Redditor Mark Hank missed the tactile experience of vinyl records so he removed the insides of an old Sonos Boost to turn it into a Raspberry Pi- and NFC-powered music player. Yes, this really works:
The Sonos Boost was purchased for just £3 on eBay. Mark pulled all the original insides out of it and repurposed it as what they call a ‘vinyl emulator’ to better replicate the experience of playing records than what a simple touchscreen offers.
The Boost now contains a Raspberry Pi 3A+ and an ACR122U NFC reader, and it plays a specific album, playlist, or radio station when you tap a specific NFC tag on it. It’s teamed with Sonos speakers, and NTAG213 NFC tags. The maker recommends you go with the largest tags you can find, as it will improve read performance; they went with these massive ones.
One of the album covers printed onto thick card
The tags are inside printouts mounted on 1mm thick card (those album cover artwork squares getting chucked at the Sonos in the video), and they’re “super cheap” according to the maker.
You’ll need to install the node-sonos-http-api package on your Raspberry Pi; it’s the basis of the whole back-end of the project. The maker provides full instructions on their original post, including on how to get Spotify up and running on your Raspberry Pi.
The whole setup neatened up
Rather than manually typing HTTP requests into a web browser, the maker wanted to automate the process so that the Raspberry Pi does it when presented with certain stimulus (aka when the NFC reader is triggered). They also walk you through this process in their step-by-step instructions.
How the maker hid the mess under the display table
The entire build cost around £50, and the great thing is that it doesn’t need to sit inside an old Sonos Boost if you don’t want it to. The reader works through modest-width wood, so you can mount it under a counter, install it in a ‘now listening’ stand, whatever — it’s really up to you.
Take a musical trip down memory lane all the way back to the 1920s.
Sick of listening to the same dozen albums on repeat, or feeling stifled by the funnel of near-identical YouTube playlist rabbit holes? If you’re looking to broaden your musical horizons and combine that quest with a vintage-themed Raspberry Pi–powered project, here’s a great idea…
Alex created a ‘Radio Time Machine’ that covers 10 decades of music, from the 1920s up to the 2020s. Each decade has its own Spotify playlist, with hundreds of songs from that decade played randomly. This project with the look of a vintage radio offers a great, immersive learning experience and should throw up tonnes of musical talent you’ve never heard of.
In the comments section of their reddit post, Alex explained that replacing the screen of the vintage shell they housed the tech in was the hardest part of the build. On the screen, each decade is represented with a unique icon, from a gramophone, through to a cassette tape and the cloud. Here’s a closer look at it:
Now let’s take a look at the hardware and software it took to pull the whole project together…
Have all of y’all been hoarding toilet roll over recent weeks in an inexplicable response to the global pandemic, or is that just a quirk here in the UK? Well, the most inventive use of the essential household item we’ve ever seen is this musical project by Max Björverud.
Ahh, the dulcet tones of wall-mounted toilet roll holders, hey? This looks like one of those magical ‘how do they do that?’ projects but, rest assured, it’s all explicable.
Max explains that Singing Toilet is made possible with a Raspberry Pi running Pure Data. The invention also comprises a HiFiBerry Amp, an Arduino Mega, eight hall effect sensors, and eight magnets. The toilet roll holders are controlled with the hall effect sensors, and the magnets connect to the Arduino Mega.
In this video, you can see the hall effect sensor and the 3D-printed attachment that holds the magnet:
Max measures the speed of each toilet roll with a hall effect sensor and magnet. The audio is played and sampled with a Pure Data patch. In the comments on his original Reddit post, he says this was all pretty straight-forward but that it took a while to print a holder for the magnets, because you need to be able to change the toilet rolls when the precious bathroom tissue runs out!
Max began prototyping his invention last summer and installed it at creative agency Snask in his hometown of Stockholm in December.
If your amazing project is a little too quiet, add high-fidelity sound with Raspberry Pi and the help of this handy guide from HackSpace magazine, written by PJ Evans.
The PecanPi HAT features best-in-class components and dual DACs for superior audio reproduction
It’s no surprise that we love microcontrollers at HackSpace magazine. Their versatility and simplicity make them a must for electronics projects. Although a dab hand at reading sensors or illuminating LEDs, Arduinos and their friends do struggle when it comes to high-quality audio. If you need to add music or speech to your project, it may be worth getting a Raspberry Pi computer to do the heavy lifting. We’re going to look at the various audio output options available for our favourite small computer, from a simple buzz, through to audiophile bliss.
Need to keep it simple and under a pound? An active buzzer is what you need
The simplest place to start is with the humble buzzer. A cheap active buzzer can be quickly added to Raspberry Pi’s GPIO. It’s surprisingly easy too. Try connecting a buzzer’s red wire (positive) to GPIO pin 22 (Broadcom numbering) and the black wire (ground) to any GND pin. Now, install the GPIO Zero Python library by typing this at the command line:
sudo apt install python3-gpiozero
Create a file called buzz.py in your favourite editor and enter the following:
from gpiozero import Buzzer
buzzer = Buzzer(22)
Run it at the command line:
You should hear a one-second buzz. See if you can make Morse code sounds by changing the duration of the sleep statement.
