Front IMG_1128

As the picture suggests, the BigBoy BeatBox is, in fact, two great Stylophone products literally glued and bolted together, with some of their internal circuitry combined.  The way it was created was like this:

1.  The Stylophone

The Stylophone half of the instrument is, in fact, a recreation of the original ‘Big Boy’ – a regular Stylophone S1 inside a Beatbox case.  As mentioned in an edit to the original post here, I managed to inflict terminal damage on the ‘Big Boy’ by reckless experimentation.  I normally do this before finishing an instrument, this time I contrived to do it afterwards . . . so the first thing I had to do was remove and replace the electronics with a new donor Stylophone I had lying around.

The actual process closely followed the construction of the original, but was made easier because of the sockets and wiring still remaining in the Beatbox case.  First of all, the end had to be sawn off the Stylophone circuit board, which is too long to fit in a Beatbox case; then the lowest 12 notes of the keyboard were connected to the 12 outside pads of the round Beatbox keyboard.  Fortunately, the wires attached to the Beatbox keyboard remained in the case, and just needed connecting to the appropriate Stylophone keys.  The Beatbox’s amp circuit board was taken out, but the Stylophone’s was kept and connected to the Beatbox’s speaker.  A power socket was connected to the Beatbox’s on/off switch, and the Stylophone’s on/off and vibrato switch circuit board disconnected.

I decided to replace the ‘Big Boy’s troublesome original 3-way octave switch with a simple  pitch potentiometer.  I used a 100k for  coarse tuning, in series with a 10k for fine tuning and a 100k variable preset to fix the highest pitch available.  Previous experimentation with Stylophones had taught me they have no objection to going down to very low pitches, but they cease to function – usually temporarily – if the pitch is taken up too high: on resetting, when this happens – by switching the power off and on – sometimes they will begin to work again, sometimes they won’t.

That’s what I did to the original ‘Big Boy’, and there’s no cure apart from throwing the circuit board away and starting again.  The likelihood of this happening is increased because I don’t just replace the tuning potentiometer pin-for-pin – the range of voltages available between the two pins the Stylophone uses isn’t wide enough for very large pitch variations, so I use only one of the pins that the original tuning potentiometer was connected to – the left-hand one – but connect the other one to +v.

The two new pitch controls were fixed to the front (the rounded end) of the Beatbox case, as was a replacement 10k log volume control.  The problem with the Stylophone’s original volume control was not that it wouldn’t work perfectly well, but that it would have had to be on the side of the case which I was intending to fix permanently to  the other Beatbox.

The original ‘Big Boy’ had no vibrato, but I decided the recreation should have a variable control, as fitted to the ‘Alien’, my first Stylophone modification project.  All this involved was connecting a 1M potentiometer instead of an on/of switch between the two vibrato connections next to the power connection on the main Stylophone circuit board.

Apart from an output socket and a switch to cut out the internal speaker, that half of the BigBoy BeatBox was done.

Stylophone half IMG_1132

2.  The Beatbox

The other half of the instrument was a plain Beatbox, with very little in the way of modifications.

(I don’t seem to have written specifically about the Beatbox in the blog, by the way.  Read the user guide here!)

The first thing I did to it was to replace the tuning potentiometer with a larger one of 100k (a direct pin-for-pin replacement this time), allowing for considerable slowing down and lowering of the pitch of the drums and other sounds.

I also followed an excellent example in this YouTube video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xXdelnxXF7A to add buttons in parallel with the ‘Record’ and ‘Play’ pads normally operated by the stylus.  The trouble with the stylus-operated method is the delay in time between activating ‘Record’ with the stylus, and then using the same stylus to stop recording and begin playing the pattern you want to  be looped, as the loop begins the moment ‘Rec’ is selected.  With a small normally-open tactile switch as an alternative method of beginning and ending the recording period, you can be much more accurate as regards timing.

It’s worth mentioning at this point that, like the original Stylophone itself, the Beatbox comes in more than one variety, as far as circuitry is concerned.  I noticed two significant variations between the Beatbox I used in my ‘test to destruction’ phase, and the one that eventually found its way into the finished instrument: in one case, there was a tap from the battery compartment at 3v, which fed into the circuit (via the 3-way tone control) as well as the full 4.5v; and the layout of the circuit board was different.  As it happens, spots on the board marked ‘Rec’ and ‘Play’ were easily accessed in one case – the test unit – but not in the other – the one I was eventually to use.

In my experience, the Beatbox is a very delicate circuit, and it doesn’t take much to do something to it that will cause Record or Play to malfunction, or the output quality of the sound samples to degrade; so, proceed with caution, I’d say.

A third new button I added to this unit was ‘Reset’.  The Beatbox’s method of erasing an old loop and re-recording a new one is to switch the power off and on again.  The original power switch had to be removed as it was on the side of the case which was going to be fixed to the other Beatbox case – and there would, anyway, be a single power switch for both units: so the third button is a direct replacement for the Beatbox power switch, but now a normally-on, push-to-break, supplying power to the Beatbox side only.  To reset and re-record just takes a quick press and release of this button.

Finally, a new 10k log output volume pot was fixed to the front of the unit.

Beatbox controls IMG_1131

Beatbox halfIMG_1131

3  Joining the two halves

Superglue and two bolts was all that was required to physically join the two Beatbox cases, plus a couple of holes through which wires could pass from one side to the other.

The easiest way to connect the power seemed to be to detach the +v and 0v wires from the battery compartment on the Beatbox side and attach these to the original ‘Big Boy’ Stylophone side, which had a power input socket.

In the end I decided that whereas the battery compartment of the Big Boy Stylophone had to be removed – there was no room for batteries as well as the Stylophone circuitry – the one in the Beatbox could be used.  So I wired in a power cable which ran out of the back and was just long enough to reach the power socket in the other half.  In this way the instrument could be powered from an external source, or from internal batteries, and there was no need for a switch to change from one to the other.

