23 January 2021

BorkHavn Nominated for Schallwelle Best Album of 2020!

I have exiting news. The BorkHavn album I released together with Ron Boot is nominated for the Schallwelle Preis best album of the year 2020. We are in the top five which is pretty nice of course. People could vote on their favorite album on their website so I'm very honored that you chose our album. Thank you very much! Now a jury will decide I guess. Normally there is an award ceremony in Germany but because of Corona it will be done online now. You can read more about the award and the other nominees on this website: https://schallwelle-preis.de/. And in case you didn't know. My albums 'OceanoGraphy' and 'Apollo' did win this album of the year award in the past. So be sure to check them out if you haven't heard them. So fingers crossed :)

14 January 2021

Deckard's Dream DIY (Part 9)

The external 12V power supply brick has arrived. So I could finally finish the Deckard's Dream. First thing I did was again test all the voice boards individually. They all worked fine. I labeled them so that I know which board is which because they all have their individual tuning. Then I inserted them into the main board and attached them to each other with the spacers as you can see in the picture on the left. I was a bit surprised I had spacers in different lengths but it turns out that the distance between all the slots is not equal. I didn't expect that but luckily I had all the correct spacers in the parts kit. If I had ordered them myself I would have probably ordered all the same based on the first gap :)

And then an exiting moment. Testing the whole synthesizer. In this picture you see everything that is inside. Starting from left to right with the front panel, the hardware PCB sandwiched to the main PCB. The inserted in the Main PCB first the Power Supply board and the 8 voice boards. In the right bottom you see the output board and in the top right the external 12V 6A power supply brick. All tests went flawless and then I uploaded some patch banks I found online 4 banks in total, one of which hold some recreated Vangelis sounds. They sound so awesome :) I ended up playing a long time with them just with a little midi keyboard and my headphone on. Even without any effects. But I had to stop just there and do the last remaining bits. Everything still had to fit in the case. In the back of the case is a fan for cooling that should not be necessary but I installed it anyway. Luckily you can switch it on and off from the settings menu. So I'll start with it switched off and see if the Decard's Dream wont run hot in the studio.

Then you have to put the IO board in the back and attach the flat cable to it. The IO board is just attached to the case with the rings of the jack plugs for audio input and output. The fan is attached to the IO board with a connector. It is all vert well thought of in my opinion. So after putting it in the case again I tested it one more time and again I ended up playing on it for way too long. But last step left was to put it in the studio. I did leave room for it of course :)

And here it is in all it's glory. I think it looks great. In the studio I could finally put some reverb on it and use my Roli Seaboard to play with polyphonic aftertouch and wow! just wow! I was impressed before but when you start using polyphonic aftertouch on some of those Vangelis patches it really sounds so big and organic. I love it. I will surely use it on my upcoming album. There is one more thing to do. There is also an expander module from Black Corporation which makes the Deckard's Dream even better. It is a 1U unit that can fit right where the patch panel is now. It adds Ring Modulation, Chorus, Delay and Reverb and makes the unit stereo as well. I already ordered the kit from Black Corporation and also the parts kit and case. So that will be my next project in the near future and of course I will post the progress of that as well on this blog. OK that concludes this DIY series. I hope you enjoyed it. And if you want to build one yourself I'd be more than happy to share my experiences and answer your questions where I can. But do keep in mind this is an advanced project not very well suited for beginners.

11 January 2021

Deckard's Dream DIY (Part 8)

 While waiting for the new external power supply I did something useful as well besides playing on the synth with 4 voices. I decided to put on the colored slider caps. Actually I wanted to wait to that it as a finishing touch when it was done, but I couldn't wait any more. I even read the manual since I didn't really understand what all sliders did, but it all makes sense to me now. Unfortunately the package with the power supply was delayed so more waiting .....

The next useful thing to do was put on the cooling blocks on the power supply. I was a bit surprised that everything so far was in the parts kit I bought from synthcube but not the m3 bolts for screwing these on. Luckily that is stuff I always have lying around at home. After that I started twisting the wires for the power supply. I did read that putting on these cooling blocks is not necessary when you change to TL062 and TL064 because the Deckard's Dream draws less current because of these and get less hot, but I decided that it wouldn't hurt either. More cooling is always better with electronics. I also took the rest of the case and started looking how everything should fit together. And then I found out the main board didn't fit in the case. Luckily there is a clear instruction about this on the build website. There is a 5 mm strips on both ends on the PCB that you can break of. There is a line cut into it to make that easier but I did it very carefully with some pliers trying not to damage anything on the main PCB.

