Hack Chat Transcript, Part 1

A event log for MIDI All the Things Hack Chat

with mitxela [Tim Alex Jacobs]

Dan MaloneyDan Maloney 03/24/2021 at 20:030 Comments

mitxela12:00 PM

OK, welcome to that Hack Chat everyone, let's get started. I'm Dan and I'll be moderating today along with Dusan as we welcome Mitxela to the Hack Chat. Hi Tim, welcome aboard!

mitxela12:00 PM

Dusan Petrovic12:00 PM
Hello and welcome!

Jan12:00 PM
Hi there!

william.berg0812:01 PM

tom12:01 PM

James Murphy12:01 PM
Goooood Day Sirs!

Chris Weiss12:01 PM

Glad to have you on today, and to have a lot of new names in the chat.

Matt Starfield joined the room.12:01 PM

Can you perhaps kick us off with a little about your background and such?

SHIK12:02 PM
Hi :)

Tim this game console you made is just genius!

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miguelmurca12:03 PM
uh, mods?

Working on it

Vincent12:03 PM
Boo bots!

Ben12:03 PM
Naughty bot

Kevin.stork joined the room.12:03 PM

mitxela12:03 PM
Well... I have been playing around with MIDI for quite a few years now, along with various other electronics and software projects

James Murphy12:04 PM
I thought you wanted to know our background?

James Murphy12:04 PM

mitxela12:04 PM
I wouldn't say I'm an expert in MIDI

dracolytch joined the room.12:04 PM

No, sorry -- I was talking to our guest.

Patrick Adamo joined the room.12:04 PM

James Murphy12:04 PM
Can you explain midi to those of us who've heard about it but never utilitized it?

Jerry Isdale12:05 PM

tim.burns joined the room.12:05 PM

tim.burns12:05 PM
Hello All!

mitxela12:06 PM

mitxela12:06 PM
MIDI is a way of having fun with music and electronics.

James Murphy12:06 PM
I think I meant more the mechanics of it.

James Murphy12:06 PM
How it's generally wired up.

mitxela12:06 PM
@SHIK Thank you!

SHIK12:07 PM
Are you planning on more tiny synth projects?

Yannick (Gigawipf)12:07 PM
did someone say midi? :]

dracolytch12:07 PM
I've just started with MIDI. Are there tools/resources that you consider indispensable, especially for Windows systems?

Jerry Isdale12:07 PM
whole bunch of Q: which microcontrollers/etc do you like to use? Experience with input devices like capacitive touch and variable resistance in non-conventional (ie, not slide/knob) form factors?

mitxela12:08 PM
@SHIK Perhaps! I may have hit the limit of what can be put into a DIN connector though

James Murphy12:08 PM
I've got a pretty nice Mackie mixer with powered speakers and AKG mikes for voice along with some TC Helcon hardware but I've never included MIDI...

mitxela12:08 PM
@Jerry Isdale Most of the time I use STM32 chips now, but I started on AVR. AVR is a wonderful architecture to learn

For reference:

Hackaday Dan Maloney

World's Smallest MIDI Synth, Now Even Better

We're pretty sure there's no internationally recognized arbiter of records like "World's smallest full-featured polyphonic stereo MIDI synthesizer that fits in a DIN shell". If there isn't, there sure should be, and we're pretty sure [mitxela]'s Flash-Synth would hold that particular record. This is one of those lessons that some people just can't leave a challenge alone.

Read this on Hackaday

charliex12:09 PM
thats neat

mitxela12:10 PM
@dracolytch Not really. The nice bit about MIDI is that it's pretty easy to get started with. There are super expensive bits of hardware, but I started with a very chip midi keyboard and a midi-usb adapter

mitxela12:10 PM
very cheap

miguelmurca12:10 PM
My Q is how do you get around the "hardware barrier"? I super want to get into MIDI stuff, but having to spec out everything before even getting started (and having to wait for shipping of pieces) makes me never really gaining any momentum

miguelmurca12:11 PM
(at least in contrast to software, where you can mess around fairly easily until you get a feel for things)

mitxela12:11 PM
Actually I started with very little hardware at all, since I learned to make synthesizers using the web audio api

