More Music Tinkering 2022-01-22

I found all the parts to a DIY Music Synthesizer – The ArduTouch Music Synthesizer by Cornfield Electronics. It uses an Arduino UNO type microprocessor. I bought the kit in 2017. I got the decent Soldering Station so I was ready to put it together. I ran to the web page for the ArduTouch and got the assembly instructions. So – Here is the finished results:

ArduTouch Music Synthesizer, batter pack and FTDI cable.

I should emphasize that this is an Arduino UNO type setup, the board is different, but it does use the same Atmel ATmega328P main chip. It makes rather interesting sounds. The default synth program is called Thick. There are several other programs in the github repository.

A Little Music Tinkering 2021-12-30

I keep busy. Sadly, while I do keep busy, I don’t keep busy with a lot of new stuff worth blogging about. But I do have something now.

A short while back I ordered an MT32-PI from LegacyPixel. It is basically a Raspberry Pi 3A+ that has a “hat” added from the MiSTer FPGA project. The MiSTer FPGA is a hardware “recreation” of ancient 70s and 80s era personal computers, game consoles, and even Arcade games. But that isn’t the topic of this post. The MT32-Pi is.

Long ago, in the 80s when Personal Computers were still in their infancy, Sierra Entertainment made a few popular lines of games. One of the key features was their sound tracks. And one of the key features of their sound tracks, and thus their games, was the ability to play via MIDI to the Roland MT32 music synth module.

The games could use a number of audio sources, the PC Speaker, the Adlib and Sound Blaster PC Sound Cards, Tandy / PC jr 3 Voice Sound, and the Roland MT32. It was this last, the MT32, that was the top of the line audio source for games. It was supported in many Sierra games, because it is what the music composers used when composing the sound tracks. And it really sounds excellent.

The MT32-PI can emulate the Roland MT32 using MUNT and work with all those games. It also has a SoundFont engine called FluidSynth. So it can be a Roland SoundCanvas SC-55, too, which many other games support. Any other kind of SoundFont can be used too.

The first thing I needed to do was get more Roland UM-ONE mk2 USB to MIDI cables/adapters. I patched it into my PC and fired up the DAW software and tested the sounds. Now a word of note here, the 3.25mm stereo jack on the Raspberry Pi is noisy (it might have something to do with the video signal in the same jack).

MT32-Pi all cabled up

This worked really well, despite the somewhat rocky sound of The Pi. I ordered a GY PCM5102 DAC board to get clean audio (based on recommendations of the developer of the MT32-Pi hat). I realized I’d need a USB Side connector too, so I ordered that and got it all soldered together. That USB Port isn’t really USB, but it uses the same USB 3.1 Type A connector.

The tiny wires I was using were too small for my auto-wire striper and manually stripping them broke some of the strands in the stranded wires. The solders are weak. I have a quarter size perma-proto perf board coming to finish this up properly.

USER PORT to GY PCM5102 DAC adapter “cable”

This little connector works, but it is delicate. I had to re-solder the wires on it a few times as critical leads (there are only six, they’re all critical) would “break loose.” Below is the MT32 tied to power and the connector. I don’t have it hooked to the PC and audio here, but you should get the idea. Oh and I got some nice labels on the MT32-Pi.

Powered MT32-PI with DAC Attached

The new labels look reasonable good. I made them with my DYNO Label Manager. I got the mt32-pi label image from the project files on the mt32-pi github.

When I have the perf board completed I can update this post with an image of that. It will have “header pins” to connect the board to the DAC and the User Port connector, then some solid core wire to make the connections between the them. Solid Core will be good since they won’t be bending all over like the loose ribbon cable. The solid core wire connections will be cleaner to solder with too.

Here is a diagram to help wire up the proto-board:

Proto-board Wiring

Photos of the finished proto-board project:

Completed Proto-Board USB to Audio DAC
The back of the proto board, just for good measure
mt32-pi sending Audio through proto board.

Raspberry Pi Tinkering 2021-04-22

Raspberry Pi 4 boot from NVME parts.

For about a year I’ve seen notes and notices about an experimental feature on the Raspberry Pi 4 to boot from external NVME SSD drives using a USB 3.0 SSD adapter. I recently ran across a story that mentioned that the feature is now officially in the Raspberry PI OS.

