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Hardware Hacking Music Games Build

The Chipophone — an 8-Bit Chiptune Organ 84

adunk writes "Linus Åkesson has built an 8-bit synthesizer inside an old electric organ case. 'All the original tone-generating parts have been disconnected, and the keys, pedals, knobs and switches rerouted to a microcontroller which transforms them into MIDI signals. Those are then parsed by a second microcontroller, which acts as a synthesizer.' The Chipophone is perfect for playing classics such as the Super Mario Bros in-game music or Rob Hubbard's Spellbound. A description of the build process, with photos, is available."
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The Chipophone — an 8-Bit Chiptune Organ

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  • Two words : (Score:1, Troll)

    by unity100 ( 970058 )
    THIS KILLS !!!!
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by unity100 ( 970058 )
      i would like to meet the moron who downmodded this troll. it would take someone to have a lot of upside down mind with sarcasm etc to be unable to recognize a honest exclamation of appreciation anymore.

      no wait, on second thought, i wouldnt want to meet that moron.
  • by mccalli ( 323026 ) on Saturday July 24, 2010 @11:35AM (#33013706) Homepage
    Similar vein, and I always wanted one of these: SIDstation [], but sadly they're no longer made anymore.

    For those using softsynths, have a look at QuadraSID [] too (demo MP3 on the right-hand side of that page), particular with the Rob Hubbard expansion packs. I use that a fair amount in what I write. If anyone else knows of some interesting softsynths along the same lines, I'd be interested to hear.

    • by bipbop ( 1144919 )
      I have both a Sidstation (one of the last ones they made) and Quadrasid, and to be honest I use Quadrasid more even though it's technically a bit less authentic. Quadrasid is great :-D I have the Rob Hubbard expansion pack as well. You may also be interested in Chip32.
    • by Achra ( 846023 )
      I can second the AC's suggestion of the midibox SID, it really is superior to the SIDstation in every way. The only problem is that you will never find one on ebay due to the restrictive licensing scheme that the project originator implemented. Sometimes you can find a completed one on the site's forums (Selling for no more than the cost of parts) but this would be VERY rare. Your best bet is to just build one yourself, it's a fairly simple PIC based project, and there are PCB's available.
    • Not a softsynth, but how about building a MIDIbox SID [] from a spare SID chip and some other parts?

  • him, torvalds, this, that. such kind of people always come up from scandinavian countries.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by CptPicard ( 680154 )

      Torvalds is Finnish; Finland is strictly not Scandinavian. Scandinavia is the peninsula with Sweden and Norway.

      • Torvalds represents the Swedish-speaking minority of Finland. Besides, when people say "Scandinavian", they usually refer to the Nordic Countries, which include Denmark, Finland and Iceland in addition to the scritcly defined Scandinavia. These countries are deeply connected in history and culture, for example Finland was a part of Sweden for most of its history.
        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by CptPicard ( 680154 )

          It's still wrong, and the Cold-War invention "Nordic countries" should perhaps be preferred if Finland must be included. Scandinavia is definitely not only a geographically separate entity, but a separate cultural-linguistic whole as well. Just listen to the Swedish People's Party folks who insist on us having to integrate to Scandinavia because it's so damned special compared to *us* (of course, an alternate variant of this argument is the idea that nothing except Swedishness exists, and the wrong kind of

        • by fishexe ( 168879 )

          Besides, when people say "Scandinavian", they usually refer to the Nordic Countries, which include Denmark, Finland and Iceland in addition to the scritcly defined Scandinavia.

          Very true. In fact, the Scandinavian Studies department at my university includes courses on all of those countries, and their languages.

  • this brings back oh so many hours spent in front of the NES.

  • a real mega man (Score:3, Interesting)

    by frank_carmody ( 1551463 ) <pedrogent@gma[ ]com ['il.' in gap]> on Saturday July 24, 2010 @11:47AM (#33013792)

    My jaw was already on the desk but when he started playing the Mega Man theme... OMG!

    • Indeed I was singing along.

      I've had friends laugh at me for considering 8-bit chiptunes, but I think this is the future....

      How long did it take to get a working piano? 25 years? So now we can start on our journey....

  • Leisure Suit Larry (Score:2, Insightful)

    by linebackn ( 131821 )

    This synth is great, but it isn't a REAL synthesizer unless it can adequately play the theme music to Leisure Suite Larry. :)

  • The guy is amazing (Score:4, Insightful)

    by blind biker ( 1066130 ) on Saturday July 24, 2010 @12:46PM (#33014244) Journal

    Well, a couple of years back I was thinking of a similar project: use an Atmel AVR 8 bit (RISC) microcontroller to create a sound chip, controlled by MIDI. Well, this Linus dude did that, and MUCH, MUCH more! Pluse, the guy is a great musician (he can actually play a full organ, which in addition to hand, needs also foot coordination), and can play the whole of Rob Hubbard's Spellbound entirely by heart [].