Passive but not aggressive
Raspberry Pi computers, with the exception of the Zero range, all have audio output on board. The original Raspberry Pi featured a stereo 3.5mm socket, and all A and B models since feature a four-pole socket that also includes composite video. This provides your cheapest route to getting audio from your Raspberry Pi computer.
A low-cost passive speaker can be directly plugged in to provide sound, albeit probably quieter than you’d like. Of course, add an amplifier or active speaker and you have sound as loud as you like. This is the most direct way of adding sound to your project, but how to get the sound out?
Need a simple solution? USB audio devices come in all shapes and sizes but are mostly plug-and-play
Normally, the Raspbian operating system will recognise that an audio device has been connected and route audio through it. Sometimes, especially if you’ve connected an HDMI monitor with sound capability (e.g. an HDMI TV), sound will not come out of the correct device.
To fix this, open up a terminal window and run sudo raspi-config. When the menu appears, go to Advanced Options and select Audio, then select the option to force the output through the audio jack. You may need to reboot Raspbian for all changes to take effect.
Plug and playback
A USB sound device is another simple choice for audio playback on Raspberry Pi. Literally hundreds are available, and a basic input/output device with better audio quality than the on-board system can be purchased for a few pounds online. Installation tends to be no more complicated than plugging the device into the USB port. You may need to select the new output, as the underlying audio system, ALSA (see the ALSA and PulseAudio section for more), may mute it by default. To fix this, run alsamixer from the command line, press F6 to select the new sound device, and if you see ‘MM’ at the bottom of the volume indicator, press M to unmute and adjust the volume with the cursor keys.
Many DACs also come with on-board amplifiers. Perfect for passive speakers
Unsurprisingly, when choosing your USB sound device, you can start at a few pounds and go right up to professional equipment costing hundreds. As they are low-power, USB devices do not tend to feature amplification, unless they have a separate power source.
The simplest way to play audio on Raspbian is to use OMXPlayer. This is a dedicated hardware-accelerated command-line tool that takes full advantage of Raspberry Pi’s capabilities. It sends audio to the analogue audio jack by default, so playing back an MP3 file is as simple as running:
There are many command-line options that allow you to control how the audio is played. Want the audio to loop forever? Just add --loop to the command. You’ll notice that when it’s running, OMXPlayer provides a user interface of sorts, allowing you to control playback from within the terminal. If you’d just like it to run in the background without user input, run the command like this:
omxplayer --no-keys example.wav &
Here, —-no-keys removes the interface, and the ampersand (&) tells the operating system to run the job ‘in the background’ so that it won’t block anything else you want to do.
OMXPlayer is a great choice for Raspbian, but other players such as mpg321 are available, so find the tool that’s best for you.
Another useful utility is speaker-test. This can produce white noise or vocal confirmation so you can check your speakers are working properly. It’s as simple as this:
speaker-test -t wav -c 2
The first parameter sets the sound to be a voice, and the -c tests stereo channels only: front left and front right.
If space is an issue, a Raspberry Pi 4, amplifier, and speaker may not be what you have in mind. After all, your cool wearable project is going to be problematic if you’re trailing an amplifier on a cart with a 50-metre extension lead powering everything. Luckily, the clever people at Pimoroni have you covered. The Speaker pHAT is a Raspberry Pi Zero-sized HAT that not only adds audio capability to the smallest of the Raspberry Pi family, but also sports a 3 W speaker. Now you can play any audio with a tiny device and a USB battery pack.
Small, cheap, and fun, the Speaker pHat features a 3 W speaker and LED VU meter
The installation process is fully automated, so no messing around with drivers and config files. Once the script has completed, you can run any audio tool as before, and the sound will be routed through the speaker. No, the maximum volume won’t be troubling any heavy metal concerts, but you can’t knock the convenience and form factor.
Playing the blues
An easy way to get superior audio quality using a Raspberry Pi computer is Bluetooth. Recent models such as the 3B, 4, and even the Zero W support Bluetooth devices, and can be paired with most Bluetooth speakers, even from the command line. Once connected, you have a range of options on size and output power, plus the advantage of wireless connectivity.
Setting up a Bluetooth connection, especially if you are using the command line, can be a little challenging (see the Bluetooth cheatsheet section). There is a succinct guide here: hsmag.cc/N6p2IB. If you are using Raspbian Desktop, it’s a lot easier. Simply click on the Bluetooth logo on the top-right, and follow the instructions to pair your device.