The two 10k volume controls were taken to two individual tone controls.  I just wanted something fairly rudimentary, so I used a circuit from http://www.muzique.com/lab/swtc.htm called the ‘Stupidly Wonderful Tone Control’.  The component values I used were quite different – and I have no idea why – but the format of the circuit was more or less the same, and gave a little bit of variation to the tone.

After the tone controls, the two outputs were joined with 10k resistors to the original Beatbox volume control, and then the ‘Big Boy’ Stylophone amp circuit board.  This meant that the sound from both units was going to the ‘Big Boy’ half , and the volume and tone of each unit could be independently varied.  The input to the Beatbox amplifier was disconnected, and the speaker removed.

Now I had an instrument in a single conjoined case, with a single power supply and output through a single speaker or output socket.  There were two styluses and two keyboards, and – as I had hoped, but not expected with any confidence – both styluses work on both keyboards!  This means that both units can be played with a stylus in each hand, and quicker and more rhythmic patterns can be played.  I extended the wires to the styluses slightly to make sure they could reach right across both keyboards.

When using two styluses on the ‘Stylophone’ side of the unit, the ‘Beatbox’ side needs to be set to ‘Play’, otherwise that stylus will only work for a very short period and then not sound any more.  I haven’t timed the ‘very short period’, which might give a clue, but this is probably to do with the circuitry which regulates the maximum of 8 seconds (at ‘normal’ tempo) for which the Beatbox can record.

The complete circuit looks something like this:

BigBoy Beatbox circuit 2 Corrected sm

The following pictures show the inside of the instrument shortly before it was finished:

Inside Stylophone half with numbers 6 in IMG_1127

This is the ‘Big Boy’ stylophone half.

1 = speaker cutout switch

2 = socket for external 4.5v power source

3 = 3.5mm sound output socket

4 = Stylophone S1 circuit board with permanently soldered connections to first 12 keys

5 = socket for extra stylus, remaining from original ‘Big Boy’ design – not really needed now

6 = fine tune pitch control

7 = variable preset to prevent the Stylophone’s highest note from being too high and causing the circuit to malfunction

8 = coarse pitch control

9 = Stylophone volume control

Beatbox half with numbers 7 in IMG_1126

This the Beatbox half.

1 = the original Beatbox output and ‘mp3’ input sockets, no longer used

2 = Stylophone tone control

3 = Beatbox tone control

4 = Original Beatbox volume control, now master volume

5 = ‘Reset’, push to break switch

6 = wires going to ‘Play’ and ‘Record’ push to make switches mounted on top surface of Beatbox

7 = original Beatbox tempo switch, still in-circuit, but no longer used

8 = Beatbox pitch control

9 = Beatbox volume control

The features visible on the outside were these:

Front DSCF0003 3

Before finishing I gave the speaker grilles a coat of blackboard paint.  The reason I used blackboard paint was a) it was the only black paint I found in my garage not in a spray can, and 2) it gives a pleasing matt finish, but is more durable than water-based matt emulsion.

The rear of the instrument was sprayed black and the holes masked with painted material.

New Back IMG_1130Front & Rear View IMG_1129_30

06
Aug
12

The UFO and the Shuttlecraft

The UFO is a simple device for controlling instruments with light-dependent resistor (LDR) controls, for example the Opto-Theremin described in an earlier post.

It started life as one of those battery-operated lights where you push on the top to switch it on and off:

I painted it silver, and added bits to make it more flying saucer-like, some LEDs that change colour slowly, and a 5-LED goose-neck lamp that I found in a local Poundshop.

The colour-change LEDs have no important function, but the brightness of the goose-neck lamp can be controlled with a potentiometer, and can thus be pointed at an LDR and used to vary – in the case of the Opto-Theremin – volume, pitch or filter cut-off frequency.  Here you can see the lamp and the potentiometer: I didn’t attach a knob as I couldn’t find one that looked more UFO-like than the knurled shaft:

UFO High Angle DSCF0029

The goose-neck lamp is meant to operate from a computer USB port, so plugs into a USB socket, with only pins 1 and 4 (5v and 0v) connected.  The battery holder in the lamp is designed for 6v, and therefore had space for 4 AA batteries, but I mostly use 9v, so I adapted it to take a PP3.  I restricted the potentiometer from putting the full 9v through the LEDs, in case it was too much for them.

The maximum voltage allowed for the color-change LEDs was 4.5v; there are 4 of them, so I connected two in series on one side of the dome, in parallel with two in  series on the other side.

UFO Back DSCF0032

I also added some extra 3.5mm mono sockets, as can be seen in the picture, as this is a system I use for distributing power.  When the Opto-Theremin is used in conjunction with the UFO, it can receive its power from there, rather than from a separate battery.

This picture shows the two being used together:

UFO and Optical Theremin DSCF0022

These pictures illustrates the soothing effect of the constantly changing colors:

UFO Colours

The ‘Shuttlecraft’ isn’t really an invention of my own: in fact, it’s just a multi-LED lamp on a headband, as worn by cyclists.  It appears here only because it’s an aid to playing the Opto-Theremin.  Because light levels are often too low to get the maximum variation in parameters controlled by LDRs, it can be useful to have extra light to hand: but when your hands are occupied playing the instrument, the next best place is on your forehead.

Shuttle DSCF0035

Although the UFO and the Shuttlecraft were created with the Opto-Theremin in mind, they could be used with any instrument (or effect) that uses an LDR – for example, my first Stylophone mod, the ‘Alien’, or the Stylophone 350S.

21
Jun
12

Theremin 2 – The Opto-Theremin

In my previous post Theremin 1, I described an optical theremin circuit which was ultra-simple – and worked!  However, I described how once I had finished it and played with it for a while, I realised there were some slight problems in being able to play it effectively; and also began to wonder how I could make it sound more interesting and varied.