Then finally the missing IC's I ordered arrived and I could finish all 8 voice boards. After that I started testing them by pairs. I run the calibration procedure for the voices and unfortunately one board did not wait to tune. So I put that one in solo and I could hear sound coming from it, but getting stuck on tuning. Later I found out that VCO B was running fine on the board and I did have a square and saw wave on VCO A but with a very low frequency. VCF and VCA seemed to work just fine. I started with a close visual inspection of the faulty board but couldn't find anything wrong. I started comparing it with another working board and all components were the same. Orientation of all components was the same. So I decided to swap components with a working board. Starting around VCO A. And bingo suddenly when I swapped the CEM3340 it worked! Luckily there as one extra in my parts kit, so I put the spare on on this board and voila. It worked like a charm. So now I have 8 working voice boards! Now only wait for the power supply to test them all at once.

10 January 2021

Deckard's Dream DIY (Part 7)

In the previous part I already said the Decard's Dream was coming alive. I had a menu on the display. Here is a picture of the display and knobs. I already put on the volume knob as well. The display is small but very high resolution so it is readable, but I do need my glasses for that :) So first I scrolled through all the settings to see what is there. I did find some interesting settings that I will try out later. But for now I especially want to know if everything works. I could not find a good test procedure on the build site so I started googling to see what other people did. And apparently it is a good idea to start testing all the knobs and sliders.

There is a special option in the menu to calibrate the sliders first. There are a number of sliders with a dent in the middle position. They go both up and down. Pitch course and fine. Balance between oscillator one and two, overall brilliance and the keyboard control sliders. You have to set them in the middle position before you start calibrating. Then there is a special option in the menu called 'debug' with this you can test all the sliders and know one by one. It reads out the value from 0 to 255. But I did see some stepping while doing this. I was a bit surprised. But I will figure that out later. For now all sliders seemed to work.

Nest thing to do was connecting the IO board back to the main board. It is connected via a flat cable. Here is the main output (mono) and also the midi connectors and the usb connectors. I hooked it up with USB to my notebook and then you get midi over USB. Next thing up was testing all the voice boards. I inserted a voice board in the first slot next to the Power Supply boards because I assumed that was the first slot. Then hookup up a midi keyboard to my notebook and used Midi-OX to connect the keyboard to the Deckards Dream. I expected to get some audio even though I would assume it would be out of tune or something, but nothing happened :( Then I read on the forum that you need to calibrate the voice boards, so I went in the menu and selected that option. Nothing happened. Like it didn't see the voice board at all. So i tried another voice board and same problem. I started panicking a bit and posted on the forum. But I was impatient for as answer and they I saw I made a very stupid mistake :) The slot next to the Power Supply board is actually slot 8 and now 1 :/ Duhh..

So then I calibrated the first board and it worked :) I had sound. After that I did all the boards I had complete since I still missed a couple of IC's. The supplied didn't send me the right amount. I had 6 complete boards and they all worked like a charm. They I wanted to hear the Deckard's Dream with multiple voices and inserted the 6 good boards, but apparently my lab power supply could not take that amount of power, so finally I got 4 running. I must say it sound fantastic :) Even mono and without any effects just on my headphones. So first thing to do was order a 12V external power supply that can deliver 6 Amp. I think the Deckards Dream has a high power on current, since with the four boards installed it only took 1 Amp on 12V, and my lab power supply should be able to deliver 3 Amp. We'll see when the power supply arrived. More next time.

08 January 2021

Deckard's Dream DIY (Part 6)

Next thing to do was connecting the main PCB to the hardware PCB. After that I also did a quick power test and again the magic smoke stayed in :) I had some trouble determining how to mount the oled display so I didn't solder that yet. There is not much information available unfortunately about the mechanical construction of the Deckards Dream. I did look at some pictures online but still I didn't know for sure. So it was time to also screw on the front panel to see how it all fitted together. At first I had the spacers wrong so that the front panel was too far away. So this is a picture after the second attempt. And now I could also finally solder the oled display.

And then it was time for yet another exiting part of the whole build. Finally putting some software in the Deckard's Dream. You do need to buy a ST programmer for this and connect it a flat cable to the main PCB and with USB on your computer. You can freely download the programmer software. It did see my programmer right away and they you hit 'connect' to hook it up to the main PCB. There is actually a micro controller on the PCB. It is kind of a mini computer that controls everything and it needs software to run. You can download the 'bootloader' software from the Deckard's Dream build page and then you hit 'program' and it actually worked :) I got a success message. After this you disconnect the programmer and switch the Deckard's Dream of and on again. Some garbage appeared on the oled display. But then the manual said to hold the 'shift' button to boot it in USB mode. So I did and then the Deckards Dream acts as a USB drive and you can copy the firmware and factory sound banks on it. Reboot again and voila ! It came alive :) I had a working menu on the oled display.