If you find OMXPlayer isn’t outputting any audio, try installing mpg321:
sudo apt install mpg321
And try again:
If your project needs good audio, and the standard 3.5 mm output just isn’t cutting it, then it’s time to look at the wide range of DACs (digital-to-analogue converters) available in HAT format. It’s a crowded market, and the prices vary significantly depending on what you want from your device. Let’s start at the lower end, with major player HiFiBerry’s DAC+ Zero. This tiny HAT adds 192kHz/24-bit playback via two RCA phono ports for £12.50. If you’re serious about your audio, then you can consider the firm’s full HAT format high-resolution DAC+ Pro for £36, or really go for it with the DSP (digital sound processing) version for £67. All of these will require amplification, but the sound quality will rival audio components of a much higher price.
Money no object? The Allo Katana is a monster DAC, and weighs in at £240, but outperforms £1000 equivalents
If money is no object and your project requires the best possible reproduction, then you can consider going full audiophile. There are some amazing high-end HATs out there, but one of the best-performing ones we’ve seen is the PecanPi DAC. Its creator Leonid Ayzenshtat sourced each individual component carefully, always choosing the best-in-class. He even used a separate DAC for each audio channel. The resulting board may make your wallet wince at around £200 for the bare board, but the resulting audio is good enough to be used in professional recording studios. If you’ve restored a gorgeous old radio back to showroom condition, you could do a lot worse than add the board in with a great amp and speaker.
ALSA and PulseAudio
There’s often confusion between these two systems. Raspbian comes pre-installed with ALSA (Advanced Linux Sound Architecture), which is the low-level software that makes sound work. It comes with a range of utilities to control output device, volume, and more. PulseAudio is a software layer that sits on top of ALSA to provide more features, including streaming capabilities. Chances are, if you need to do something a bit more clever than just play audio, you’ll need to install a PulseAudio server.
If you want to pair a Bluetooth audio device (A2DP) on the command line, it can be a little hairy. Here’s a quick guide:
sudo apt-get install pulseaudio pulseaudio-module-bluetooth
sudo usermod -G bluetooth -a pi
Start the PulseAudio server:
Run the Bluetooth utility:
Put your speaker into pairing mode. Now, within the utility, run the following commands (pressing Enter after each one):
Now wait for the list to populate. When you see your device… pair <dev> Where <dev> is the displayed long identifier for your device. You can just type in the first few characters and press Tab to auto-complete. Do the same for the following steps.
Wait for the confirmation, then enter:
Now try to play some audio using aplay (for WAV files) or mpg321 (for mp3). These instructions are adapted from the guide by Actuino at hsmag.cc/N6p2IB.
There are command-line players available for just about every audio format in common use. Generally, MP3 provides the best balance of quality and space, but lower bit-rates result in lower sound quality. WAV is completely uncompressed, but can eat up your SSD card. If you don’t want to compromise on audio quality, try FLAC, which is identical in quality to WAV, but much smaller. To convert between audio types, consider installing FFmpeg, a powerful audio and video processing tool.
If you love HackSpace magazine as much as we do, why not have a look at the subscription offers available, including the 12-month deal that comes with a free Adafruit Circuit Playground! Subscribers in the USA can now get a 12-month subscription for $60 when joining by the end of March!
You see that door? You secretly want that to be a MIDI controller? Here’s how to do it, and how to play a cover version of “Break On Through” by The Doors on a door 😉 Link to source code and the DIY kit below.
If you don’t live in a home with squeaky doors — living room door, I’m looking at you — you probably never think about the musical potential of mundane household objects.
We thought this was hilarious. Hope you enjoy! This video has over 60 million views worldwide! Social Media: @jessconte To use this video in a commercial player, advertising or in broadcasts, please email [email protected]
If the sound of a slammed oven door isn’t involved in your ditty of choice, you may instead want to add some electronics to that sweet, sweet harmony maker, just like Floyd.
Trusting in the melodic possibilities of incorporating a Raspberry Pi 3B+ and various sensory components into a humble door, Floyd created The Doors Door, a musical door that plays… well, I’m sure you can guess.
recorded fall 1966 – lyrics: You know the day destroys the night Night divides the day Tried to run Tried to hide Break on through to the other side Break on through to the other side Break on through to the other side, yeah We chased our pleasures here Dug our treasures there But can you still recall The time we cried Break on through to the other side Break on through to the other side Yeah!
How to use a Raspberry PI as a synthesizer. Table of contents below! The Raspberry PI is a popular card-sized computer. In this video, I show how to set up a Raspberry PI V3 as a virtual analog synthesizer with keyboard and knobs for realtime sound tweaking, using standard MIDI controllers and some very minor shell script editing.
“In this video,” Floyd explains on YouTube, “I show how to set up a Raspberry Pi 3 as a virtual analogue synthesiser with keyboard and knobs for real-time sound tweaking, using standard MIDI controllers and some very minor shell script editing. The result is a battery-powered mini synth creating quite impressive sounds!”
We know a fair few of you (Raspberry Pi staff included) love dabbling in the world of Raspberry Pi synth sound, so be sure to watch the video to see what Floyd gets up to while turning a Raspberry Pi 3 into a virtual analogue synthesiser.
