Sunday, December 8, 2013

Music and me

A while back I realized that available on the internet were many thousands of songs stored in a machine readable form called midi (musical instrument digital interface). This is a decades old standard for storing music and controlling musical instruments, stage lighting, and all kinds of effects. For instance, if you hear someone play a synthesizer using a piano-like keyboard, the signals likely are being sent from the keyboard to the synthesizer using midi.

I thought it would be fun to make an instrument that could play the midi files on the internet. Taking the road less traveled, I decided to build a device that played music by tapping on wine glasses.

If you watch this video you'll kind of get the idea. My friend Alan helped me with the design of the hammer mechanism and the whole thing worked more or less as expected with one obvious exception, which I'll come back to in a moment. 
I used what is commonly referred to as a midi decoder from Highly Liquid. This is a device that accepts midi signals and (in this case) translates them into eight switch-closures. I hooked up the switches to the solenoids, the solenoids to the hammers, and as the Brits say, Bob's your uncle.
This is a picture of the midi decoder. The eight black chunks at the top are the relays (switches) and the dip switches at the left let you choose which notes the controller will respond to.

Now, back to the problem. I had bought the cheapest wine glasses I could find, and as you can hear tuning them turned out to be more of a challenge than I could handle. Getting them to ring true was impossible. They played different tones depending on which way they were turned, and of course over time the water evaporated and changed the tuning. Therefore, I decided to rethink the project. 

I flirted with the idea of using steel rods as chimes instead of the glasses. Just as I was about to start on that, however, I came across a couple of videos on YouTube that described how to make a pipe organ. I'll talk about that in my next post.

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