Category Archives: music

DIY Music Night at Hive76 – Philly Tech Week 2015

Making things to make music.

On Thursday, April 23, our celebration of Philly Tech Week events continues as we open our doors for DIY Music Night (7pm-???). If you’re into music, making music, or making things that make music, you won’t want to miss it! If you’ve been to the space before, you’ll know that we run on a steady diet of tunes. And on Thursday, we’ll have all our audio and music-centric projects out in what is sure to be the noisest night of PTW. Come by and see the space, make some amplified noise, hang out, or share your own projects.

We’ll have guitars, amps, synthesizers, sequencers, oscilloscopes, speakers, fuzzboxes, tremolo pedals, signal generators, oscillators, speakers, drum machines, pickups, karaoke machines and probably alot more – all made at Hive76.

There will be snacks and beer.

Niles – the Ball Bearing Glockenspiel

I have been working on a ball bearing glockenspiel. The contraption will be comprised of 3 systems – ball bearing launcher, ball bearing collection and return mechanism, and the instrument itself.

I started with the the launcher. There will be 25-30 notes and a fast and accurate launcher will be needed for each one. My design parameters were to launch 4 bearings a second within a 1/2 inch diameter over a 2 ft. drop. Here’s my first attempt.

Niles – the Ball Bearing Glockenspiel

A pipe feeds ball bearings to a rotating platform with a hole just large enough for one bearing. When it’s ready to drop, the servo rotates the platform by about 30 degrees and the bearing falls out the bottom. The platform then rotates back  to the home position and loads the next ball. The mechanism could definitely deliver the balls quickly but the accuracy just wasn’t there. The balls would hit the side of the hole as they were exiting. On to the next iteration…

Niles – the Ball Bearing Glockenspiel

Niles – the Ball Bearing Glockenspiel

I forgot to take a picture of this one so I am posting the drawings instead. The concept is the same as the previous version, except the slider is linear instead of rotary. I added a longer channel after the initial drop to guide the ball bearings as they fall. But I had the similar accuracy issues.

So, I kept iterating the design to minimize potential disturbances after the ball is launched. And of course, decided to use magnets. The bearing are made out of steel and magnets suspend the ball till a servo controlled “plunger” launches them. This design worked beautifully! I have attached two slow motion videos below. As you can see in the second video, it’s so accurate the balls are literally hitting each other like Robin Hood “splitting an arrow”!

Next, I will work on making this design more compact and also, several ball return mechanisms.

 

 

2014 RPM Challenge: Accepted!

Today is the first day the 2014 RPM Challenge, which is the National Novel Writing Month of music!  The goal of the RPM challenge is to compose and record an entire album during the month of February! I accepted the challenge by dusting off my Cacophonator and Mohogonator, and got to work making music after dinner today. As today also marks the 50th anniversary of the Beatles invasion, this project drew inspiration from the Beatles’ back catalog!

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I used the dynamic duo of Cacophonator and Mohogonator with Auditionator (i.e. Adobe Audition) to record a session for about 12 minutes at a blazing fast 192kHz sample rate.  After chopping the recording into individual tracks, I digitally slowed them down to the customary rate of 44.1kHz, thereby expanding the work to its final ~45 minute length.  For inspiration while I was recording, I listened to Beatles songs sped up to 435% (which is 192/44.1) of their customary speed.  My tracks needed a bit of post-processing: on some of them I chose to bump the pitch back up an octave or two and add “Beatle Fades” to the beginning and end.  Anyway, within twenty minutes after the recording was made, I had edited the songs and uploaded them.  You’ve read that correctly, in less time than it takes to listen to the pieces, they were composed, recorded, processed, mastered, named and uploaded.

Today is also the 50th anniversary of the first Beatles song hitting #1 on the US pop charts: “I Wanna Hold Your Hand.” This whole project was inspired by this apparent coincidence in timing, and each track was directly inspired by listening to the sped-up Beatles original.  I hope you enjoy each of the 11 tracks I created!