This post describes what I did to finish it off.

The solution I came up with to make it sound more interesting was based on something I’d seen on a couple of Lunetta-related websites: a 4040 divider outputting several octaves at once, which could be individually selected and mixed together to create the final waveform.

This was the original optical theremin circuit:

Optical Theremin circuit

I reduced the value of the timing capacitor in the original circuit from 22n to 15n to make the basic pitch a little higher and connected the 4040 between the output of the oscillator – pin 2 of the 4049 – and LDR2.  Together with the direct output from the oscillator, I used the first 7 outputs from the 4040, covering 8 octaves overall – a rather excessive range, but the pitch variation obtained using LDR1 was very wide, and I figured the highest and lowest notes might be needed at some point – contributing to the tone, even if not the main pitch.

The 8 different octave outputs were connected together via SPST switches, and various combinations of octaves did produce a surprising variety of tones.

Just one more thing was needed, I thought, to maximise the availability of square waves at 8 octaves, and that was a filter.  I’ve written elsewhere in the blog about Ray Wilson’s simple-but-effective 741-based low-pass filter from the Music From Outer Space website, which I liked so much I built two of them: one of them as a stand-alone unit (Active low-pass filter); and the other one here in the Optical Theremin.  The only difference was that in this case I replaced the cut-off frequency control with another LDR (LDR3).

I discovered afterwards that I hadn’t used the most up-to-date version of the circuit, but adding the extra cut-off frequency fine adjustment and resonance control (the extra features of the revised version) would have been too much.  As it was, I already had 3 LDRs, and only two hands to operate them with.  I added switches to select between the two volume and filter LDRs and two potentiometers, which would enable one of them to remain constant while the other one was manually controlled.

The filter circuit went between the outputs from the 4040 and the input to the Volume LDR (LDR2).  And that was it for the design and construction of the circuit, which now looked like this:

The reason for passing the output of the 4049 oscillator (at pin 2) through two more stages (spare ones in the same 4049) was to give it the same power as the outputs from the 4040.  Using the signal from pin 2 as an output as well as feeding the input of the 4040 seemed to be too much for it, and it wouldn’t work.

Also – as I had done with a couple of recent instruments (for example, the Cracklephone) – I added a pair of banana sockets, so a larger external speaker could be used.  Not shown in the diagram is a switch to cut out the internal speaker when these sockets are in use; and a similar arrangement to the Cracklephone, two 3.5mm sockets where a small goose-neck microphone can be attached.  This is not part of the Theremin circuit, and is the nearest it gets to having a line-out.

This what the inside of the case looked like just before I put it back together.  I don’t recommend you try and stuff so much inside a small case, as I always seem to be doing.

Optotheremin inside IMG_0960 lge

As for the physical construction of the instrument this presented one or two problems.

The one of most interest concerns the LDRs.  Electrically, these seemed to work perfectly; but the problem with them is they’re so small, and it’s very difficult to make subtle changes to the amount of light falling on them with a large human hand.

This is a perennial problem with these small-sized LDRs, and what I decided I needed was something like a torch or spotlight has to widen the spread of light – a dish or reflector, which would effectively increase the area the hand would have to cover in order to restrict the light falling on the LDR.

Having thought of torches and spotlights, I reasoned that I could use MR16-type spotlights, remove the original bulbs, and fit the LDRs inside.  These MR16 (or, with a different fitting, GU10) bulbs can be expensive, but my local Tesco’s was selling a pack of 8 for £1.25, so I bought those, and got to work on them with a hammer.

I’m not saying I did a neat job – and I damaged a few of the 8 in the process! – but I ended up with three reflector housings for my three LDRs.  Knocking off the fittings was easy, but getting the bulb out was not: these things are evidently put together before the glass front is attached, as the bulb is considerably larger than the hole through which the electrical connections pass.  At first I tried knocking the bulb through into the body of the reflector and breaking it up – a procedure not dissimilar from that of the Egyptians, removing internal organs through tiny holes before the process of mummification – but that proved impossible to achieve without breaking the glass front; so in the end I just broke open a hole large enough for the bulb to come out of.

My original intention was to drill holes in the Theremin case large enough to insert the end of the reflectors, and superglue them in place, but in the end the hole would have to have been an inch (25mm) wide, and there wasn’t enough space inside the case to insert something this big.

So instead I mounted the reflectors on the surface.  I built up a sleeve for each one using 25mm inside diameter O-rings.  These were about 3mm deep, so 4 of them superglued one on top of another were enough to support a reflector.  More superglue ensured that the reflectors stayed in position, and that the LDRs, passed through a hole under each reflector,  were in the right place.

Optotheremin front IMG_0973 lge

Optotheremin top IMG_0972 lge

This picture of the back of the instrument shows an arrangement I’ve used in quite a few cases where there wasn’t enough room for the battery inside.  Close to the power socket I’ve stuck a square of velcro, and the battery holder sticks to this.

Optotheremin back IMG_0975 lge

Velcro IMG_0970 lge

Having a battery stuck to the bottom wasn’t  a problem, as the instrument wouldn’t be resting on it: the  1/4″ Whitworth nut, glued over the hole through which the Beatbox tuning pot was accessed, is the attachment for a mini silver tripod which I managed to get hold of for 99p on eBay.  This would allow the theremin to be raised from the table top and set at the best playing angle.

Optotheremin tripod side IMG_0978 lge

I think the tripod gives it a futuristic look – or at least what was considered futuristic in about 1940 . . .

IMG_0979 edited

I adjusted the original tripod between these last two pictures to allow the feet to spread out a bit wider, as it was a little unstable, especially with the battery velcroed to the outside.  This just involved a little sawing and cutting and it now stands much better without being in danger of toppling over.