    In a perfect world, this guy should be famous, make millions, and sportsmen like Tiger Woods would be happy to mow his lawn :o) (that's my geek utopian dream).

    • He'll record more tunes on it. At which point an enterprising records company should make a CD of his works. The cd should be an audio/data mix cd. Audio tracks with his recording and the data one with .sid/mod files of the original songs.
    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by d99mo ( 718046 )
      I was lucky to be one year senior to Linus at Lunds Tekniska Högskola (Lund University's tech faculty). He's done a lot of crazy things, his project where he implements a VM running Conway's Game of Life using symlinks is really out-there. Here's a link: []
  • by Joey Vegetables ( 686525 ) on Saturday July 24, 2010 @12:55PM (#33014304) Journal
    I like the very DIY flavor of this particular installation. But old organs are commonly stripped and MIDI-fied through a similar process, frequently enough that there are forums and even commercial products to assist. Two of my favorite are Midibox (, and Hauptwerk ( The former is a DIY MIDI hardware site, with a forum for people trying to add MIDI capability to old organs and similar instruments; the latter is essentially a MIDI sampler designed specifically for playback of organ music. I am in the early stages of a similar project to add MIDI capability to an old Allen organ, which I am attempting to do without disrupting any of the existing electronics, which makes it quite a bit more challenging at least for me.
  • by TerranFury ( 726743 ) on Saturday July 24, 2010 @01:02PM (#33014370)
    He's apparently also involved in the 8-bit demoscene: Craft by lft [].
    • That... is awesome. It is one of the most hardcore pieces of badass geekery I've ever seen. Not only has the guy written a kick-ass demo that runs on a 20MHz device with 1kB of RAM and 8kB of ROM, but he also built his own computer to run it on. And then made it generate Julia sets. And submitted it to a demo competition. And won. And it's generating all the audio and video signals in software!

      More info here. []

    • Not only involved, he did all parts of it. Also, check out turbulence which is similar hardware but with composite output (manually created signal on the fly).

  • 8 bits are not enough to measure the awesomeness of this device.

  • by Simonetta ( 207550 ) on Saturday July 24, 2010 @01:16PM (#33014494)

    For cheap cool music, I took a different approach. I wrote an open-source hardware controller for an inexpensive commercial MIDI tone module. The best tone module to use is the Yamaha TX81Z, because they are cheap and very flexible. They are widely available still because there were millions sold new about twenty years ago. They are available on eBay for about $60-$80. The sound engine is a four-operator FM synthesizer that can programmed to make all kinds of weird sounds, along with classic analog-synth sweeps and 80's video game sounds.

        Instead of a real organ keyboard, I use a standard PS2 (purple connector miniDIN6) computer keyboard to play the notes. The standard PC keyboard has its own internal microcontroller. It sends a scancode when a key is pressed and also when the key is released, which makes it able to be used as a music keyboard. Its advantage is that it's really cheap, about a few dollars each. The disadvantage is that the keys are small, and, certain combinations of keys (played as chords) don't sound. The specific combinations depend on the keyboard manufacturer.

        Google for the Two-Pot controller at the Yamaha TX81Z Homepage. I also do have later versions of the firmware, all open-source.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by moonbender ( 547943 )

      That also sounds pretty cool. Might I suggest making a video of it and uploading it to YouTube?

  • Watch the video. This is amazing!
  • Truly inspiring. It makes me want to get back into the microcontroller hobby. (No arduinos though, where's the fun in that?)

  • So...? (Score:3, Funny)

    by camperdave ( 969942 ) on Saturday July 24, 2010 @01:45PM (#33014738) Journal
    So... this guy takes an electric organ and turns it into a synthesizer? Reminds me of that guy that turned an old guitar into a giant, six stringed ukulele, or the other guy who turned a trombone into a bugle.
    • Indeed. If the whole point of this experience was to run the synthesizer through a MIDI keyboard then it would be much better to just spend 50 euros on a MIDI keyboard and, from there, build a small 8-bit synthesizer that supported standard MIDI input. There was no need to scrap a perfectly good organ just to cannibalize it and convert the shell into a synthesizer.

      Yes, I get the spirit of the "because it's there" crowd. I also understand that economics doesn't play a major role in this sort of project. N

      • by flux ( 5274 )

        Internally it encodes the keyboard as MIDI and then again decodes them in the synthesizer. So basically the portable synthesizer you want is a subproject of this. I guess he figured he might want to use the synthesizer separately at times (much more portable).

      • Those organs are a dime a dozen. It's not like he defaced the last remaining one or anything. There are also advantages to using an organ as a starting point: the kind of synth he is using has a bunch of presets, and the sound is changed by turning them on and off in various combinations--exactly like the stops on an organ.