While My Cacophonator Gently Weeps
Got To Get You Into My Cacophonator
All You Need Is Cacophony
With A Little Help From My Cacophonator
Sgt. Cacophonator’s Lonely Hearts Club Band
Cacophonator Came In Through The Bathroom Window
Lucy In The Cacophonator With Diamonds
Got To Get Cacophonator Into My Life
A Hard Day’s Cacophonation
You’ve Got To Hide Your Cacophonator Away
Cacophonator Wants to Hold Your Hand

It may be more convenient to listen to the entire album: “Cacophonator 2: Electric Boogaloo; A Love Tragedy in 11 Parts” on the RPM Challenge site’s Cacophonator page. Just scroll down to “My Player.”  There is plenty of February left: I encourage everyone to participate!

The Milwaukee Makerspace Theater

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Around 25 members have hopped in the new Milwaukee Makerspace Theater after the last two Tuesday meetings.  Its up and running in a “no hearing protection required” way!  The bass still goes way down to subsonic tones, but its being powered by a small & sensible surround sound amp.   Its a very immersive audio experience, and likely sounds much better than any 5.1 system you’ve heard because there’s only one seat!  The sound has been optimized for the single theater-goer: You!  The theater is hooked up to a DVD player, and is available 24/7  for any member to watch a movie in: no check-out required.   Note that any video source you have can be hooked up via the HDMI cable.  Alternately, you can follow the lead of JasonH, who used the theater with a portable audio player to rock out while he worked on his own project near by. See the photos below for the simple instructions on how you can start up the theater, and feel free to take a break from making by using the theater!

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Home Theater with Insane Subwoofer

After the mediocre commercial successes of some of my previous audio products, I decided to pursue a project that has absolutely no commercial potential.  Although my Automated Gmail Assistant had a 0.1% view to purchase rate, they definitely delighted their new owners!   On the other hand, my novel audio surround sound processor, audio-visual processor and audiophile headphones did not produce any revenue, despite being manufactured in an exclusive edition of one each.  Not to be discouraged, the goal of this project was to expand on the core idea behind the aforementioned audiophile headphones, but to overcome the main two drawbacks of using headphones:  1) Many people find that headphones are too uncomfortable and impractical for long term listening. And 2) most headphones lack the concert-like visceral bass impact, which is that feeling of the kick drum shaking your chest that only rock and roll shows could provide.

BIG_HMMMMMM2

Simply put, the Humorously Maniacal Milwaukee Makerspace Multimedia Machine (HMMMMMM) is a personal sized movie theater, with 5.16 surround sound.  That’s right, this theater is like a conventional 5.1 home theater, but with 15 extra subwoofers to delight the senses. While the bass in a live concert can be felt in your chest, the bass in the HMMMMMM can be felt in your soul(!).  In addition altering listener’s consciousness, the HMMMMMM will soon be used to screen our yet-to-be-filmed Milwaukee Makerspace orientation video as an integral part of our onboarding process for all new members. The HMMMMMM measures about 7 feet long and about 4 feet wide.  An eager movie-goer can simply climb up the integral stairs (shown on the left) and jump in through the 27” diameter escape hatch in the top of the HMMMMMM. Despite its crazy appearance, the HMMMMMM offers a surprisingly comfortable reclining position, much like that of a lazy-boy.  Check out this photo of the HMMMMMM under construction for a better idea of the ergonomic internal layout: There is a pillow for one’s head, and ones feet extend to the right.  The 27” display is mounted to the angled portion on the top surface, about 24” from the viewer.  Eventually, two 24″ monitors will expand the visual experience into the periphery.

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The audio portion of the HMMMMMM is a 5.16 system.  The high frequencies are played by 5 uninteresting Swan/HiVi speakers that are arranged in a properly boring 5 channel surround configuration.  The more exciting portion of the audio system is the subwoofer – well, the 16 (Sixteen) 10″ high efficiency subwoofers that provide that TrueBass™ sensation the masses crave.  Its clear from the use of 16 subwoofers that one object of the HMMMMMM was to create an audio system that plays low bass.  Playback of really low bass typically requires an extremely large speaker box, and still notes as low as 20 Hz are rarely audible.  However, inside any speaker box the bass response is naturally flat to much lower (subsonic) pitches.  For more on the sound pressure level inside and outside speaker boxes, check out this link.  The graph below is a measurement of the SPL or sound pressure level (how loud it is) versus frequency (pitch) at the listener’s ears in the HMMMMMM.