Perpetual Chimes is a set of augmented wind chimes that offer an escapist experience where your collaboration composes the soundscape. Since there is no wind indoors, the chimes require audience interaction to gently tap or waft them and encourage/nurture the hidden sounds within – triggering sounds as the chimes strike one another.
Normal wind chimes pale in comparison
I don’t like wind chimes. There, I said it. I also don’t like the ticking of the second hand of analogue clocks, and I think these two dislikes might be related. There’s probably a name for this type of dislike, but I’ll leave the Googling to you.
Sound designer Frazer Merrick’s interactive wind chimes may actually be the only wind chimes I can stand. And this is due, I believe, to the wonderful sounds they create when they touch, much more wonderful than regular wind chime sounds. And, obviously, because these wind chimes incorporate a Raspberry Pi 3.
Perpetual Chimes is a set of augmented wind chimes that offer an escapist experience where your collaboration composes the soundscape. Since there is no wind indoors, the chimes require audience interaction to gently tap or waft them and encourage/nurture the hidden sounds within — triggering sounds as the chimes strike one another. Since the chimes make little acoustic noise, essentially they’re broken until you collaborate with them.
Why spend years learning to play a musical instrument when you could program a robot to do it for you? This month HackSpace magazine, we show you how to build a glockenspiel-playing robot. Download the latest issue of HackSpace for free: http://rpf.io/hs22yt Follow HackSpace on Instagram: http://rpf.io/hsinstayt
If programming your own instrument-playing robot isn’t for you, never fear, for HackSpace magazine is packed full of other wonderful makes and ideas, such as:
A speaker built into an old wine barrel
A Raspberry Pi–powered time machine
A…wait, hold on, did I just say a Raspberry Pi–powered time machine? Hold on…let me just download the FREE PDF and have a closer look. Page 14, a WW2 radio broadcast time machine built by Adam Clark. “I bought a very old, non-working valve radio, and replaced the internals with a Raspberry Pi Zero on a custom 3D-printed chassis.” NICE!
Honestly, this month’s HackSpace is so full of content that it would take me all day to go through everything. But, don’t take my word for it — try it yourself.
HackSpace magazine is out now, available in print from your local newsagent or from the Raspberry Pi Store in Cambridge, online from Raspberry Pi Press, or as a free PDF download. Click here to find out more and, while you’re at it, why not have a look at the subscription offers available, including the 12-month deal that comes with a free Adafruit Circuit Playground!
Some of you may wonder why you wouldn’t have your records with your record player and, as such, use that record player to play those records. If you are one of these people, then consider, for example, the beautiful Damien Rice LP I own that tragically broke during a recent house move. While I can no longer play the LP, its artwork is still worthy of a place on my record shelf, and with Plynth I can still play the album as well.
In addition, instead of album artwork to play an album, you could use photographs, doodles, or type to play curated playlists, or, as mentioned on the website, DVDs to play the movies soundtrack, or CDs to correctly select the right disc in a disc changer.
Convinced or not, I think what we can all agree on is that Plynth is a good-looking bit of kit, and at Pi Towers look forward to seeing where they project leads.
Inspired by Rousseau videos I tried to build my own Piano Visualizer. It is made with Raspberry Pi and WS2812B LED strip. Screen and buttons: Waveshare LCD TFT 1,44” 128x128px.
Fans of the popular YouTube pianist Rousseau would be forgiven for thinking the thumbnail above is of one of his videos. It’s actually of a Raspberry Pi build by Aleksander Evening, who posted this project on Reddit last week as an homage to Rousseau, who is one of his favourite YouTubers.
Building an LED piano visualiser
After connecting the LED strip to the Raspberry Pi Zero W, and setting up the Pi as a Bluetooth MIDI host, Aleksander was almost good to go. There was just one thing standing in his way…
He wanted to use the Synthesia software for visualisations, and, unmodified, this software doesn’t support the MIDI files Aleksander planned to incorporate. Luckily, he found the workaround:
As of today Synthesia doesn’t support MIDI via Bluetooth, it should be added in next update. There is official workaround: you have to replace dll file. You also have to enable light support in Synthesia. In Visualizer settings you have to change “input” to RPI Bluetooth. After that when learning new song next-to-play keys will be illuminated in corresponding colors, blue for left hand and green for right hand.
The final piece is a gorgeous mix of LEDs, sound, and animation — worthy of the project’s inspiration.
Find more information, including parts, links to the code, and build instructions, on Aleksander’s GitHub repo. And as always, if you build your own, or if you’ve created a Raspberry Pi project in honour of your favourite musician, artist, or YouTuber, we’d love to see it in the comments below.