It sounds like this:

20
Jun
12

Theremin 1

Apart from the Stylophone, another instrument I’ve always been fascinated by is the Theremin, and I’ve always planned to make one.

I know the project I’m about to describe isn’t a proper theremin, but it has an oscillator, and pitch and volume are controlled by hand without touching it – which are amongst the essential features of  a theremin – so it seemed like a good place to start.

The Theremin is an electronic instrument named after the man who invented it in Russia in about 1920, Lev Sergeyevich Termen,  It’s called the Theremin, not the Termen, as Leon Theremin is the name by which he became known when he came to America in the late 20’s – probably a better representation of the family name, which is not Russian in origin, but French.

LeonTheremin, c.1924, public domain, from Wikipedia

Theremin disappeared back to Russia after just a few years, and did not reappear in the West for over 50 years (1989, by which time he was 92 years of age!), but left designs for his instrument which were manufactured under licence by RCA.

As I see it, there are two essential features of the theremin, pertaining to how it is played, and – more technically – how exactly the sounds it makes are produced.

First of all, as mentioned above, it is normally played without touching it: instead, pitch and volume are controlled by moving the hands nearer to or further from antennae – like radio aerials – on the instrument.  This is a pretty unique feature, and came about because Theremin invented it not while trying to make a musical instrument, but in the course of obtaining an audible response to scientific experiments he was conducting at the Physico-Technical Institute in Petrograd (St Petersburg).

The classic theremin features a vertical, radio-like antenna for pitch control (played by the right hand), and a horizontal loop (played by the left hand) to control the volume.

Secondly, the notes produced by the theremin do not come from the output of a single oscillator: instead, it has two oscillators, which run at radio frequencies (RF), and are too high to hear.  However, if there is a difference between the two frequencies, this produces a third tone, which is much lower and which you can hear.  When the player moves nearer to or further from the antenna, this alters the difference between the two high frequencies, and raises or lowers the audible tone.

(Another electronic instrument invented independently at the same time as the theremin, The ondes martenot, also uses the same principle of two high frequency oscillators producing a third, audible tone, but this is essentially a keyboard instrument  – although it also includes a ribbon controller as an alternative to the conventional keys.)

It is typical to hear melodies played on the theremin which feature a great deal of portamento – sliding from one note to the next.  This is almost inevitable, as there is nothing to guide the player to find the correct note, other than their ears.  Skilful performers can avoid doing this all the time, but it would be a terrible waste not to make a feature of it, since the theremin makes it easy.  It is typical, although not a necessity, for melodies to be quite high-pitched, and players will usually employ techniques that produce vibrato.

These typical theremin sounds – often described as ‘ethereal’ or ‘spooky’, and frequently found in horror or science fiction contexts – are a product of the two important design features described above.  Other instruments have been designed which mimic the sound of the theremin (including my recent SoftPot Stylophone), but unless the sounds are produced by the player’s proximity to the instrument, using the body’s natural capacitance to affect the pitch and volume of RF oscillators, it isn’t a proper theremin.

The Electro-Theremin or Tannerin, developed by Paul Tanner and featured on the Beach Boys’ Good Vibrations, was such a good imitation that people used to think it was a real theremin; but it was controlled by a slider.

According to Google, today would have been Robert Moog’s 78th birthday.  As you can see, they’ve illustrated this with a (functional!) version of his famous synthesizer.

Robert Moog's Birthday

Before inventing this, however, young Robert was heavily into theremins, studying the Leon Theremin-designed RCA model and inventing his own – proper – instrument.

It’s not entirely a coincidence that my SoftPot Stylophone – and the earlier Cybersynth – sound a bit like a theremin, but this was the first time I’d constructed an instrument meant to be played without touching it.

In fact, the particular instrument I built is an ‘optical’ theremin, with pitch and volume controlled by two light-dependent resistors, and the basic circuit was so simple, I had to try it:

Optical Theremin circuit

This circuit came from Graf’s Encycopedia of Electronic Circuits (Vol. 5, I think), but seemed to me to have something of the look of a ‘Lunetta’ device about it. I’ve already digressed into the history of the theremin, so I’ll save discussing Lunettas for another time.  (If you don’t know what a Lunetta is, start here: https://docs.google.com/document/edit?id=1V9qerry_PsXTZqt_UDx7C-wcuMe_6_gyy6M_MyAgQoA&pli=1#heading=h.6a4696420d74 and here: http://electro-music.com/forum/index.php?f=160).

Anyway, I was sure I’d seen the 4049 chip on which the optical theremin is based being used in Lunetta circuits. I had all the parts to hand – including the 4049 which I had recently salvaged from a project board I’d put together so many years ago I’d forgotten what it was originally for; and even the transformer, which I’d recently bought for another project – and it fitted on a 1” square piece of veroboard tucked inside the case of one of the broken Stylophone Beatboxes I had acquired.

It was ultra-simple – and it worked!  However, once I had finished it and played with it for a while, I realised there were some slight problems in being able to play it effectively; and I also began to wonder how I could make it sound more interesting and varied.

I’ll describe my variations on the basic circuit in a follow-up post.  Information on Leon Theremin comes from Wikipedia and Theremin: Ether Music and Espionage by Albert Glinsky (Foreword by Robert Moog).  The Wikipedia article has a number of very useful links to websites on Leon Theremin and his wonderful instrument.

 

08
Jun
12

Bits & Pieces 4

I wasn’t expecting to add this post just yet, but I had a stroke of luck which has enabled me to complete the scheme for my mono mixing section which I started writing about when I described the Red Dragon the other day.

I bought a job lot of small SoundLab mixers off eBay which were said to be faulty returns.  I thought I might be able to salvage some parts from them, use bits of them in some way, or even repair them – but it turned out that several of them appeared to be in working order.

