The coolest thing you'll see today: The magical musical contraptions of Bichopalo

My friend Richard Gould introduced me to Bichopalo, a musical instrument sculptor from Valenciana, Spain.

One word: Enchanting. Two words: Pico and Verdi, his two pet birds who star in his creations. I needed this today. Read the rest

Build your own bagpipes out of a trash bag and record and learn to play in quarantine has some new instructions on how to build your own bagpipes, and all you need is:

1 Garbage Bag or large plastic bag 2 Recorders (or 2 PVC Recorders: 2 Pens (You can also use a decent sized straw or a piece of hose) Scissors Tape

It sounds a little ridiculous, but when you break it down, bagpipes are basically just a recorder with a drone with an attached airbag. As long as you're social distancing, you can imagine yourself standing atop the grassy peaks of the Highlands, where your DIY Garbage Bagpipes can be heard all across the land, undoubtedly pleasing your neighbors to no end.

I know what I'm doing this weekend.

How to Make Bagpipes Out of a Garbage Bag and Recorders []

Image: Public Domain via PxFuel Read the rest

Teenage Engineering pocket synthesizers are fun music makers

Teenage Engineering, maker of the very cool OP-1 keyboard synthesizer, has neat pocket synthesizers which are perfect to play with as you take breaks throughout the day.

With PO-33, sample any sound source using line in or the built in microphone. Melodic mode lets you play chromatic melodies and drum mode lets you play drums, sequence it all and add effects on top.

Unique to PO-32 Tonic [drum synthesizer and sequencer] is its wide range of sonic capabilities. Users can even use the standard desktop version of sonic charge microtonic to shape sounds, generate patches and pattern data, and have that transferred wirelessly back to the PO-32 tonic.

The PO-35 offers 8 voice characters: Neutral, Autotune, Retro, Noise, Robot, Fifth, Vocoder, and Synth.

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The low-cost Behringer TD-3 synthesizer looks like a lot of fun

I've been wanting a Teenage Engineering op-1 for years, but I can't justify paying $1300 for something I might not use a lot. But the Behringer TD-3 synthesizer, at about 1/10th of the price, looks like it's as much fun as the op-1.

It's a remake of the Roland TB-303 Bass Line that came out in 1981. According to Wikipedia, the TB-303 "was a commercial failure and was discontinued in 1984. However, cheap second-hand units were adopted by electronic musicians, and its 'squelching' or 'chirping' sound became a foundation of electronic dance music genres such as house and techno [this song being the one that started it all]. It has inspired numerous clones."

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US Customs destroys the instrument of renowned Mali musician Ballaké Sissoko

This is so heartbreaking. Ballaké Sissoko, the highly-acclaimed African musician from Mali, claims that US Customs officials destroyed his custom-made, irreplaceable kora instrument. He arrived back in Paris after a US tour to find his beloved instrument in pieces, with one of those all-too-familiar TSA notices in the case.

Here is a 2011 performance of Ballaké (with Vincent Segal) on All Songs Considered.

Image: Post on Ballaké Sissoko's Facebook page. Read the rest

Meet the Harmonicade, a multi-channel MIDI keyboard that uses arcade push-buttons in a Wicki-Hayden button layout

On, Jeremy Cook, writes about the Harmonicade, a modular 5.5 (x2) octave, multi-channel MIDI keyboard which uses arcade-style push-buttons arranged in the Wicki-Hayden button layout.

Like Dvorak layouts, this alternate note arrangement is much less common. As seen in the demo video, however, KOOP Instruments has leveraged the Wicki-Hayden setup to create a stunning dual-pad instrument that looks like a lot of fun to play. The dual input pads are entirely modular and plug into a central control unit using DB25 connectors that are wired to the buttons in a matrix.

The central board contains a Teensy 3.6, plus a number of additional buttons and knobs for control over the sound. After being properly translated, digital audio signals are passed along via a MIDI jack.

On the KOOP Instruments site, the have all of the CAD files, project code, and build instructions you need to create your own Harmonicade. Read the rest

The move towards making musical instruments out of plastic

About 15 years ago I got a plastic ukulele (The Fluke). It cost under $200 and sounded as good or better than any uke I'd ever heard. I also have a $5 plastic Hohner harmonica that I think sounds as good as a metal and wood one. So I'm not surprised to find out that there are other kinds of high quality musical instruments made of plastic, like these pTrumpets. They are made from ABS plastic (the same kind of plastic that Lego bricks are made from) and they are great for students because they are cheaper and more durable than brass instruments.

You can even get them plated in metal, if you insist:

[via Core 77] Read the rest

The Jankó keyboard in action

The Jankó keyboard, named for inventor Paul von Jankó, compresses the standard 88-key piano layout into a thinner, four-row field of 264 keys. If this sounds like a solution to a different problem than the one addressed, you wouldn't be alone, but...

The Jankó Keyboard caused a stir at the time of its invention, in large part due to its unique look and the intelligent design behind the keyboard. American piano manufacturer Decker Brothers put the keyboard into production around 1891, and the Paul de Janko Conservatory of Music was established in New York around the same time. There was even a manual written by W. Bradley Keeler called How to Play the New Keyboard.

Despite all this, the Jankó keyboard never achieved wide popularity. Music educators were not convinced that the benefits of the new keyboard were enough to challenge the traditional keyboard. Few performers were prepared to relearn their repertoire on a new keyboard with entirely different fingering. Both reasons left keyboard instrument manufacturers afraid to invest in a redesigned keyboard which promised to have only marginal commercial success.

