It was certainly great listening to the banter on synth music of classic music from Series 1 Episode 7 of The Dublin Maker Podcast with Joe Timoney interviewed by Tomas Ward.
And it got me really excited. I’m interested in this area but I’m not great at making music, or into the synth scene like my other half who has over half the office converted to a synth music making studio. I do like making music through software though. So let’s delve into various areas I’m interested in and cool things I’ve come across and maybe it might interest you as well. Or you might have other references, instruments, equipment, electronics, videos to share.
For those curious on making your own electronic music, there’s a fair few synth apps out there for your devices like Ableton app for iOS.
Especially since lockdown due to Covid-19, Korg and Ableton released cheap/free synth apps for those who want to make music on their mobile devices.
If you are a software person like me, check out Sonic Pi, it is a software live coding music synth. It’s created by Sam Aaron, free and accessible for young and old. From musicians, educators, artists, young people as well as coders.
👉 Sonic Pi - The Live Coding Music Synth for Everyone
We are also getting into live coding, where artists change code in a live performance from in-person events to streaming online. Here’s one from Sam he streamed his live coding performance recently:
As well as this performance with a singer-songwriter:
Live coding is also a genre and one particular type is “Algorave”, it’s focus is on “human making and dancing to music.
If you want something a little bit different, check out ORCA:
“This application is not a synthesizer, but a flexible livecoding environment capable of sending MIDI, OSC & UDP to your audio/visual interfaces, like Ableton, Renoise, VCV Rack or SuperCollider.”
hundredrabbits / Orca
Esoteric Programming Language
Orca is an esoteric programming language designed to quickly create procedural sequencers, in which every letter of the alphabet is an operation, where lowercase letters operate on bang, uppercase letters operate each frame.
This application is not a synthesizer, but a livecoding environment capable of sending MIDI, OSC & UDP to your audio/visual interfaces, like Ableton, Renoise, VCV Rack or SuperCollider.
If you need help, visit the chatroom, join the forum or watch an tutorial.
- Download builds, available for Linux, Windows and OSX.
- Use in your browser, requires webMidi.
- Use in a terminal, written in C.
- Use on small computers, written in assembly.
- Use on the Monome Norns, written in Lua.
Install & Run
If you wish to use Orca inside of Electron, follow these steps:
git clone https://github.com/hundredrabbits/Orca.git cd Orca/desktop/ npm install npm start
Here’s examples of live coding with ORCA in action:
If you haven’t heard of the Makey Makey, it’s a great way to interact with your computer with conductive objects and materials. There’s projects out there on hooking up your fruit to play the piano to making a floor piano, or event synth stairs!
👉 How to make your own floor piano instructions
I didn’t even know there’s conductive filament for 3D printing till I came across this video of 3D printing their own conductive synth music controller with Makey Makey:
I really like this Makey Makes Balloon installation, sounds so relaxing:
But this Custom-Built MIDI DanTyBa is amazing! So the world is your oyster when it comes to music and simple electronics like the Makey Makey.
Another bit of electronics I want to show you is the BBC micro:bit, the first time I saw this presented was at a software conference in Florence:
Remember I mentioned ORCA, well, someone has put micro:bit and ORCA together as a synth:
This interactive exhibit which didn’t get shown in the museum because of (I presume, the pandemic), is using micro:bit to make a drum robot. Here’s the video of how it’s made and how it all works:
And from the same guy, he made a micro:bit orchestra!
Adafruit’s Circuit Playground Express
I like Adafruit’s Circuit Playground Express, they’ve so many sensors, LEDs, touch capacitive sensors, teeny speaker and more. You can use Scratch, MakeCode, Edublocks, Arduino or CircuitPython to code your CPX.