Two of them were straightforward 4 channel mono mixers – an updated version of the one I had used before, I presume – so these were immediately used for the left and right channel inputs to the mono mixer, as I described in the previous post.  Generally speaking, I wanted to have the lower tones to the left and higher tones to the right, so my ‘double bass’ stylophone was the first thing to be plugged into the left mixer; the treble stylophone and the SoftPot Stylophone in the right.

4 Mixerssm

More interestingly, the two other working units were the G105C version with ‘microphone effects’ – a delay circuit which I guessed was probably based on a PT2399.  I opened up one of the dead ones, and found that this was the case.

The circuitry was very different from the original SoundLab mixer I’d acquired – all surface-mount components; everything, pots and sockets included, firmly fixed to a single circuit board – and I’m not sufficiently skilled or equipped to be able to repair something like that.  Not only was it not functioning, it seemed to short out the power when the on switch was pressed.

I sawed out the part of the circuit with the PT2399 on it, which didn’t short the power when used by itself, but didn’t do anything to the input sound either.  This section is permanently in circuit when the mixer is operating, so maybe that was why the original unit didn’t work.  In any event, I decided to put the broken ones away for another day, and concentrate on the ones that worked.  The case would find a use later on.

First of all an echo unit is a really useful thing to have – and 2 echo units with 4 inputs is a bonus!

My initial arrangement with these is to have the outputs connected to the new Left and Right Mixers.  The left echo unit is used for instrument input and the output is divided: one half of the output going directly to the Left Mixer, the other half going to the right echo unit, and from there to the Right Mixer.  As the delay time and feedback (number or length of repeats) are separately adjustable on the two units, some interesting stereo effects are possible.

08
Jun
12

Bits & Pieces 3

This Bits & Pieces post covers a few effects modules I’ve recently made.  These are:

1.  Active 3-way tone control – the ‘Tardis’

2.  Active tone control of unknown origin

3.  Active Low Pass Filter

1.  The active 3-way tone control is standard of its type, I imagine.  I don’t know where I found it – years ago I used to scour back numbers of electronics magazines in the local library and copy out interesting circuits.  No doubt it was one of those.  The circuit diagram looks like this:

3 way tone control

and the finished article looks like this:

TARDIS 2smTARDIS 1sm

which is why it’s called ‘The Tardis’ – not because it’s a time-manipulation circuit, which would have been cleverer.

2.  The tone control of unknown origin is unlike anything I’ve seen before or since – or, rather, since the heart of it is quite a high-value inductor, it most resembles a variable bandpass filter – a wah circuit – but is evidently not intended to be swept up and down like a wah wah pedal.

Another of my finds in a very old electronics magazine, it was originally called a ‘Passive Tone Control’, but the reduction in the volume of the input signal was so drastic that I added an amplification stage before it to boost the level to something like the original, and it became an ‘Active Tone Control’.

active-tone-control

Moving the single control from one extreme to the other varies the tone considerably, and it’s very useful with sounds rich in harmonics, like the various Stylophones in my collection.

This was another project after the Touch-Radio which I housed in one of the transparent jewellery cases I had recently acquired.

Active Tone Control Insidesm

Active Tone Control Outsidesm

3. I’d heard nothing but praise for Ray Wilson’s simple 741-based low-pass filter – and indeed the whole ‘Wacky Electronic Noise-maker Thingy’ which it forms part of – so I decided to make one and try it out.  In fact, I made two, and I’m glad I did, because they’re great!  One of them went inside an Optical Theremin project, which I’m in the middle of, and which I’ll be describing as soon as I’m finished [Edit: the Opto-Theremin is described here]; the second one went into another jewellery box project.

I hope I’ve interpreted correctly what it says on the Music From Outer Space website, where it comes from, and it’s OK to reproduce the circuit diagram here:

MFOS low-pass filter

You can read about Your First Wacky Electronic Noise-maker Thingy here: http://musicfromouterspace.com/ – just look for links to ‘WSG’ and you’ll find it. In fact, I just looked at it again and discovered that the circuit there is a slightly more advanced version of the one I built, incorporating fine adjustment of the filter cut-off frequency and a resonance control: looks like I’ll have to go back and make some modifications! . . . Later on I may have to build the whole thing . . .

Note in the diagram above the correct way to wire the cut-off frequency potentiometer.  I used a logarithmic pot, because that’s what I happened to have, which exaggerated the effect of my error the first time I put it together of wiring the pot the wrong way round – no effect throughout most of the travel, then a huge effect in the last quarter-turn: wire it the right way round and you get the full effect through the whole travel of the pot.  Adding a 100k pot, wired the same way round, in series with the 1M pot, at the end marked ‘1’ – which is what the slightly more advanced version includes – would help to make more precise adjustment of the tone.

I should add that the whole Music From Outer Space site is an absolute mine of information and worth reading in its entirety: you can learn about synth modules, study circuit diagrams/schematics and buy circuit boards and so forth associated with the projects described.

Once I get round to doing the modifications, I’ll add a comment or edit the post and show a picture of the finished article.

Edit: I finally got round to adding the extra parts of the circuit – a fine control for the filter cut-off point and a resonance control.  The revised circuit looks like this:

New MFOS Filter

and the finished unit looks like this:

Revised Filter IMG_1477

 

 

 

 

16
May
12

Bits & Pieces 2

This Bits and Pieces post is about mixers.  There is nothing inherently new or exciting in my system, which isn’t complete yet, but it’s building up to something more interesting in the latter stages.

The part I’ve been working on is the section for mono instruments, which works like this:

First of all I started with a small 4-channel mono in-mono out Soundlab Micromixer for £6 or £7 on eBay.