Sheet music: https://mnot.es/2N01Gqt Click the bell to join the notification squad! ♫ Listen on Spotify: http://spoti.fi/2LdpqK7 ♫ MIDI: https://patreon.com/rousseau ♫ Facebook: http://bit.ly/rousseaufb ♫ Instagram: http://bit.ly/rousseauig ♫ Twitter: http://bit.ly/rousseautw ♫ Buy me a coffee: http://buymeacoff.ee/rousseau Hope you enjoy my performance of Nuvole Bianche by Ludovico Einaudi.
The program I made lets me bind “actions” (strobe white, flash blue, disable all colors, etc.) to any input and any input type (hold, knob, trigger, etc.). And each action type has a set of parameters that I bind to the input. For example, I have a knob that changes a strobe’s intensity, and another knob that changes its speed.
The program updates each action, pulls its resulting color, and adds them together, then sends that to the LEDs. I’m using rtmidi for reading the midi device and pigpio for handling the LED output.
You no doubt heard the news this month about the huge data loss at Myspace, which announced that users’ audio files — along with any photos and videos — that were uploaded to Myspace more than three years ago, “may no longer be available on or from Myspace.” That’s estimated to be as many as 53 million songs from 14 million artists that were lost. The reason given was a botched server migration, but it could have been anything. Data can be lost due to accidental deletion, hardware or software failure, or because a service is terminated by a company that decides it no longer fits their business goals.
Myspace: A Groundbreaking Online Social & Music Community
Ten to fifteen years ago, Myspace fulfilled the promise of an online musical community where up and coming bands and musicians could share their art, interact with their fans, and promote their concerts. Many musicians made a lot of music that ended up on Myspace, and some of them even became superstars, or at least, well-known names such as Arctic Monkeys, Attack! Attack!, Black Veil Brides, and Panic! at the Disco.
Today, Myspace is just a shadow of its former social media presence, but at one time it claimed nearly one billion registered users and the biggest library in digital music. Now, much of that music is gone. Artists who thought that their music would exist indefinitely on Myspace have had to deal with the realization that putting recordings — or any kind of data — in a cloud streaming service doesn’t guarantee that it is safe. Cloud-based sites like Myspace, SoundCloud, Facebook, Instagram, Flickr, Google, or any other site that is not specifically a backup or archive site can’t be relied upon (nor do they claim the intention) to keep your data safe and available indefinitely.
A Personal Story of Music and Myspace
by Ahin Thomas, VP of Marketing, Backblaze
Recently, I was sharing the story of the first good song I had written with a colleague and sent her the link to the song on Myspace. When she went to listen to the song, the page was there but we both found out that the song was no longer available on Myspace.
That’s the problem with data loss. You don’t know that it’s lost until it’s gone. And, at that point, it’s simply too late.
The song was called By The Way. The inspiration for the song came when I was waiting for a restaurant table and saw a picture frame in a store window with a photo of this adorable little kid. “Twinkle, twinkle in your eyes, are you an angel in disguise?” was written on the picture frame. Cute kid, great line. I fiddled with it for awhile and managed to twist it into a nice little pop song.
Writing By The Way was the first time I felt like a real songwriter. It also taught me that being open and willing to share with others can change your life. The song itself is decent, but the lessons and memories are priceless. It’s the sort of thing I want to be able to share with my daughter. She’s only 15 months old now, but I figured maybe she might someday tell stories about how her dad wrote songs that people recorded, and how he played his songs for her when she was little. So that’s what the song meant to me.
I was lucky. I had backed up the song, which means that I still have the song to play for my daughter (photo above). If I hadn’t backed up the song, well, I wouldn’t be able to.
I think of the many artists who are way more talented than I am, but not as lucky as I was to be able to preserve the music that means so much to me and my family. To them, I send my heartfelt condolences for the hours and memories lost due to the flip of a wrong switch. To everyone else, remind one friend today to get backed up. They’ll never forget you for it.
If you’re interested, here is my song By The Way, performed by Sehr Thadhani and her wonderful band.
Nothing Holds a Memory (Like a Song)*
Just about all of us are music fans and consumers, and we have music files that we keep on local computers, mobile devices, and in the cloud. Even if you’ve switched to a streaming music service such as Spotify, Google, Pandora, Apple, or Amazon, it’s likely you still have music files on your computers and devices that you’d like to preserve.
If you keep only one copy of a music file, you greatly increase the chances that the file will be lost.
Back Up the Music
We can hope that most of the garage bands, aspiring, and successful artists who uploaded music to Myspace had other copies, but if past incidents have taught us anything, we can expect that for many this is a permanent loss of their music files. Whether on an attached or local disk, mobile device, or in the cloud, one copy of a file is susceptible to loss. As we’ve often said, the only reliable protection against data loss is to keep multiple copies in more than one location, also known as the 3-2-1 backup strategy. Having more than one copy (of your tracks, your rough and final mixes, your vocals, your masters, your sessions), and ideally three in at least two different geographical locations, can go a long way in ensuring your music won’t be lost.
The only reliable protection against data loss is to keep multiple copies in more than one location.
