You're probably wondering where I've been lately.

Jun 26, 2009

By and large, work has been, well, work.  Lots of hours at the office, lots of hours stuck in traffic sweating like Kevin Mitnick during a traffic stop.  When I haven't been logging time behind a console, I've either been trying to get my head back into Python coding (try as I might, I just don't understand GUI programming in general or PyGTK in particular), reading data sheets, reading up on the Arduino microcontroller, or pulling a Tesla while pondering the best way to build my latest obsession, a laser synthtar.

You see, it all started at HacDC a couple of weeks ago at one of Eliott's noisemaker classes.  Rather than teaching a class, he's basically been letting us run loose to come up with whatever our twisted little hearts desire.  I decided to try working with an integrated circuit without any instruction; as luck would have it, there was a 555 laying around that I unsoldered, looked up, and wired up as a simple noisemaker.  To play with the dynamics of the sound I used a couple of photocells and a flashlight.  This stuck in my head for a day or two until I ran across the laser synthitar article on Gizmodo, and it was as if a switch suddenly closed inside my head.  I dashed off to Adafruit Industries' website to buy a Duemilanove (the latest generation Arduino which is a bit more advanced) and started scribbing schematics in my lab notebook.  The circuitry is pretty straightforward but the project as written up is a little on the simplistic side - it has only three 'strings' with a little pitch shifting at the frets.  By using a microcontroller instead of a couple of 555's I can make it much more versatile, and by not using a toy guitar I can position the strings more reasonably by building my own housing.

I then wondered if it would be possible to either rig up or emulate an MOS-6581 to do the sound synthesis.  Off to Google I went because I know I'm not the only person out there who's ever wondered about this, and lo and behold someone has already figured out how to do it.  So, my gameplan is this: build a simple laser trigger, write some code for the Arduino that plays a note whenever the trigger is broken, build a set of five laser triggers, modify the code to handle the five triggers, develop a system of frets that will feed into the microcontroller and change the notes the triggers generate (addition and subtraction, really), and build the whole shebang into something that I can wear on a guitar strap.  Then it comes down to teaching myself how to play it.  I already play a few instruments, so while the learning process will be fraught with "Oh gods, this sounds horrible!" moments I'll eventually sort things out and figure out how to pick out a few tunes.  The rest will grow from that.