Jerry Isdale12:11 PM
mtxela AVR with or without arduino overstructure? Teensy has neat audio support in a more powerful yet arduino compatible way

mitxela12:11 PM
I just took someone's example code and started modifying it and making cool (sometimes terrible) sounds

Matt Starfield12:11 PM
@mitxela do you work in Max/MSP or "Max for Live" to build any virtual MIDI devices?

miguelmurca12:12 PM
@mitxela > noise box flashbacks :)

miguelmurca12:12 PM
@Jerry Isdale I also want to know this, esp. vs straight-up assembly (which you've talked about using in the videos)

mitxela12:13 PM
AVR without arduino. I am not a fan of arduino really, it is useful for quickly getting stuff done i suppose but if the goal is to learn, it abstracts away from what's really going on

mitxela12:13 PM
I specifically set out to learn to program in assembly

mitxela12:13 PM
After spending a long time getting nowhere with x86, I discovered AVR

mitxela12:14 PM
AVR is wonderful because the architecture is simple enough that you can learn pretty much everything about it. No surprises!

Jerry Isdale12:14 PM
assembly is cool - gotta think in real detail. Arduino overstructures are nice for learning physical computing and programming, but to get maximum use from minimal hardware ya gotta go assembly

miguelmurca12:15 PM
(speaking of which, any hacks to be effective when reading data sheets/specifications? I tried to wade through the USB MIDI spec, but it was too much :o) )

mitxela12:15 PM
I feel I'm being a bit a elitist

mitxela12:15 PM
Err, even programming AVR in C is better. The thing is, I can write digitalWrite() or whatever and have no idea what it's doing

Jerry Isdale12:16 PM
The Teensy uses ARM Cortex chip with some nice DMA hardware so you can setup xfers to IO without involving processor... good for streaming time sensitive stuff like LED control, etc

mitxela12:16 PM
When I first learnt about registers and memory mapped peripherals that was a big Aha! moment

charliex12:16 PM
only surprises i'm worried about AVR is what microchip will do to it, esp the software side. they''ve done a nice job on the at128da/db chips putting microchips analog into avrs digital.

mitxela12:16 PM
@miguelmurca USB MIDI is a bit daunting

SHIK12:17 PM
@mitxela I've created an open source project for midi controller. I wonder how would you hack it and what would you use it for except for music production...

miguelmurca12:17 PM
@mitxela coming from you that's a bit intimidating haha

mitxela12:18 PM
I think what I liked about MIDI originally was that I was able to play around with it using just a CRT oscilloscope

mitxela12:18 PM
I just scoped the lines and saw zeros and ones

James Murphy12:19 PM
I wish I hadn't sold my old CRT oscilloscope.... Like to find a good deal on a new one.

mitxela12:19 PM
And then I read the wikipedia page on UART and managed to bit-bang some MIDI bytes using GPIO pins

Jerry Isdale12:19 PM
hard core

mitxela12:19 PM
USB is an order of magnitude more complex, but it's an order of magnitude less complex than bluetooth

James Murphy12:19 PM
Impressive Mitxela

Chris Weiss12:20 PM
hahaha, dont say that! I want to build a MIDI BTLE host

miguelmurca12:20 PM
@mitxela 👀 BT MIDI incoming?

mitxela12:20 PM
The V-USB library makes USB MIDI not too bad. Once you've got the descriptors sent, it's pretty much the same sort of deal

Jerry Isdale12:20 PM
PJRC makes the Teensy and this rather neat 16bitA/D D/A board for audio processing. Library can be programmed visually (connect boxes). long way up from bit banging

mitxela12:20 PM
Nah if I'm honest I'll only go near bluetooth these days if I'm being paid to

Jerry Isdale12:20 PM


PJRC Store

This audio adaptor lets you easily add high quality 16 bit, 44.1 kHz sample rate (CD quality) audio to your projects with Teensy 3.0, 3.1, 3.2, 3.5 or 3.6. It supports stereo headphone and stereo line-level output, and also stereo line-level input or mono microphone input.

Read this on Pjrc

Jerry Isdale12:21 PM
bluetooth is crazy hard and weird.