One reason to do this is that the boot from micro SD is pretty slow. Another reason is the micro SD life span is not great. An SSD is fast and is meant to be used to boot and run an operating system, so it makes sense to me to go that route if I can. So I bought a few parts to update my Raspberry Pi 4 model B.

I got the following:

I already had the Raspberry Pi 4, in a Cooler Master Pi Case 40 and using a Logitech K400 Plus wireless keyboard with touchpad. The Pi 4 shares the monitor with my DAW workstation computer by using the unused HDMI port of the monitor (Acer 27 inch 2560×1440).

At first I didn’t get the Power USB Hub. But the NVME drive couldn’t write with the power supplied by the Raspberry Pi 4 USB 3.0 port. I could read from the drive all day long, but the boot didn’t work until it could write. I got the powered Hub and now the NVME drive is happy.

Here’s a look at the parts:

Raspberry Pi 4 boot from NVME parts.

This will be a fun setup to work with.

Sunday Night – 2021-02-14 A Snowy Start

A pretty start to a scary 3 days.

Sunday, February 14, 2021 is the start of a truly massive event.

Monday, bright, Clear, and covered in Snow

By midday Monday we were in the three day long power black out. We had snippets of power during those three days. We had a short outage early in the day, then by noon we were really out of power. We had brief spurts of power getting shorter and shorter until by evening no more. From noon to evening when the spurts stopped we had maybe 30 minutes of “on” time – each new burst of power shorter than the previous, from 15, to 10, to 6 minutes, shorter until the last burst was maybe 40 or 50 seconds. Then we were dark (this was evening, after sunset). The house cooled off quickly because the short bursts were not enough for the heat to even kick in by the end of the day, and because the multiple hour stretches of no power let the temperature drop. By sunset, the temperature was in continuous decline.

Tuesday offered just a few of the shorts bursts, all under five minutes, and none activating the heating cycle of our heating / cooling system. The refrigerator did get warmer, trying to meet the room temperature halfway. We had a visit with Diana’s sister at her home, but they had lost power too and their house was getting colder, too. We left during daylight because the really cold temperatures after sundown would turn the melting snow and ice of the daylight into dark ice.

Wednesday we unbundled from our pile of blankets, but the power was solid out. So much for the Rolling Blackouts the politicians said we’d experience. We went well over 24 hours straight of no power. Our battery banks for keeping the phones alive were effectively empty. Finally, late Wednesday we had a few minutes of power. We even got some heat, but not much before the power was off again. We piled several layers of blankets over ourselves for sleep once again.

Thursday very early, power came back on, probably shortly after midnight. It ran for a good bit then stopped. But before morning the power returned, perhaps by 2:00 or 3:00 AM. We actually got heat and warmed up to the target 68 Degrees Fahrenheit – the temperature that CPS asked us to use to conserve power. Of course we’d been conserving power completely for nearly three days by that point, well two and a half at least. I was ready to not be completely cold while wearing outdoor heavy coats inside my house.

68 does seem cold still somehow, though. And we are still likely to experience Rolling Restarts through Sunday. But we’ll have much warmer days than we’ve been having. No more single digit Fahrenheit temperatures. I do worry about the still 500,000+ people that are without power yet.

Playground Sessions Global Piano Recital

Playground Sessions, the Piano Learning software company, recently provided a nearly month long “course” on the song “You Raise Me Up” that we students learned at the three different levels (Rookie, Intermediate, and Advanced) and submitted our sections via video to Playground Sessions to form a global piano recital. I participated at the Rookie Level.

To see the results visit YouTube at this LINK.

It really turned out amazing.

Eulogy for Barbara Jean Sandlin

[Eulogy for Barbara Sandlin 1941-08-08 – 2020-05-19]

Irving Berlin said about death that “the song is ended, but the melody lingers on…”

My mother, Barbara Sandlin, born Barbara Belk during World War II, grew up in a musical and loving family, including aunts, uncles and cousins. Her father played several musical instruments, and her mother played the organ.

She was the oldest of two children. Her parents, Bill and Juanita, provided a loving and blessed home life for her and her brother, Ken. Barbara adored her brother his entire life. She was his cheerleader and support as they grew. Later she extended this to Ken’s family.

Barbara enjoyed participating in her High School Drama department as crew, support or cast, and also the pep club, and service club. After graduating she continued on to college where she planned to study nutrition. While at college she met her life partner, Gerald, whom she married in 1960. Gerald was another connection to music as he was deeply involved with performing music, playing instruments and performing with a Gospel quartet.