Fortunately, this came with a circuit diagram, so it was easy to add 4 more identical input channels.  These are housed in the ‘Red Dragon’, a Stylophone case from which the innards had been removed (for use, I think, in The Gemini, which is two Stylophone circuits in one body).

Red Dragon_Mixer bonnet 2 IMG_0917

The Red Dragon feeds the Micromixer with 9v power as well as the 4 extra input channels (the ones with red caps).  But I like working in stereo, so the 4 extra inputs are switchable from mono to stereo: the stereo side of the switch sends the input via a passive mixer (a 10k resistor on each channel) into the input of a pseudo-stereo circuit, and from there to a stereo output socket.

I’ve lost the circuit diagram and explanation of the pseudo-stereo circuit, but it was published in an electronics magazine in the 1980’s, and I bought and made up a kit version from them.  It may even have been the work of the amazingly prolific RA Penfold.  At the time I used it to listen to mono cassette tapes on my Walkman, and it improved them no end.  An empty cassette box was just big enough for the circuit board, headphone socket and PP3 battery; it was still in this box when I recently found it, and needed only a replacement 741 op-amp, which had evidently been scavenged at some point in the past.

I don’t remember precisely how it works, but it seems to be some sort of frequency-dependent phase-shifter, whereby some frequencies are sent to the left ear, some to the right, spreading a single mono signal throughout the stereo field: perfect for sounds with a rich harmonic content – like the Stylophone, for example.  (Mono instruments The Alien and The Hedgehog are ideal candidates for this treatment).  Which one of the channels is ‘left’ and which is ‘right’ using this system seemed entirely arbitrary to me, so I added a switch to reverse the output channels, according to taste.

In fact, there was room for two more input channel pots on the top of the Stylophone case, but no room for the switches and circuitry beneath, so these two channels (the ones with blue caps) go directly into the passive mixer and pseudo-stereo.

While the stereo signal currently goes directly to a stereo in-stereo out mixer, the mono output goes to a 6-channel mono in-stereo out mixer (a Realistic 32-1210, £10 off eBay) .  This has a balance control on each channel, so the intention is that the section described here will be the centre channel, and there will be further sub-sections for left and right parts of the stereo field.  Later posts will indicate how this works out.

The stereo in-stereo out mixer (£6 off eBay) is a Hama SM502.  Although the inputs of this mixer are marked ‘Microphone’, ‘Magnetic/Ceramic cartridge’, ‘Phono’ and ‘Tape’ (i.e. it’s a mixer intended for a domestic hi-fi!) experiments have shown that they work fine with the signal levels involved here.

Red Dragon_Mixer bonnet 1 IMG_0916

16
May
12

Bits & Pieces

I’ve called this post Bits & Pieces because it isn’t about electronic musical instruments, but a few modules I’ve recently made, not all of which are greatly interesting in themselves, but have a use in my set-up.  These are:

1. Extension speaker

2. Headphone Amp

3. Headphone/speaker select switch

These are not highly significant, but I’ve spent time making and using them, so I thought I might as well briefly describe them.

Bits & Pieces 3 General IMG_0899

First of all, as you can see, the aesthetic involved is a different one from the projects I’ve described before.  By and large, they’re designed for mono use – although the headphone amp, based on a TDA2822 chip, is for connection to conventional stereo headphones – and they have a deliberately ‘retro’ appearance to emphasise the simplicity of the lo-fi circuitry and sounds they’re used for.

The circuits are housed in old tobacco and sweet tins I found in my garage: they came originally from my Grandad’s shed, so are very likely older than the speaker.  (Except possibly the Altoids tin, which strikes me as being somewhat more modern, although I haven’t looked into it).

*

1.  The speaker enclosure – I use the word ‘enclosure’  loosely here as in fact it has no back to it – is something I saw around the house as far back as I can remember: the late 50’s/early 60’s.  I think my Dad made it: I must ask him.  Somehow I seem to have inherited it; and all I’ve done to it is to replace the speaker itself, which had got damaged over the years, with a new one, which is full-range and 8 ohms impedence; and exchange the connectors on the end of the lead with 4mm banana plugs.

The main use of the extension speaker is to get a better sound from instruments with no line out.  To date I have two of these: the Cracklephone and the Touch-Radio.  Both of these have 4mm banana sockets on them, and the speaker leads terminate in banana plugs, so can be connected directly into these instruments.

*

2.  The headphone amp I made some years ago, from a circuit diagram I now appear to have lost.

Headphone amp IMG_0900

*

3.  The headphone/speaker switch was also found in my garage – possibly a car-boot acquisition: designed for stereo headphones, but used in this set-up only for mono signals, divided and fed to left and right.To avoid antagonising my neighbours too much, especially late at night, I have a pair of banana leads to connect the instruments to the headphone/speaker switch, via the sockets in the Altoids tin, which allows the headphones to be used in place of the speakers.

3 Boxes IMG_0901

I didn’t manage to show this in the photo, but the speaker leads from the instrument or amp are connected to the banana sockets on the left of the Altoids tin, the headphone/speaker switch connects via the small stereo socket (in) and large mono socket (out) on the front, and the speaker connects to the banana sockets on the right.

*

The older Stylophones in my collection would benefit from the addition of speaker sockets: as referred to elsewhere in the blog, most models seem to have additional components in the line-out circuit (filtering out higher frequencies), which gives the line-out sound a different character compared to the tone from the internal speaker.

Much has been written on the Cracklebox, and how it is against the principle of the original design to add a line-out.  As I see it, it isn’t a violation of principle to use an external speaker in place of the one built in to the instrument itself: a wider range of volume and tone is available this way.  And that’s what these Bits & Pieces are about, I suppose: creating sounds in a live, old-fashioned, organic sort of way, in contrast to the modern, synthetic, digital way (also good, of course – just different!).