SPL_in_HMMMMMM

The graph shows that with a sine wave input, the SPL inside the HMMMMMM is 148.6dB at 40 Hz.  That means the acoustic pressure on the 27” diameter escape hatch is 45 pounds.  Excellent.  Note that earplugs in addition to earmuff style hearing protectors are mandatory to safely experience the TrueBass™.   To understand this strict hearing protection requirement, lets compare the sound pressure level inside the HMMMMMM to other audio systems that may be more familiar.  Note that the loudness of these other audio systems are not visible in the graph above, because essentially all other audio systems (including yours) are inferior.  Adjusting the margins of the graph a bit produces the following graph:

SPL_of_many_systemsThe plot shows how loud typical audio systems are, and how low they play.  For example, cellphone speakers play only a bit below 1khz, and are ~90 dB if they’re 40cm from you.  When a Jambox-type bluetooth speaker is about 60cm from you, it plays ~10 dB louder, and another 1.5 octaves lower, to 200 Hz.  Typical bookshelf speakers can get another 5 dB louder if you’re 1.5 meters from them, but only play down another octave to 100 Hz.  OEM installed car stereos are a big improvement, but they’re still not in the same league as the HMMMMMM.  Yes, the IASCA record holding car is louder than this, but it plays only from 50 Hz to 60 Hz, which isn’t even really bass.

Note that the difference in loudness between a cellphone and a car is 20 dB, while the HMMMMMM is 30 dB louder than a high-performing car stereo.  Also note that the frequency range of a piano, with its 88 keys, is about the same as a bookshelf speaker – a bit over 7 octaves.  Surprisingly, the subwoofer portion of the HMMMMMM has a 6 octave bandwidth, but it plays the 6 octaves you’ve never heard before!  The HMMMMMM plays 6 octaves below what your bookshelf speaker or Jambox calls bass. The HMMMMMM has a +/- 6 dB passband extending down to 2 Hz, with the output at 1 Hz being nearly still above the 120 dB “threshold of pain.”

Disclaimers: For safety, the big 2000 Watt amplifier that drives the HMMMMMM to its full potential is not available when the author is not present.  Ironically, the author has taught 75-100 people, the eager early HMMMMMM listeners, how to properly insert earplugs, meaning that the HMMMMMM is actually a learning tool for hearing safety! Finally, the author has some hesitancy in having the HMMMMMM reproduce recordings with 5 Hz content at 140 dB, because typical hearing protection has little effect at these unnaturally low frequencies.

PS:  Please don’t hesitate to contact me if you’d like to help with the video scripting, filming or editing.

Class – Noise Gadgets, Vol. 1: Piezo Transducers

On July 14th Hive76 will be hosting a class on piezo transducers! What’s so cool about peizo transducers? They let you turn anything into an electric instrument that you can amplify, record, and experiment with! These nifty little devices turn vibrations into usable electrical signals -and the nice thing is that they’re dirt cheap and easy to work with.

Basically microphones that work by touch, they can be used to electrify guitars, make drum boxes, or listen to sounds you can’t hear with your ears. Essential to the musical tinkerer and sonic experimenter.

The class will include a brief lesson on the science of music, sound, and practical applications of piezo transducers (music or otherwise). Participants will build their own contact microphones and leave ready to start making their own noise. If you have any cool old tins, boxes, or things that vibrate in an interesting way, bring them and turn them into instruments.

Please RSVP by commenting below with the number of seats you’d like to reserve.