        A synthesizer connected to a module would have been cool. But retrofitting that synth into an organ case and using the expected behavior of an organ's controls to make an extremely pla

  • According to TFA, the conversion involves 1)creating MIDI data from the keyboard and 2)synthesizing audio from that MIDI data. Since there are very good synths available (much better than an 8 bit uC), I hope this design has the option for sending the MIDI to such an external device. Now THAT would be awesome.
    • by pelrun ( 25021 )

      Uh, so converting this organ into a boring old midi keyboard similar to what everyone already has is more awesome than making a unique instrument perfect for playing back old chiptune music?

      I disagree.

  • I see a part for him in the next The Royal Tenenbaums / The Life Aquatic...
  • You see, this guy's a genius, but it shouldn't have to be this hard.

    Not so long ago, I enquired to see if there was a keyboard (preferably weighted) which can take VSTs as input to allow for an infinitude of possible instruments.

    Guess what? No such keyboard exists.

    It would be incredible to use and play a keyboard, but with the infinite range of VST instruments and effects out there. Unfortunately though, manufacturers like to 'lock in' their keyboards with the own limited range. It's pretty sad.

    • by Twinbee ( 767046 )

      Just to reply to my own comment, if keyboards could use VSTs as input instruments, the quadraSID VST would be perfect for attempting something like he's done: []

    • Are you asking for a keyboard that can run a VST module? Frankly I think having a Windows-based synthesizer is a ghastly idea and a maintenance nightmare (the digital equivalent of lining up a 24-track without a manual), but if you really, really want to do this, I know of two products which will allow it:

      The MUSE Receptor/Receptor 2. This runs Linux, and AFAIK seems to be fairly self-maintaining. It's a 19-inch rack module that can run VSTs through some kind of WINE hackery. According to Google it cost

      • Correction: the Muse is $2600 - it is £1700 in British Pounds.
      • by Twinbee ( 767046 )

        Maybe you can tell me though why keyboard manufacturers haven't already done this. Whatever the OS it runs on (or maybe they can create their own mini OS inside the keyboard?), the whole idea is that you have an almost infinite collection of instruments at your disposal. Each of the parameters of the VST could be assigned to a knob or button on the keyboard. It could be extremely easy to use, and the user doesn't have to know an underpinning OS is at work behind it all.

        The whole idea of VST is universality,

        • Maybe you can tell me though why keyboard manufacturers haven't already done this. Whatever the OS it runs on (or maybe they can create their own mini OS inside the keyboard?),

          I'm not a keyboard manufacturer so I can only make an educated guess, but to put it bluntly, your question is basically the same as "Why can't I run my old VB6 application on an iPad?".

          The long answer: From what I do know, most keyboards are based around cheap embedded CPUs, and maybe half a gig of flash or ROM at most for the OS and waveforms. The basic design doesn't have to change very much over the product's lifespan as the components generally have long production lives. It's cheap to mass-produce, i

          • by Twinbee ( 767046 )

            I'm with you on the whole instant switch off/on thing. Heck, I even detest the 2 seconds I have to wait on my current Roland FP4 :) I also dislike fan noise (my own PC is silent even with a quadcore, after careful choice of components). One can always decrease the GHz if heat is a problem. SSD is perfect for VST storage, and again silent and durable.

            But having said all that, I can't see why it isn't possible to interpret a VST even without a full blown OS. Software and hardware can do virtually anything, an

            • This gadget [] will let you use VSTs without a computer, looks to be around $500 and has a smaller footprint than a laptop. It doesn't have a built-in keyboard, and reading a little more about it, it looks like not all VSTs will work with it. I guess it's a first step. While I'm not really surprised that a dedicated VST controller isn't out yet, I think it's only a matter of time before one is introduced. Everybody's moving to softsynths nowadays, and VST is a pretty prevalent architecture for them.

              • That's a far more reasonable price, and they seem to have done away with the HDD, which is also good. Looks like they've done the linux approach like MUSE did, and as you say, not all VSTs are liable to work on it as a result.

                If I hadn't given up on the whole VST thing and gone all-hardware, I'd definitely look at getting one.

            • One can always decrease the GHz if heat is a problem. SSD is perfect for VST storage, and again silent and durable.

              But having said all that, I can't see why it isn't possible to interpret a VST even without a full blown OS.

              Depends what dependencies it has. If the DLL wants to create a pretty picture of a PPG Wave you'd have to at least stub most of the GDI subsystem. The fun part is when they've designed it badly so that the parameters can only be controlled by clicking on it, so to make those work you'd have to have the mouse, keyboard and screen. As for reducing the clock frequency, that SM Pro thing has a 1GHz processor, probably for that reason. You could probably run that nice and cool, but it's going to eat into you

  • Is it just me or did he consistently miss the same note when playing the Mega Man Soundtrack.
  • Just another story explaining why some people never get la*d.

If graphics hackers are so smart, why can't they get the bugs out of fresh paint?