Here is another picture of the backside where you can see the sandwich of the main pcb the hardware PCB and the front panel. You can also see the correct spot and orientation of the Power Supply PCB in this picture. The only thing I find strange is that all the boards will be connected together in the end. I don't know how yet at this moment, but I'm sure I'll figure it out. There are all hanging horizontally though in the cart-edge connectors without any fixture. So that is a bit surprising to me. But we'll see later about that.

And finally here is a picture of the front of the assembly. Here you can see all the sliders and what they do and everything seems to fit fine :) I also soldered the headphone connector on now. I didn't do that yet again because I wasn't sure about the fit. The only thing missing now is the power switch. I will do that when I assemble everything together in the case.


A Few Copies of SchallPlatte 23 for Sale at Groove

The German Electronic Music Club Schallwende released the SchallPlatte 23 sampler album with a brand new Synth.NL track on it called 'Gemini'. Normally the album is only given to the member of the club, but Groove Unlimited my record label has a few copies for sale on their website. They are very limited so if you want this CD I guess you have to be quick. There is also some other nice music on there by Ron Boots himself, UNI Sphere (Eric van der Heijden and Rene Splinter), Spyra, Stefan Erbe and more. I also liked the first track a lot Meteorite by Tonal Assembly. You can buy the album as a factory pressed CD here: http://www.groove.nl/jump2.php?artnum=88044

BorkHavn Video - Venskab

Bellerob did it again! Rob has a very popular video channel on YouTube and he made a very nice video from the last track of the BorkHavn album I did together with Ron Boots. You can find it here on YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jP1tboVoXmA Do give Rob a thumbs up on this and subscribe to his channel. More information about the album here: https://www.synth.nl/borkhavn. I also put the video for you to enjoy below. Thank you Rob.


BorkHavn Review by Sonic Immersion

Another very nice review came in on the BorkHavn album I did together with Ron Boots. This time by Bert Strolenberg of Sonic Immersion. He gave our album 4 stars. Which is actually a lot since Bert very rarely gives our more and he put the 'My Choice' label on the review which mean he would buy the album himself. You can find the review on his website on this url: http://www.sonicimmersion.org/ron-boots-synthnl-borkhavn/. I also put the text of the review below. 

More information on the album here: https://www.synth.nl/music/collaborations/borkhavn

Ron Boots & Synth.nl – BorkHavn
CD/DIGITAL DOWNLOAD, Groove Unlimited, 2020

Many will recall Ron & Michel’s fine debut album “Refuge en Verre” based on music drafts made during a vacation of both families in Belgium. A decade later “BorkHavn” sees the light of day, distilled from live improvised music made in a similar setting a few years later during a vacation in Denmark. Make no mistake though as “BorkHavn” is a different sonic breed as its predecessor. As the musicians elaborate in the liner notes, the music is an true expression of their friendship. It’s also a powerful statement showing how both musicians complement each other in a surprising as well as beautiful manner.

The nine tracks feature emotive electronic music with a strong dynamic current connecting them. Many string pads and drums pass by on the outcome taking various twists and turns as its progresses. There’s the dynamic undercurrent sensed on the engaging opening title. Things take on an energizing orchestral/symphonic shape “Nordsøen”, entering psychedelic-infused and slightly experimental territory on “Gåpåmod”, firing off a powerful sequencer-lead on the jolly “Hjortebøf” while reflective sonic universes open up on “Stjernekiggeri” and “Torden”. Energy runs high on the freestyle yet groovy “Vindmøller” with a slice of “Acoustic Shadows” thrown in on the first half before the lush “Venskab” brings the album to a closure.

If you want an album with solid, attentively-made electronic music, “BorkHavn” should be your pick without hesitation.