Chris Weiss12:21 PM
I'm hoping most of the hard work has been done already WRT pairing and such

mitxela12:21 PM
Not only is it stupidly complex, but you pretty much are forced to use proprietary chips to interact with it

miguelmurca12:22 PM
@Jerry Isdale This is the extent of my BT knowledge and it was enough to not go too near it haha

mitxela12:22 PM
I think in the last few years bluetooth has probably gotten better

SHIK12:22 PM
Less hackable ...

mitxela12:22 PM
But V-USB is a bit-banged library, it is implemented entirely in software on a chip that isn't supposed to do USB

mitxela12:22 PM
I like that a lot

charliex12:23 PM
artisanal usb

miguelmurca12:23 PM
have you experimented with hardware (MIDI) USB?

Jerry Isdale12:23 PM
i tried to integrate a BT device on a rPi... had to setup a whole separate process to extract the messages, and repeatedly check to be sure we hadnt lost comms.

Guru-san12:23 PM
Hi @mitxela, thanks for the hack chat! What do you think MIDI protocol would be a limitation or a missing feature that would be useful? I am not very experienced with MIDI, but so far it has proven to do everything I needed to!

Chris Weiss12:24 PM
@Jerry Isdale - Do you have any helpful resources you used?

SHIK12:24 PM
@miguelmurca , if you deal with Arduino, you can find good MIDI-USB libraries, pretty simple to use

mitxela12:24 PM
@miguelmurca Do you mean chips that have usb hardware on them? if so yes, but I normally just take an example project and fiddle with the descriptors. Or in the case of STM32, use STM32Cube, and cry a little at the same time

miguelmurca12:24 PM

Jerry Isdale12:25 PM
example projects = standing on the shoulders of 1000 midgets = success

miguelmurca12:25 PM
@SHIK I have an UNO, doesn't support USB, only serial :(

mitxela12:25 PM
@Guru-san There's not much I would add to midi, the only thing in the original spec that people complain about is the difficulty of having to use a channel-wide pitch bend amount

miguelmurca12:26 PM
@SHIK (also ATTinys are way more expendable, so I want to do that haha)

mitxela12:26 PM
MIDI is basically the electronic equivalent of written music score

Matt Starfield12:26 PM
@mitxela have you worked with the new MIDI 2.0 spec yet?

mitxela12:27 PM
Nope, not at all

SHIK12:27 PM
@miguelmurca , I'm working on additional project for implementing separate USB for midi-usb, shouldn't be too difficult.

Jerry Isdale12:27 PM
lots of publicity on it, but open source projects? not many yet. press likes it

What does it say when the MIDI standard has been around so long and we're only just getting to version 2.0?

mitxela12:28 PM
Another situation where MIDI is insufficient would be a Theremin. There are no MIDI theremins really, you can't send a continuously changing pitch and volume simulatneously, at least you can't do it well

charliex12:28 PM
that standards committees move glacially

mitxela12:29 PM
I have a Yamaha MIDI keyboard from 1983 which is compatible with my Javascript Web Audio synth

mitxela12:29 PM
This is a good thing

Matt Starfield12:29 PM
@Dan Maloney that they did it pretty good the first time around ;)

I was thinking that it was how right they got things out of the box, but I see your point too ;-)

Guru-san12:29 PM
Right I see thanks!

miguelmurca12:29 PM
@Dan Maloney Perhaps they can take the Kingdom Hearts approach and make MIDI 1.5 DX next? :)

SHIK12:30 PM
@Dan Maloney , I think no one really had problems with v1. Even 14bit midi is possible with v1

SHIK12:30 PM
I do like the TRS standard coming up

mitxela12:31 PM
That yamaha keyboard from 1983 is amazing because they didn't have enough onboard RAM to properly support changing octaves

mitxela12:31 PM
The main chip on board is a huge DIP package with the yamaha logo on it

mitxela12:32 PM
... also I fixed the octave changing problem by adding an AVR chip to it

Jerry Isdale12:32 PM
now it is pretty easy to cram several comm libraries (midi/usb/ethernet/dmx) onto a single micro, along with bunch of ram and flash/sd card.

Jerry Isdale12:33 PM
sweet hack on the yamaha

charliex12:34 PM
yeah modern keyboards have come along way, a lot of x86 boxes running linux now for instance with ssds and gobs of ram

mitxela12:34 PM
I wish I could find a modern keyboard that has the same feel as the old yamaha ones. I bought an Arturia Keystep a while back and it's not the same

mitxela12:34 PM
By the way the Keystep has an stm32f103 on board, so it's ripe for someone to make an open-source alternative firmware for it

James Murphy12:34 PM
Thank you Gentlemen, I gotta bail! Client walked in.