In the video embedded above, Paul Vandervoort demonstrates the Jankó. Read the rest

The Theremin is almost 100-years-old

The Theremin, an electronic musical instrument that you play by not touching it, celebrates the 100th anniversary of its invention next year. Smithsonian looks at the history of the first successful electronic musical instrument that New York Times critic Harold C. Schonberg described as sounding like "(a) cello lost in a dense fog, crying because it does not know how to get home." From Smithsonian:

Theremin was a radio engineer with the Soviet military in 1918 when, while building a powerful transmitter-receiver, he noticed odd feedback sounds coming from it. He said in a 1995 interview, “it turned out that when the capacity changes at a distance of the moving hand, the pitch of the sound also changes.”

He had happened on heterodyning, a process that combines two frequencies to shift one frequency range into another, new frequency. It makes for a change in pitch and volume.

Other radio engineers in Europe at the close of World War I had noticed the same effect but Theremin was the first to play with that feedback or heterodyning effect in a musical way. The new sound pleased the inventor. Fully committed to Soviet nationalism, (Metropolitan Museum of Art musical instrument curator Jayson) Dobney says, Theremin “tried to find a musical sound that was modern, forward looking.”

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How a cymbal is made

Founded in 1623 in Turkey and now based in Norwell, Massachusetts, Zildjian has manufactured cymbals continuously for almost 400 years. This is how they do it now.

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Review of the $150 CraftSynth 2.0 synthesizer

Reviewing the CraftSynth 2.0 for Engadget, Terrence O'Brien calls the small synthesizer "fun and a little bit flimsy."

It's strange to hold Modal Electronics' CraftSynth 2.0 in your hands knowing what's underneath the hood. It's unassuming, and frankly, it feels kinda flimsy. Once you plug it into a decent set of headphones or speakers, though, it comes alive. The fact that these sounds come out of something that weighs just 12.5 ounces when loaded with three double-A batteries is amazing.

Image: Modal Electronics Read the rest

Stylophone business card

Master maker Tim Jacobs created a fantastic business card that's actually a Stylophone synthesizer complete with MIDI capabilities. It's based on the original 1967 Dübreq Stylophone, a small synthesizer played by touching a built-in stylus to the metal keyboard. The Stylophone was famously used on David Bowie's "Space Oddity" and Kraftwerk's "Pocket Calculator."

From Jacobs' project page about his StyloCard that ended up costing a bit more than $3 each:

Printed Circuit Boards as a business card are a great gimmick. I'd seen ones with USB ports etched into them, which enumerate as a keyboard and then type a person's name or load up their website. It's just about possible to build them cheap enough to hand out as a business card, at least if you're picky about who you give them to.

A couple of years ago I took a stab at making one for myself, but I didn't want it to be pointless. I wanted it to do something useful! Or at least entertain someone for longer than a few seconds. I can't remember quite how I got the idea of making a MIDI-stylophone, but the idea was perfect. A working midi controller, that's unique enough in its playing characteristic to potentially give some value, while at the same time costing no more than the card would have done otherwise, since the keyboard is just a plated area on the PCB, as is true on the original stylophone.

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Tuba turned into a bathroom sink and tenor horns repurposed as urinals

Reddit user marc_urzz posted this photo of the fantastic sink in his step-uncle's bathroom. A little web searching then led me to the tenor horn urinals below. It would also be fun to use a trumpet as a shower head! What instrument would make a good toilet?

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THE BUREAU: Part Seven, "Lockdown in the Building, News of an Active Shooter Near the Cafeteria" — with Mr Quintron's Circuit-Bent Guitars

Welcome back to The Bureau. This week will be a holiday segment. Read the rest

THE BUREAU: Part Three, "Assessing Others" — with a Metasonix D-2000 Vacuum Tube Drum Machine

Your supervisor would like to speak with you today at 10:53am. Good thing you have a great tasting sandwich to deal with that unreasonable feedback.

A fantastically fun looper pedal cover of The Cure's "Close To Me"

I've been researching looper pedals for my 12-year-old guitarist son and happened upon this video of Mick Bishop using his Boss RC-300 Loop Station to create a very fun cover of "Close To Me," perhaps my favorite song by The Cure.

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Moog's new flagship polyphonic synthesizer

Moog is finally releasing a new polyphonic analog synthesizer, its first polyphonic model since production stopped on the Memorymoog in 1985, and a direct descendant of the iconic-yet-monophonic Minimoog Voyager released in 2002. Above is the only image released so far of the new Moog One. It's priced at $6000 for the 8 voice model and $8,000 for the 16-voice model. From Sweetwater:

Powered by a sound engine with the most advanced architecture ever conceived for a Moog synth, Moog One is available in 8- and 16-voice versions that can simultaneously articulate eight or 16 voices, depending on the configuration of your instrument. The Moog One tri-timbral architecture lets you easily assign, split, layer, and stack voices with up to 48 oscillators in Unison mode...

Clad in a handcrafted ash cabinet, the Moog One aluminum front panel is fitted with 73 knobs and 144 buttons, welcoming hands-on interaction with all the sound-sculpting and performance controls. Extended on-screen functionality is accessed via More buttons (one for each module) that serve up additional parameters in the center-panel LCD to deliver the most intuitive and efficient synthesis experience possible.

Via Moog Music, a couple fine uses of the prior Moog Polymoog Synthesizer released in 1975:

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