Depending on the amount of recording data you have and how you work, a good backup service can automatically back up your recording data and ensure it against loss. If you wish to archive recordings for future use or reference, an object cloud storage service will store your data in a secure data center and provide greater flexibility and long term storage at reasonable cost.
For a good overview of backup options for recording musicians, there’s a great article written by producer, recording engineer, instructor, and composer Glenn Lorbecki, called The Music Producer’s Guide to Backing Up Data. Glenn is also a Backblaze customer, so he knows backup and cloud storage. You can read about Glenn on his website at Glennsound.com.
Backblaze has many musicians and recording professionals among our users. The entire Austin City Limits music archives are in our B2 Cloud Storage. Kontent Core is a music licensing platform where labels and artists can showcase their creative work. Other customers are solo musicians, bands, recording engineers, studios, and music publishers.
Preserve Your Memories and Your Songs with Backblaze
Backblaze offers flexible and affordable backup and cloud storage for music, digital recordings, and data of any kind. Your content is stored with a data durability of 99.999999999 (11 nines), and covered by an SLA. If you’d like to learn more about Backblaze’s Computer Backup or B2 Cloud Storage, we invite you to read more on our website.
ChordAssist aims to bring the joy of learning the guitar to those who otherwise may have problems with accessing guitar tutorials. Offering advice in Braille, in speech, and on-screen, ChordAssist has been built specifically for deaf, blind, and mute people. Creator Joe Birch, who also built the BrailleBox device, used Raspberry Pi, Google Assistant, and a variety of accessibility tools and technology for this accessible instrument.
Powered by the Google Assistant, read more at chordassist.com
Accessibility and music
Inspired by a hereditary visual impairment in his family, Buffer’s Android Lead Joe Birch spent six months working on ChordAssist, an accessible smart guitar.
“This is a project that I used to bring my love of music and accessibility (inspired by my family condition of retinitis pigmentosa) together to create something that could allow everyone to enjoy learning and playing music — currently an area which might not be accessible to all,” explained Joe when he shared his project on Twitter earlier this month.
This isn’t Joe’s first step into the world of smart accessibility devices. In 2017, he created BrailleBox, an Android Things news delivery device that converts daily news stories into Braille, using wooden balls atop solenoids that move up and down to form Braille symbols.
This same technology exists within ChordAssist, along with an LCD screen for visual learning, and a speaker system for text-to-speech conversion.
Chord Assist was already an Action on the Google Project that I built for the Google Home, now I wanted to take that and stick it in a guitar powered by voice, visuals, and Braille. All three of these together will hopefully help to reduce the friction that may be experienced throughout the process of learning an instrument.
ChordAssist is currently still at the prototype stage, and Joe invites everyone to offer feedback so he can make improvements.
UK-based Lucem Custom Instruments has teamed up with Seattle’s Tracktion Corporation to create an electric guitar with a built-in Raspberry Pi synthesiser, which they call Spirit Animal.
The Spirit Animal concept guitar
We love seeing the Raspberry Pi incorporated into old technology such as radios, games consoles and unwanted toys. And we also love Pi-based music projects. So can you imagine how happy we were to see an electric guitar with an onboard Raspberry Pi synthesiser?
Tracktion, responsible for synth software BioTek 2, ran their product on a Raspberry Pi, and Lucem fitted this Pi and associated tech inside the hollow body of a through-neck Visceral guitar. The concept guitar made its debut at NAMM 2019 last weekend, where attendees at the National Association of Music Merchants event had the chance to get hands-on with the new instrument.
The instrument boasts an onboard Li-ion battery granting about 8 hours of play time, and a standard 1/4″ audio jack for connecting to an amp. To permit screen-sharing, updates, and control via SSH, the guitar allows access to the Pi’s Ethernet port and wireless functionality.
The Guitar Boy is a guitar. The Guitar Boy is a Game Boy. The Guitar Boy is the best of both worlds! Created for the BitFix Gaming 2015 Game Boy Classic build-off, this Game Boy guitar plays both Pokemon and rock and roll!
Missing for five years, Destiny’s soundtrack album, Music of the Spheres, resurfaced in 2017. Composer Marty O’Donnell reflects on what happened, in this excerpt from Wireframe issue 4.
When Bungie unveiled its space-opera shooter Destiny in February 2013, it marked the end of two years of near silence from the creators of the Halo franchise. Fans celebrated at the prospect of an entirely new game from such well known talent. Behind closed doors, however, Destiny was in trouble.
Though the game was almost complete by mid-2013, plans to launch that September were put on hold when concerns over Destiny’s story forced its narrative structure to be rebuilt from scratch. It would be more than 18 months before Destiny was released: a fun but strange shooter that bore difficult-to-pin-down traces of its troubled gestation. But one element of Destiny – that had been a huge part of its development – was nowhere to be seen. It was an ambitious original soundtrack written and recorded with an impressive but unexpected collaborator: Paul McCartney.
