Homemade Hardware - Week 8

Components testing and prototype beginnings

While pretty short of what I’d call a prototype, I made some important strides forward regarding the components and concepts involved for pulling out this music project I proposed last week.

To recap, my plan is to make a series of artistic circuit boards that each control an audio component that together will create a song. Right now, I’m leaning toward “Peg” by Steely Dan, though that may prove too complicated (won’t go into it here, but it’s a song that took a legendary amount of time and effort to compose).

In order to pull this off and achieve an interesting texture of sound, I’m basically imagining each board as an output unit either (1) running through an amp/guitar pedal style circuit or (2) controlling some kind of servo or solenoid to create a sound.

I ordered a bunch of parts from Adafruit that only arrived Saturday, limiting my amount of time for testing. I’ve never worked with solenoids before, so I focused on breadboarding with those.

I controlled the very small 5V solenoids I bought off Adafruit using an Arduino Uno to test their strength and sound, using a small cup filled with beads as a makeshift snare. It’s worth noting that as-is, there’s a pretty audible click from the small solenoids but they don’t strike very hard. To rig these up for snares or cymbals I’ll have to consider positioning and possibly passive amplification.

The speakers all work as-expected but are pretty quiet. I need to look into how much they can be amplified. I am happy, though, that the small 8 ohm speakers I bought from Adafruit appear to be just as loud as the much larger ones I have. It should be easy to mount those onto some tiny boards. Mark Kleback has directed me to some existing walkthroughs he has on guitar pedal circuits that I can study and adapt for board designs.

I also looked into the programming side of this project. A quick search brought up Len Shustek’s MIDITONES and Playtunes, a MIDI converter and microcontroller library that plays those converted notes back. I think the trick here will be to take the version written for ATTiny chips and then see what modifications need to be made in order to play all of the parts and allow for multiple methods output besides tone generation.