When: July 14th, 2pm
Who: Open to the public
Where: Hive76, 915 Spring Garden Street
How Much: $10 at the door
Difficulty: Basic as basic can be
(Parents, please accompany minors under 18)

Circuit Bending The Final Countdown, or: Dan’s Homemade Queso Dip

A few years back I received a birthday card that, when opened, played a 15-second clip of The Final Countdown. Before tossing it out, I tore the little board and speaker from the card. I knew nothing about electronics at the time, but I just thought it was worth keeping around.

The audible gates of Hell.

The audible gates of Hell.

Well I found the little device in one of my junk containers last week and immediately recognized it as something to be circuit bent. The board had an IC, a capacitor, and two resistors. As I learned from Nicolas Collins’ excellent Art of Handmade Electronic Music, one of those resistors was the freakout resistor. Following his “laying of hands” technique, I licked my finger and ran it around the board while the circuit was on. This actually worked very well as I immediately found the resistor that caused the sound to go all wonky.

The basic idea here is that the circuit operates at many cycles per second, at a rate determined by some resistor. If you change the value of the resistor, that rate will change and the audio clip will either speed up or slow down; this is the basic idea behind circuit bending. When you run a damp finger across the board, you’re making random connections and changing how components interact with each other. When you short out the clock resistor, it sounds like hitting the circuit’s main nerve.

So now with the clock resistor found, the next step was to replace it with a potentiometer so that the clock speed could be manipulated with a twist of a knob. After removing the resistor from the board, I measured its value as ~400k and set out to find a potentiometer in the same range. I was very happy to find a 2 megohm pot in the parts hole at the space since it would slow the clock quite dramatically, producing some really cool roaring depths-of-hell sounds.

Trimpot between output wires.

Trimpot between output wires.

The board had an integrated 3V watch battery which I replaced with a 2-AA holder. There was also a mechanical contact on the board to turn the circuit on when the card was opened; I replaced this with a simple toggle switch. I also thought it would be cool to switch back and forth between normal mode and circuit-bent mode, so I used a DPDT switch to toggle between the original clock resistor and the circuit-bending potentiometer.

Lastly, I wanted to add 1/4″ output to the circuit. That way it could be amplified, distorted and subject to all sorts of effects and processing. I cut the wires leading to the little speaker and soldered them to the signal and ground leads of a 1/4″ output jack. This arrangement alone would have been far too much to run into an instrument amplifier, so I soldered in a trimpot to act as a volume control (and/or load resistor taking the place of the speaker) between the output wires.

Guts.

Guts.

I neglected to consider an enclosure for this project. However, I did notice an alarming surplus of queso dip at the space. Since apparently nobody likes queso, I emptied a jar, cleaned it out (probably the hardest part of the whole project) and drilled some holes in the lid to accommodate my components. A coating of white spray paint covers the Tostito’s logo for extra class. I actually really like this au-natural enclosure since you can see all the components and wiring just hanging there. Since nothing’s fixed down, I hot-glued all my solder connections to the board. I think I’d like to experiment with glass jar enclosures again, perhaps with some lighting involved next time.

In the process of building and testing I noticed that when I would touch the third, unused lug of the pot, I could get some cool scratchy AM Radio static sounds from the circuit, especially with the pot wiper all the way over in satan mode. So as a last minute little addition, I soldered a bare wire to the lug and ran it outside of the jar to retain this touch-sensitive flavor of noise.

And that’s how you make Dan’s homemade queso dip.

DIY Music Night at Hive76

Making things to make music.

Making things to make music.

On Thursday April 25, our series of events for Philly Tech Week continues as we open our doors for DIY Music Night (5pm-???). If you’re into music, making music, or making things that make music, you won’t want to miss it! If you’ve been to the space before, you’ll know that we run on a steady diet of tunes. And on Thursday, we’ll have all our audio and music-centric projects out in what is sure to be the loudest night of PTW. Come by and see the space, make some amplified noise, hang out, or share your own projects.

We’ll have guitars, amps, synthesizers, sequencers, speakers, fuzzboxes, tremolo pedals, signal generators, oscillators, speakers, drum machines, pickups, karaoke machines and probably alot more – all made at Hive76.