Audio director and composer Marty O’Donnell had been with Bungie since the late 1990s, and for him, Destiny represented an opportunity to develop something new: a musical prequel to the video game. This would become Music of the Spheres – an eight-part musical suite that took nearly two years to complete. This was no mere soundtrack, however. Born out of discussions between O’Donnell and Bungie COO Pete Parsons early in the game’s production, it was to play an integral role in Destiny’s marketing campaign.
“I wasn’t writing this just to be marketing fodder,” O’Donnell laughs. “I was writing it as a standalone listening experience that would then eventually become marketing fodder – but I didn’t want the other to happen first.”
Between 2011 and 2012, Bungie and O’Donnell devised plans for the album.
“Every few weeks or so, I would be called to a meeting in one of their big conference rooms and there would be a whole bunch of new faces there, pitching some cool idea or other,” says O’Donnell. “[At one point] it was going to be a visualisation with your mobile device.”
Difference of opinion
But there were fundamental differences between what Bungie had planned and what Activision – Destiny’s publisher, and keeper of the purse strings – wanted.
“I think Activision was confused [about] why you would ever use music as marketing… And the other thing is, I honestly don’t think they understood why we were working with Paul McCartney. I think they didn’t think that that was the right person for the demographic.”
News of a collaboration with McCartney had raised eyebrows when he revealed his involvement on Twitter in July 2012. His interest had been piqued during his attendance at E3 2009 following the announcement of The Beatles: Rock Band, which was preceded by Bungie’s unveiling of Halo ODST.
“I had a contact in Los Angeles who worked out deals with actors we used on Halo,” O’Donnell recalls. “He was able to make contact with Paul’s people and set up a meeting between the two of us in spring of 2011. My impression was that Paul saw a new crop of fans come from Beatles Rock Band and was interested in seeing what was involved with creating music for video games. He seemed convinced that Bungie was working on a project that he could get behind.”
Within a few weeks, O’Donnell and McCartney were exchanging ideas for Destiny.
“The first thing he sent me was what he called his ‘loop symphony’,” says O’Donnell. “He used the same looping tape recorder that he used on Sgt. Pepper’s and Revolver… He hauled this tape recorder out of his attic.”
Working with regular collaborator Michael Salvatori, O’Donnell and McCartney set about developing Music of the Spheres into a fully fledged album, comprising eight movements.
“I have all of these wonderful things, which included interesting things he did on his guitar that sort of loop and sound otherworldly… I think there are a couple of times in The Path, which is the first piece, and then I think The Prison, which is the seventh piece, where we use a recording of Paul doing this loop with his voice. This little funny thing. That’s Paul’s voice, which is cool.”
The album was completed in December 2012 following recording sessions at Capitol Studios in California, Avatar Studios in New York, and Abbey Road in London. Musical elements from Music of the Spheres accompanied Bungie’s big reveal of Destiny at a PlayStation 4 event in New York in February 2013. But after that, things started to go south.
“After that PlayStation 4 announcement, I said, ‘Let’s figure out how to release this. I don’t care if we have Harmonix do an iPad version with a visualiser for it. I mean, if we can’t pull the trigger on something big and interesting like that, that’s fine with me. Let’s just release it online.’ It had nothing to do with making money… It was always fan service, in my mind at least.”
Activision, on the other hand, had other priorities. “Activision had a lot of say on the marketing. I think that’s where things started to go wrong, for me… things started being handled badly, or postponed, and then all of a sudden I was seeing bits of Music of the Spheres being cut up and presented in ways that I wasn’t happy with.”
You can read the rest of this fantastic feature in Wireframe issue four, out 20 December in Tesco, WHSmith, and all good independent UK newsagents.
Or you can buy Wireframe directly from us — worldwide delivery is available. And if you’d like to own a handy digital version of the magazine, you can also download a free PDF.
It’s the most wonderful time of the year! There’s much mistletoeing, and hearts will be glowing – as will thousands of Raspberry Pi-enabled Christmas light displays around the world.
This morning I have mostly been spending my virtual time by a roadside in snowy Poland, inflicting carols on passers-by. (It turns out that the Polish carols this crib is programmed with rock a lot harder than the ones we listen to in England.) Visit the crib’s website to control it yourself.
We are also suckers for a good Christmas son et lumiere. If you’re looking to make something yourself, LightShow Pi has been around for some years now, and goes from strength to strength. We’ve covered projects built with it in previous years, and it’s still in active development from what we can see, with new features for this Christmas like the ability to address individual RGB pixels. Most of the sound and music displays you’ll see using a Raspberry Pi are running LightShow Pi; it’s got a huge user base, and its online community on Reddit is a great place to get started.
Light display contains over 4,000 lights and 7,800 individual channels. It is controlled by 3 network based lighting controllers. The audio and lighting sequences are sent to the controllers by a Raspberry Pi.
This display from the USA must have taken forever to set up: you’re looking at 4,000 lights and 7,800 channels. Here’s something more domestically proportioned from YouTube user Ken B, showing off LightShow Pi’s microweb user interface, which is perfect for use on your phone.