Jerry Isdale12:34 PM
The Teensy 3.x hardware is pretty small and affordable. Paul (creator) gets deep down into the assembly to make fast libraries for it.

charliex12:35 PM
i really like my korg sv1 the the keys are super nice

Jerry Isdale12:36 PM
Wondering about different inputs - keyboards with nice feel and you get velocity etc with midi. What sort of other things have y'all experimented with? Seen the cap.Touch MakeyMakey demos?

miguelmurca12:36 PM
(speaking of hacking instruments, have you thought about working with LOOKMUMNOCOMPUTER?)

Chris Weiss12:37 PM
Since you mentioned it, I had to google it - I wonder how good this actually is over MIDI

mitxela12:37 PM
@Jerry Isdale I've not seen those, but I've never been that keen on capacitive touch stuff. I like to have something physical that moves

charliex12:37 PM
i'm playing around with some alps linear faders with touch control for a drone box, looking at using the stm32f373

mitxela12:38 PM
@miguelmurca I've never spoken to them. A couple of other youtube people have emailed me every now and then, I guess I've never actually taken the initiative to contact other people

Jerry Isdale12:39 PM
cap touch might be replacement for the button box midi controllers. easier to put on odd surfaces like a jacket/vest

mitxela12:40 PM
cap touch can be good, I guess it's just there's a certain kind of consumer hardware that tends to use it because it's cheap, and the experience is normally terrible so that's put me off

charliex12:41 PM
roli seaboard

Jerry Isdale12:41 PM
(i read charliex as charlie plex - a technique to drive displays with minimal pins)

mitxela12:41 PM
Some people suggested changing the stylophone business card to use cap touch, but even discounting the fact that without a stylus it can't be a stylophone, I don't think it would be as fun to play. Especially since it's tiny, each key is smaller than a finger

SHIK12:41 PM
Some Russian company is trying to sell midi touch boards, I cannot find a good use for this.. looks much like a kids toy

charliex12:42 PM
@Jerry Isdale yeah i get that a lot, that and star trek and the guy whos runs X men

mitxela12:42 PM
charlie plexing is also fun

charliex12:43 PM
it is, i made a charlieplexed badge for our hackerspace years ago and a lot of people thought i invented the term......

Jerry Isdale12:43 PM
apparenlty charlie plex was also a harry potter character

miguelmurca12:43 PM
I have one last before having to go: @mitxela youtube isn't your main job (I think?), yet you do these cool complex things. Do you have any particular strategy when approaching a new project/staying motivated?

miguelmurca12:44 PM
(in my case I have a hard time staring at asm after a day of work lol)

charliex12:44 PM

Telmatobufo12:45 PM
@shik why do you think cap buttons are bad?

mitxela12:45 PM
Yeah youtube's definitely not my job - until this year I didn't even have it monetized. For me the best thing to stay motivated is to post what I do on my site. Even just writing a bit about a project is enough for me to flag it as "done" and get some satisfaction

charliex12:45 PM
are you going to make a smaller din synth?

mitxela12:45 PM
And... if I haven't posted anything in a while then that encourages me to do something

@miguelmurca - You might want to check out this recent Hack Chat if you missed it:


Finishing Your Projects Hack Chat

Zack Freedman will host the Hack Chat on Wednesday, February 10 at noon Pacific. Time zones got you down? Try our a handy time zone converter. Try as we might, some of us are much better at starting projects than finishing them.

Read this on Hackaday

miguelmurca12:46 PM
and that doesn't result in unfinished projects? 😁

miguelmurca12:46 PM
@Dan Maloney thanks!

mitxela12:46 PM
@charliex unlikely, I don't think it could get much smaller. Maybe a midi-in-a-TRS jack next?

charliex12:46 PM
you can always get it smaller :)

SHIK12:47 PM
@charliex lol

miguelmurca12:47 PM
@charliex tunneling microscope based midi synth

charliex12:47 PM

SHIK12:48 PM
Wow TRS synth will be crazy