Plus we’ll have a handful of contact microphones to give away! We’ll help you turn anything into an amplified electric instrument in 10 minutes flat.

Hive76 Ultimate Open House and Expo

hive-76-party-logo

Our grand finale/blowout/party for Philly Tech Week will take place on Saturday, April 27. Everything from the previous week’s events will be on interactive display, and more. It’s an all-day exhibition of everything that goes on at Hive76 and everybody’s invited!

  • 3D Printing/OpenSCAD interactive demo
  • Fighting robots
  • DIY musical instruments, effects, snyths, amps, circuit bending, everything
  • Continuous open hack/project marathon: make whatever you want with whatever we’ve got
  • Open soldering workstations
  • Member’s signature projects on display
  • Gaming, arcade and pinball machines
  • Music
  • Karaoke!
  • Libations
  • Free food

We are located in the Arts Building at 915 Spring Garden Street. Stop by at any time during the day/night and dial 0519 at the callbox. See you there!

Guitar Stuff at Hive

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Last year, I purchased a 1970 Telecaster copy for $120 from Elderly Instruments. The frets were no good and much of the hardware was corroded, so it seemed like a good instrument to hone my repair skills on.

The first thing I did was take it to Hive and bounced ideas around with some folks. One thing I really love is that no matter what kind of project or idea you’ve got, there’s at least one or two people at an open house who have some expertise to share.

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My cigar box slide guitar would’ve been cooler with frets.

So I decided to give all the hardware a good cleaning and replace the bridge saddles – they were pretty sharp and very uncomfortable to rest my right hand on while playing.  I also chose, somewhat foolishly, to refret the guitar when in fact a fret dress job was all that was needed. But if this was to be a learning project, I thought I should learn what I could. It also seemed like a big step towards building more of my own stringed instruments, which up until now have not had frets (such as my cigar box slide guitar).

I purchased some new saddles from the nice folks down the street at Bluebond Guitars and installed them right away.  After doing some research on the refretting process, I learned that just about every luthier has their own method. I assembled my own procedure by printing out this guide and annotating it with notes from this series of videos and this forum post. Along the way I found that the general consensus on refret jobs is that it’s past the “DIY” border and well into the realm of  “just get a professional to do it”. But whatever.

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Hammering in new frets.

I ordered some fretwire, end nibbers and sanding supplies from StewMac, and used a piece of aluminum channel left over from Such and Such as my levelling tool. I tried to get really econo and skimp on a fretwire bending tool ($90), opting instead for this technique ($0). It took a few attempts to start producing nicely curved fretwire. Unfortunately, this resulted in a pretty wide range of fret quality.

As I worked, the fretboard acquired all sorts of scrapes, marks, burns and excess glue which really ought to help produce those vintage tones. The uneven curvature I was initially producing in the fretwire caused many of the upper frets to sit higher than those at the end of the neck. Sanding and levelling couldn’t quite alleviate this, so I’m now relying on a slight forward neck bow under string tension as a remedy. Real professional stuff.

With a fresh set of heavy strings, there is still some fret buzz. But not enough to drive me completely insane. While I might’ve been better off sending it to a professional guitar tech, it’s still quite a playable instrument – possibly even more so than before. And as intended, this job was a great learning experience.

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It’s more comfortable than it looks.

Another guitar project from the past month – this time a one-nighter -  was adding a tremolo arm to the old Sears guitar that’s been floating around the space. It was already equipped with a tremolo bridge, it just required an arm to get those bends and squeals so key to our late-night, burned-out-on-my-project jam sessions.

An old piece of aluminum tubing cut to length, pressed flat at one end and drilled out to accommodate a 1/4″ bolt and fender washer did the trick nicely. I wish I’d come up with something a little more inventive, but this’ll do for now.

Come by the space on Thursday April 25 for our DIY Music Night as part of Philly Tech Week. You’ll be able to see and play with all of the music gadgets built at Hive, including guitars, synthesizers, amps, pedals, speakers, noise makers, plus a really cool karaoke machine.