Demonstration of the microweb interface along with LED only operation using two matrices, lower one cycling.
Scared of the neighbours burning down your outdoor display, or not enough space for a full-size tree? Never fear: The Pi Hut’s 3D Christmas tree, designed by Rachel Rayns, formerly of this parish, is on sale again this year. We particularly loved this adaptation from Blitz City DIY, where Liz (not me, another Liz) RGB-ifies the tree: a great little Christmas electronics project to work through with the kids. Or on your own, because we don’t need to have all our fun vicariously through our children this Christmas. (Repeat ten times.)
The Pi Hut’s Xmas Tree Kit is a fun little soldering kit for the Raspberry Pi. It’s a great kit, but I thought it could do with a bit more color. This is just a quick video to talk about the kit and show off all the RGB goodness.
Any Christmas projects you’d like to share? Let us know in the comments!
We’ve seen many Raspberry Pi-powered music players over the years. But rarely are they as portable (and snazzy) as the PiPod by Hackaday user Bram.
My biggest regret in life? Convinced I wouldn’t need my 160GB iPod Classic anymore thanks to Spotify, I sold it to CEX for a painfully low price. But not only was I mistaken as to how handy it would have been to hold on to, the money I made doesn’t seem to justify parting ways with such an iconic piece of technology no longer available to purchase anew.
Which is why the PiPod project from Netherlands-based Hackaday user ‘Bram’ caught my attention instantly.
I made this music player because I wasn’t satisfied with the current playback methods that are available. The music streaming services available started to feel like radio stations with the same music repeating, they are also depended on an online internet connection while there might be offline functionality it is still limited by the available storage on your phone.
We hear ya, Bram.
With his mind set on creating a music player of their own to overcome the limitations on offer without having to pay hundreds of Euros for high-end portable devices, Bram got to work.
The PiPod, now in its third iteration, offers users a range of functionality and can be made fairly cheaply using Bram’s custom PCB.
For the display, Bram uses a 2.2″ TFT screen connected to a Raspberry Pi Zero. As can be seen above, the screen offers all the information you could ever require of your media player despite the low 320 by 240 resolution.
For music playback, the PCB also includes the PCM5102A a 24-bit I2S DAC that offers a high-quality audio output accessible via a 3.5mm jack. And for power, Bram has done his homework, incorporating a series of components to protect the device from overcurrent, thermal overload and various other power-related concerns.
We’re sure Bram’s PiPod isn’t the only portable music device with a Pi inside. What have we missed? Share yours with us in the comments or on social media so we may bathe in their glory and give them the attention they deserve.
The Raspberry Pi community is wonderfully collaborative, with people all over the world supporting each other to make things they care about. It’s part of a much wider maker movement, and a new project from seismic industries, called spink0, brings the power of Raspberry Pi to another DIY community in the music world: modular synthesizer enthusiasts.
Modular synthesizers are dedicated machines for creating and controlling electrically generated sounds. Unlike the ubiquitous electronic keyboards, they don’t offer pre-set sounds. Instead, they allow players to deeply manipulate the nature of sounds: by connecting different modules with each other via cables, players use signals from one module to affect and alter the sounds from another, and generally get very creative with not just the musical notes but the sound itself.
Recent developments in technology, and enterprising module creators, have made these machines much more accessible, largely through a modular synth format called eurorack. A thriving DIY community has also grown, with people assembling their own modular synths using kits or even building their own modules from scratch.
spink0 syncs music
Enter the Raspberry Pi Zero W, just the right size for adding sophisticated computing power to a eurorack module. The spink0 eurorack module uses the power of a Zero W to allow musicians to keep their eurorack synth music in time with music created with more common electronic instruments like drum machines and computers. The Zero W connects to a wireless network and uses the Ableton Link protocol to share timing information across this network. It converts this digital data into the analogue square wave clock pulses that modular synths use for musical timing.
jam with spink-0. launchpad, the two spinks and ableton are synchronized with their integrated LINK protocol via a WLAN accesspoint provided by the 2nd spink module. Tempochange in Ableton at 0:37
With spink0, seismic industries have developed shaduzLABS’ original prototype pink-0 into an open-source DIY kit including PCBs and a panel that rather neatly integrate a Pi Zero into a eurorack module (a CLK/RST generator, to be exact).
The PCBs that seismic industries designed for spink0
Pi-powered electronic music jam sessions
This opens up a whole world of jamming potential to musicians who use these esoteric machines to make their sounds. A group of electronic musicians can get together, connect over a wireless network, and improvise ideas, all kept in time across the network. Thanks to spink0, eurorack synths can coexist with computers and even iPads and other tablets.
spink0 without its top panel
Now anyone can link their modular synth with other music machines and computers for collaborative jams! Seismic industries offer the DIY kit, plus full instructions and code, so you can solder yours at home, or you can buy spink0 preassembled if you wish.
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