15
May
12

The Touch-Radio

The Touch-Radio was, design-wise, by far my easiest project to date.  This was for the simple reason that it’s essentially the circuit board out of an old transistor radio, more or less unaltered!

Touch Radio 1 DSCF0011

I had had the radio for about 40 years: about 20 years ago, I took it out of its case – which has subsequently disappeared – and rewired the tuning and volume controls, evidently intending to do something with it.

I forget now whether I ever did – probably not – but I found it again recently, just as I was finishing the Cracklephone, and thinking about touch-controlled sound-makers; so I decided to connect a battery clip and speaker and see if it made a noise.

It did!  And I soon discovered that by touching certain parts of the exposed circuit board interesting sounds could be coaxed out of it – often not entirely unlike the Cracklephone, but with an element of speech incorporated.  Touching the aerial did frequently amplify the received radio signal, but it was rare for speech to become readily intelligible.

So I decided to leave it at that! – apart from putting the speaker, volume control and power in a box, to keep it neat.  A PP3 battery would just about fit inside, but it also has a socket for  external power.

Touch Radio 2 DSCF0014

I’d recently obtained some small plastic jewellery boxes, which looked good for small projects (some more are described elsewhere in the blog), so I used one of these.  There was also room for two 3.5mm sockets and two 4mm banana sockets, which I added, as I had done for the Cracklephone, to allow a microphone to be attached to the Touch-Radio or the Touch-Radio to be connected to an external loudspeaker.

Touch Radio 3 DSCF0015

I’ve always been interested in manipulating speech sounds, and have a number of projects in mind utilising radios in different ways.  I haven’t started working on these yet, but the Touch-Radio is the first in the series.

15
May
12

The Cracklephone

The ‘Cracklephone’, nicknamed ‘The Blue Parrot’, is my second project recreating a classic design.  The first, The Hedgehog, was a version of the famous Atari Punk Console; this one was my take on the ‘Cracklebox’ (or ‘Kraakdoos’ in the original Dutch).

The original Dutch Cracklebox was created by Michel Waisvisz at STEIM (the Studio for Electro-Instrumental Music) in Amsterdam in the 1970’s.  Waisvisz died in 2008, but his description of the Cracklebox can be found here: http://www.crackle.org/CrackleBox.htm.

This is what it looks like:

Cracklebox - Sascha Pohflepp

Photograph by Sascha Pohflepp.

You can buy one like this from STEIM at http://www.steim.org/steim/cracklebox.php.

Waisvisz’s early experiments with electronic sound were of the type now known as ‘circuit-bending’, and the Cracklebox was developed as a natural extension of this: STEIM’s philosophy is very much in favour of low-tech electronic music-making and the ‘creative misuse’ of technology.  In particular they emphasise the importance of human touch in musical performance.  Accordingly, the Cracklebox is based on an early op-amp chip numbered 709 (LM709, MC709, uA709 or MC1709CG), provided with 6 pads or touch points which cause it to oscillate in a not entirely predictable way.

The 709, as a matter of fact, was the first widely-used op-amp on a single chip.  It was invented by legendary designer Bob Widlar – an ‘irrational, eccentric, and outspoken personality’, ‘alcoholic loner’ and ‘celebrated dropout’ according to his Wikipedia entry at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bob_Widlar.  Whether or not STEIM knew of it, I don’t know, but I feel sure they would have approved of the physicality of his practice of ‘widlarising’ – ‘methodically destroying a faulty component or a flawed prototype with a sledgehammer’ . . .

Be that as it may, the 709, as a very early design in the field, required more external circuitry for ‘frequency compensation’ than later and more familiar op-amps like the ubiquitous 741, so lends itself to greater possibilities of interference by touch.  As people are different, so the Cracklebox sounds different when played by different people – the player and the electronics combine to make a unique instrument between them.  (Indeed, it is possible for two or more people to play the Cracklebox at once, by touching separate pads, or each other.  There are videos on YouTube demonstrating this).

I had been using the computer a lot in recent projects, but the low-tech approach is another strand I’ve been following.  Fortunately, circuit diagrams and advice on the Cracklebox were available at this website: http://www.eam.se/kraakdoos, and there was much discussion of it on the electro-music forum, for example: http://electro-music.com/forum/viewtopic.php?t=11052.

In some places I read that the 709 could be difficult to get hold of, but I had no trouble in getting them from one of my regular sources, Cricklewood Electronics, at a perfectly reasonable cost.  I have also read that the NTE909 works as well, but have not had cause to check this out.

The circuit I used looked like this:

Cracklephone Circuit3

The reason why there are 13 touch points, rather than 6, is to do with the case I built it in.  I mentioned in an earlier post that I had acquired a number of broken Stylophone Beatboxes.  I had used one for the ‘Big Boy’ Stylophone mod, and had been looking for a project in which I could use another.  As the Beatbox has a large and attractive circular ‘keyboard’, divided into sections, I thought this would be ideal for a series of touch pads, as used in the Cracklebox.

The Beatbox keyboard – or as it is now, ‘playing surface’ – has 13  segments, hence the duplication and addition of extra touch points.  The original 6 are marked  *  on my circuit diagram.

As many as possible of the Beatbox’s original switches were retained – mostly with different purposes, of course – and the volume control, in particular, proved useful to keep, as it could be manipulated with the right index finger while playing.  The odd arrangement in the middle of the circuit diagram is designed to make use of this – the first variable resistor sets an average, maximum or minimum volume, and is not much used when playing.

Other additions to the basic circuit are:

– voltage starve.  I added a switch to this arrangement, the idea being that the voltage starve could be applied or not, as required, and there is a choice of direction of turn of the control pot.  After practising with it for a while, I prefer position 3, with voltage starve on, turning clockwise to increase voltage.