- Overview | Scratch 3 Walkthrough and Demo | Adafruit Learning System
- Overview | Using EduBlocks with Circuit Playground Express | Adafruit Learning System
- MakeCode | Adafruit Circuit Playground Express | Adafruit Learning System
- What is CircuitPython? | Adafruit Circuit Playground Express | Adafruit Learning System
- Arduino | Adafruit Circuit Playground Express | Adafruit Learning System
So now you can make your own synth and there’s lots of projects to get ideas from following projects:-
- Circuit Playground Express USB MIDI Controller and Synthesizer | Adafruit Learning System
- Circuit Playground Musical Glove | Adafruit Learning System
- CLUE BLE MIDI Glove | Adafruit Learning System
And below, the Adafruit Circuit Playground Express (CPX) board running CircuitPython 4.0.0 beta2 using the capacitive touch pads as a MIDI (over USB) keyboard to control a Korg Volca Bass.
I recently got an Adafruit CLUE and came across this cool project that would be interesting for those who are playing around or getting into electronics as well as into Synth music. In this project, you have CLUE interact with a synth app on iOS/MacOS.
Another microcontroller that you can use to make your own midi-controller to make synth music, the following extension is very handy to make incredible sounds with your Raspberry Pi.
👉 See Patchbox OS and ModeP at https://blokas.io/
There's lots of projects out there with people building their own midi-controllers, synths, and more. Here's a couple to get you started checking out more projects with Pis.
How about off the shelf stuff?
If you don’t feel like making your own electronics, there’s lots of products out there, you most likely have to order online.
But before we move on to these products, Nintendo released Labo a couple of years back and I came across this video while researching for this post, and this blew my mind, you can make your own wave forms and start making your own sick beats and waves on the Labo piano and record it.
I’ve always had a sweet spot for chiptunes, ever since I heard a live performance outside a convention centre when I was in Seattle back in 2008 for a games convention. It was so ad-hoc and so much fun! I found this video on YouTube:
There’s been a small chiptune community in Ireland, and I even organised a chiptune event up in Derry a few years after that. But one of the more well knowned one is Chipzel, she’s from Northern Ireland and I was lucky to attend one of her sets at an Irish Indies Christmas party. Here’s a sample of her final set I found:
👉 Chipzel has spent a decade making incredible music with Game Boys - The Verge
And I want to share this one with you a dual Game Boy chiptune keyar! I kid you not, check it out at https://blog.arduino.cc/2019/04/16/the-blade-is-dual-game-boy-chiptune-keytar/
Now on to some intro consumer electronics.
A cheap way in - Arturia - Overview- As you get into it, you can hook it up to Euroracks.
Modular Synths / Midi Controllers
There's the other end, which is the pricey high-end Euroracks: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eurorack
These are modular synths and as I mentioned, quite expensive as you build up your collection, but if you are serious into modular synths, this would be something to check out. Easier to show you through vides (thanks to Micktwomey for sharing).
Intro video on modular synths:
How to put together a Eurorack:
A vid explaining a small setup:
Back to entry level midi controllers
- Launchpad Mini | Novation - comes with Ableton Lite
Also check out Teenage Engineering's Pocket Operator, they are cheap and you can make high quality sounds on the go. You can even hook them up and sync & jam.
I want to wrap with this one heck of an amazing project by LOOK MUM NO COMPUTER, The 1000 Oscillator Megadrone, this is going to be opened to the public and controlled by the public! You should check out his other fantastical musical electronic projects on Youtube, from Furby organs, using keyboard to control a RC car, chiptune gameboy synth, a modular synth to play Super Mario and more…! 😆
Top comments (4)
Haha, it's like I'm reading through the search history of my past 2 months! 😀
There are some new resources in here for me for sure, but I've been diving deep on synths this summer and have cruised through loads of these articles. I bought myself a Moog Grandmother in July and I love it but there's a huge learning curve.
One cool thing that I recently discovered is SynthVR for folks who want to get into modular synthesis but not spend a fortune getting kitted up with physical machines.
Cool, thanks for the share, certainly a good way not to burn a hole in one's pocket. You hear "GAS" mentioned a lot when people get into synth music and buying physical hardware, Gear Acquisition Syndrome. 😆
I've yet to add any other modular synths to my Grandmother yet, but I've got a very expensive wish list going haha! GAS has got a hold of me, but I'm fighting the urge to go out and buy stuff... gotta work with what I got and learn the basics.
Thinking @mitchellclong will dig this!