Posts in Category: music

Lasers and MIDI and software… Oh my!

Photo of Jean-Michelle Jarre performing in Helsinki in 2009 © Miemo Penttinen

What happens when a music teacher suggests instrument variety is a driving force behind a child enjoying music, the child says “anything unusual” is good, the other child wants a techie project and the father has far too much 80’s electronica ?

We decide to get a laser harp, of course ! 🙂

And there’s no way at all this could have been due to my obsessive saving of paper-round money to buy Jarre albums on tape to listen to on my Walkman (with Dolby-B, I’ll have you know – quality antiquity !).

A quick Google later and it’s apparent that commercial units run from €500 to £1000 as ‘entry level units’. So that’s not happening. The Wikipedia page does an excellent job of sucking almost all of the fun out of the description, and doesn’t help much (apart from providing a link to the excellent photo by Miemo Penttinen).

There’s a Makezine article by Steve Hobley that is interesting as it includes pitch bend although the harp is framed and uses multiple lasers, but this Instructables article is closer to what I had in mind as it describes (with source) how to create a single laser scanning frameless/infinite harp.

So given that I can’t resist changing stuff I know nothing about, is that $100 estimate what I need to spend ? Well, I have breadboard, an mBed plus application board and soldering kit already. I’m not interested in 5-pin MIDI (plan on using USB MIDI via the application board), and there’s no way I want to have 3 separate PSU’s – I’ll contemplate step-down convertors but it must be a single rail main supply. So time to hit eBay to see what’s there at hobby prices. And the first find is that 10 red 1mW laser diodes cost less than £3 inc. P&P from China… Wow… This might just work.

An afternoon talking this over with Ben, and my initial BoM is as follows:

Item Link Cost
5v 4 phase stepper motor + controller £3.59
10 x 11mm acrylic mirrors £1.65
Laser receiver module £2.99
Laser diode module £3.49
5v 2A DC PSU £3.99
2.1mm DC socket with leads £1.19

Current spend: £16.90 – I could have spent less (or had more spare parts) if I’d have bought direct from China, but given that I a) need to keep the kids attention and b) am way too impatient when being given the chance to play with spinning mirrors and lasers, the above items are all from UK (re)sellers.

Potential pitfalls:

  • no fogging gear so viewing the beams may be tricky
  • low power laser may have high false triggers is the sensor gain is too high
  • no idea if the mBed timing is accurate enough
  • the 5v supply may not have enough current (no idea of the stepper consumption
  • still need to write the mBed software !

Although the pitfalls haven’t made me stop thinking about v2:

  • use green + red lasers to mark out a full tone/semi-tone scale
  • use green + red lasers for an effect/note split
  • put a carrier wave onto the laser and use a doppler detection routine at the sensor to offer pitch bend
  • make the MIDI output via WiFi to link into an iPhone/iPad as sound source for a portable version

Delivery of parts is expected this week, so project updates and pics of parts to follow…

Max Tyrie’s Hand Made Modest Mouse Video

What to do with 4133 frames of video, a D-SLR and a printer with plenty of ink and paper…

Max Tyrie’s Hand Made Modest Mouse Video:

(Via: Photojojo)

new music

New to me that is. Slightly less late to the party than I was with OK, Computer (10 years after release !), I’ve found a lot to listen to in the SXSW torrent files. Over 5GB, in fact. The 2006 torrents are still available and contain names that I’ve certainly become aware of through mainstream radio exposure/iTunes in the UK: Abigail Washburn, Corinne Bailey Rae, Editors, Josh Ritter, KT Tunstall, Paolo Nutini, and We Are Scientists, so I fully expect that somewhere in this year’s 3.1GB of music there will be some artists that will become more widely known.

As it is, I’ve already found 3 or 4 standout tracks that are calling out for me to buy full albums directly from the artists, which can’t be a bad thing at all. widget

The ‘local noise’ entry in the sidebar is now active with‘s Flash based widget and shows the most recent tracks I’ve been listening too. Not that exciting, really (especially with my current addition to OK Computer – just shy of 10 years late to this party…) apart from the fact that the little arrows in circles on the right of the track will play a 30s clip of the track just in case you’re curious, whilst mouseover the track name shows the album art (but in a thumbnail that’s too small to make out properly – hey ho).

whomix – doctor who theme remixes

From Tim, who obviously thinks I need a distraction:

whomix – doctor who theme remixes:

What a lot of work – a few select examples also came with the link, with my favourite being the Nyman one:


Cool – they did it

BBC NEWS | Entertainment | Unsigned band make chart history:

Number 31. Now I might just have to find out what they sound like, but to be honest that secondary to what they’ve done:

“Murphy added that they had been contacted by a number of big record labels, including one who recently turned them down.”


Vive la revolucion ?

BBC NEWS | Entertainment | Unsigned band set to crash charts:

Unsigned, and tipped to make the UK Top 40: not without plenty of hard work (500 live shows), but with a cracking quote:

“If someone comes along and gives us an offer, we’ll talk to them.

But it depends whether we need it. If we can get enough exposure and get in the top 40 by the end of the week, do we necessarily need a large label?”

Superb ! Sunday could prove to be very interesting.

Canadian Music Creators Coalition: A New Voice

Canadian Music Creators Coalition: A New Voice:

This is very satisfying to see: artists signed to (major) labels publicly gathering to point out that the aims and desires of the Artists are not the same as those of Labels themselves.

“…not in our names…” is a very apposite statement indeed, and it behoves the labels to notice that this time it could hurt even more: whilst there appears to be a limitless supply of small-time copyright infringers to sue (even with the public relations damage it entails) there is a much smaller set of artists, and making them rethink their affiliations when contracts are up for renewal could be a very expensive lesson.