– resistor bypass.  There’s only one resistor in the circuit, so I added a 1M potentiometer in series with it, to increase or decrease the resistance between pins 2 and 6.  I know that knob-twiddling isn’t entirely within the philosophy of the original Cracklebox, but I found it a useful addition, affecting the pitch of the sounds produced.

– LDR.  When I had finished, there was an unattractive hole remaining where the Beatbox tuning control used to be.  I decided I needed to fill this in and calculated that an ORP12 LDR was the perfect size to do this.  I put this in series with the 1M resistor, and added a switch so it could be selected in place of the 1M potentiometer.  The effect it has varies considerably according to the ambient light level and the type of sounds being produced: sometimes it acts almost like an on/off switch, allowing for ‘gating’ effects.

The  op-amp section and the transistor section were built on two very small scraps of veroboard to make sure they could be fitted inside the case – there was very little room above the large keyboard PCB.

There is an LED shown in some versions of the Cracklebox circuit diagram.  I intended to incorporate this as shown, but I wired it as an on/off indicator at some point when I needed to know whether power was getting to some parts of the circuit and in the end I left it that way.

Here’s what it looked like when I finished:

Cracklephone front high angle

As soon I started to use it, however, I realised straight away that the best way to play it was to turn it upside-down, with the keyboard and speaker facing away from me.  This made it easier to touch the playing surface with my finger tips: seeing where they were wasn’t important, as playing was all done by feel.  This meant the underside of the instrument  – now the upper side – had to be decorated, too.  It now looks like this:

Cracklephone back high angle

In fact, the Beatbox keyboard turned out to be a very good playing surface, allowing for a certain amount of variation in the strength of touch and the possibility of sliding gradually from one touch point to another.

There is much discussion at the links mentioned above about whether a direct output could – or indeed should – be included, and if so, how this could most effectively be done.  As the principle behind the original Cracklebox was that it should be a ‘stand-alone’ device, I decided to deal with this issue by purchasing – for under £2 – a small goose-neck mic.  This plugs into a 3.5mm socket on the rear of the Cracklephone, and is bent to point at the speaker; adjacent to this is an out socket going to the amp.  These sockets aren’t connected to the rest of the electrics in the case, so this is just a simple way to mic the instrument up, enabling it to be amplified or recorded however or wherever it’s being held or moved.

Cracklephone rear DSCF0003

At the moment, I can only get this to work when plugged into my laptop, not through my general effects and amplification system – but I’m working on it.

I also added two 4mm banana sockets so the instrument could be connected directly to a (better) external speaker.  The external speaker arrangement is described in another post.

Cracklephone rear 2 DSCF0004

The working title for the project was the ‘Cracklephone’, since it’s a combination of the Cracklebox and a Stylophone Beatbox.  I liked the look of the blue parrot stickers, and it sounds very reminiscent of a parrot, so it acquired its nickname – also a reference to Sydney Greenstreet’s bar in Casablanca.

Here’s what it sounds like:

29
Dec
11

How I started

I’m writing this Blog to document some work I’ve been doing in the field of electronic music-making.

I wasn’t an expert in any of these things before I started – and I’m probably not an expert in any of them now, but I’ve learned a lot as I’ve gone on, and I hope if I can pass it on it’ll be a source of interest and in some small way an inspiration to others who are getting involved in this field

When I began thinking about this project I decided to do it in the following way:

a).  To avoid working with computers (until the very end).

I’d used computers extensively in my music before, from Logic for straightforward composed pieces to a variety of other programs for electronic composition or sound treatment.  I expected to return to using the computer in the end, but with the benefit – hopefully – of new knowledge and new sound devices.

b).  To incorporate where relevant some projects I’d started, and mostly not finished, many years ago.

I’d made some guitar effects with a degree of success that could be described as ‘mixed’ – some of them I use to this day, which work very well and can’t or don’t need to be replaced by anything new; some are still around, not quite working the way they were intended to; some never worked at all!

So I decided not to go back to guitar effects, but to concentrate on sound producing devices.

c).  To explore certain specific ‘movements’ in electronic sound-producing, such as ‘circuit bending’ and ‘Lunetta’ devices, and construct some of the ‘classic’ designs along the way.

d).  To explore alternative methods of music input – isomorphic keyboards, game controllers, and other home made devices.

One of the intentions behind this was to create music in more of an informal and  ‘live’ way than I had done using the computer; another was to explore the variety of music- and noise-producing devices now available – usually cheaply in sales, second-hand shops and on eBay.

I also wanted to pursue my obsession with the Stylophone, an early electronic synthesiser of the late 60’s and early 70’s, but recently reintroduced.

I’ve divided the different parts of the project into the following categories:

1.  Modification

In this first phase I would take existing devices and add new features, or expand existing ones.

My principle in doing this was understanding the circuits (to a certain degree) and making appropriate changes to produce specific effects.

2.  Construction

Phase 2 was to build a number of sound-producing devices from scratch, using circuit diagrams and descriptions from books and magazines (I had a number of these collected over the years, and hand-drawn circuits copied from publications in libraries) and from the internet.

Again, a certain amount of understanding of the principles of the circuits would be necessary.

3.  Circuit Bending

In this phase the idea was to take existing electronic instruments – children’s toys mostly – and make them produce sounds they were never intended to produce, mostly without worrying too much about the circuits that produced these sounds and how they were working, which I felt was more within the spirit of the enterprise.

4.  Freeform designs

The intention then was to extend the knowledge gained in previous phases to create new designs, partly modified, partly constructed, incorporating past ideas I had had, but never put into practice and new ideas discovered through experimentation.

5.  Software/MIDI

This phase was to be mainly computer-based, involving programming, which I had not done before.

As it turned out, I was overtaken by events, and parallel with the Modification and Construction, have got involved in some slightly different areas.  However, I’ll write about each of my projects in order, and put them in the appropriate category.




andymurkin

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