Barbara had their first child while Gerald was in the Navy. During his time in the Navy Barbara moved from Detroit to Norfolk, Virginia to Gerald’s home port. She made lifelong friendships in Norfolk, participating with and helping other sailor’s wives in their community.

Barbara had their second child as Gerald was finishing his enlistment. In total, they had four children; John, Marica, Jeff, and Curt. As the children grew, she enjoyed providing the family a blend of “Southern Comfort” food with a balanced and nutritious diet, along with keeping them active and making friends, all in a positive environment, filled with brightness, love and hope.

After the Navy they moved back to Detroit and began a civilian life. She had a busy life and only found time to practice piano as the children were heading to sleep. This heavily influenced the children to pursue music in various aspects as they grew up. She liked to play from the Great American Standards, songs such as “Jeepers Creepers, Where’d You Get Them Eyes,” “Alley Cat,” “The Entertainer” and others.

Barbara continued to be deeply involved in community service. She earned “Master Gardener” from Michigan State University Extension Service, becoming the president of the service in her county. She also later earned “Master Gardener” in her Tennessee community, learned and then led Tai Chi sessions, while encouraging others to join the Tai Chi group. She held many jobs and volunteer positions throughout life, including Cub Scout Den Mother, Girl Scouts Troop leader, Newspaper Columnist, an assistant at a hospital, active in the Unity Church of the Cumberlands, the local Tai Chi group, and Quilting.

Music and sharing her bright and loving vision of life were important to Barbara at every stage in life. In addition to piano, she played Hammer Dulcimer, sang in the church choir, and encouraged her children to pursue their musical passions.

She expressed that she had a blessed life and always knew she was loved.

Barbara was a truly bright light in this world, bringing love, happiness and hope to everyone she met. Her light has gone out but the echo of her light will continue to spread, bringing more light, love and hope to the world.

Tonight we celebrate her life.

2020-04-21 A Different Topic – “Game Of Life”

John Horton Conway passed away recently. He created the original “Game Of LifeCellular Automation system. In response to his passing I’ve created a version in DOSBOX, using Microsoft QuickC 2.5 With Assembler (not that I used the assembler portion here).

It is a simple program that randomly fills 20% (roughly) of the cells with the ON bit. The rest are set to OFF. A set of rules are applied in successive generations that control which cells turn on, which turn off, and which stay the way they are. This creates an interesting evolving pattern on the screen. In this case I used the standard 25 line by 80 columns of the old style monitors (generally called 80 column displays), including MS-DOS PCs of the late 1980s.

I used QuickC because it included library functions to control the cursor position and screen clearing. It is entirely text mode, with the ON cells represented by an asterisk character. The OFF cells are space characters. I added a display at the bottom of the screen to indicate which generation is showing. They tick off at the amazing speed of a 1980s PC. DOSBOX emulates a 4.77 MHz clock rate generally, though you can make adjustments. Mostly it uses the slow clock speed so that games of that era will run properly rather than insanely fast.

Video of the program running. Running time 2.52 minutes, rendered to 1280x720p.

2020-03-18 A Month Flows By

I’ve been busy working on Scott Joplin‘s “The Entertainer” full Rookie Song. But I did take a brief detour to do the Playground Sessions Facebook Social Media Challenge #QuincyChallenge to celebrate Quincy Jones‘ 87th Birthday. Just a snippet of “My Way.” Since these WordPress pages aren’t really suited to video media, I decided not to post it here.

I do want to put up a small montage of shots in response to a ‘Creative Sauce‘ YouTube video where he reviewed a BenQ LED lamp. I have an LED lamp on my DAW workstation by LE Power, so I took some shots and expanded the grouping to get the Yamaha P-515 digital piano too.

I did add a Yamaha FC-3A pedal to the Yamaha P-515W to allow pitch bends as necessary, which is more useful for Guitar and Synth voices than piano, but worth having.

2020-02-15 Playground Sessions 30 Day Challenge Done!

I have completed the 30 Day Challenge for the Facebook group Playground Sessions Community (closed group, you have to request membership). The full song for Scott Joplin’sThe Entertainer.” The version we learned is a simplified arrangement at a slower tempo. It is designed for very early – even Day 1 – beginners.

I will probably buy the song from the Playground Sessions Song Store to get a fuller arrangement and a faster tempo. Even with the simple arrangement from the Challenge done, the full song will be a real challenge.