Website: http://www.groove.nl


Deckard's Dream DIY (Part 5)

 Like I said in the last part it was time for some testing. I did a visual inspection of all the boards and could not find anything that seemed wrong. The only thing is that there was an error found on the output PCB. Once of the Capacitors was actually wrong on both the PCB and the schematics. So before testing I decided to desolder it and turn it around. After that I attach the power supply to my lab power supply and applied 12V to it. The nice thing about a lab power supply is that you can limit the current it gives so I slowly turned up the current and the power supply lit up and all voltage led were OK. After that I measured all the voltages and everything was fine :) No magic smoke this time :)

After this I put the power supply board in the main board. First without the ICs as you can see in the picture on the right. Main goal here is to see if there are no shorts in the soldering or anything. It is very important to look for the right slot for the Power Supply since it is exactly the same connector as the slots for the voice PCBs, but they are not interchangeable. Also you have to watch the orientation of the boards. So my main board was also OK. After this I inserted all the ICs and did the same test. And I could see on my lab power supply it drew more current but everything still looked OK. The only problem is you don't see anything happening yet on the board. There are no leds or anything to indicate it is working. So more testing is needed for that.  After this I also inserted all the voice boards without ICs to also see if there was no shorts on these PCBs. Again no problems so far. Still always a scary moment to be honest powering up self soldered PCBs for the first time. Even after all these years of soldering.

After this I did another modification on all the voice boards. The advise was to solder two 1 mega-ohm resistors on the backside of the voice boards. It has something to do with the glide function and making it more like the behavior on the original CS-80. You have to be very careful here you solder them to the right pins of course which is a bit more difficult to see from the back side. But luckily there is a clear picture on the Decard's Dream build page. After this I compared them and actually I made a mistake on one board I had to correct.

Then I started inserting the chips on the boards. I did another modification here as suggested by the builder. My original components kit contained TL074 and TL072 IC's. Later on they suggested to change them for TL064 and TL062. I decided to this this. The advantage is that they draw less current. So the synthesizer will get less hot because of this. This results in that you can omit the fan in the case and you supposedly don't even have to install the cooling blocks on the power supply board. It was some extra cost but I decided to do it. Eventually you earn it back in power cost and I don't like noisy fans. Unfortunately I didn't get the right amount when the order was delivered so I had to contact the supplier and straighten that out. And that meant a lot of waiting. And I'm not very good with that so that was a bit of a struggle. But here is a nice picture of the whole stack of voice boards with all ICs inserted. More in the next part.

03 January 2021

Happy New Synth Year!

 I wish you all the very best for 2021! I hope it will be a better year than 2020 and that there will be Electronic Music events again where we can meet in real live. Let's make 2021 a Happy Synth Year! I'm currently working hard on new music, so I hope to bring you some new releases as well in 2021. I spend New Years Eve together with Ron Boots and his wife Monique and my girlfriend Sonja. I also brought the music for the new album (about dinosaurs) along with me and played for Ron what I had so far in his studio. He liked it a lot so that is good news and motivates to continue working on it. He also liked my dinosaur sounds and how I integrated them into the music :) I hope to see you all soon. Stay healthy and Safe!

29 December 2020

Designing Dinosaur Sounds

As you all know I like to use my own recorded samples in my music. I went out a lot with my portable audio recorder to sample ocean sounds, rain, wind, thunder or dolphins or whatever else I needed. But when you make an album about dinosaurs that is a bit difficult since they are no longer around. So last week I decided to start designing my own dinosaur sound effects. My inspiration was of course Jurassic park because nobody knows how they actually sounded. Of course I could not use the sounds from the movies since, first of all it is not allowed due to copyright and secondly there is usually talking or music or other noises over the sounds. I recorded and collected a lot of animal sounds over the years and I used them for this purpose. Since dinosaurs where very big you can imagine they make big and low sounds. Most of the work was first cleaning up the sounds. Removing background noise and wind noise and after that  stretching the sounds to make them longer en lowering the pitch. After that I layered multiple animal sounds together for the maximum effect. In the picture there is a little give away which sounds I made. There will be tracks about these animals on the album. But there is still a lot of work to be done before you can listen.

27 December 2020

Deckard's Dream DIY (Part 4)

 The last board I had to do is the Hardware PCB. This is basically the 'human' interface of the synthesizer. It holds all the knobs and sliders and the display. Again the first thing to do is solder all the SMD capacitors. You need to apply flux first if you want the solder to flow under the components connecting surfaces. I have become quite handy by now, but I do need some magnifying glasses to see everything. Age isn't helping me here :) My eyes have been better in the past.

On this board there are also components on both sides. So you have to watch carefully for that. Eventually this board will be hooked up to the Main PCB they will be connected with the two double header connectors you see on the right. I did try if it fitted and it did so I guess that is OK. There are also some resistors and IC Sockets that go on the back side.

And here you see a picture with most of the sliders on there. I was a bit puzzled that some were different values than stated in the parts list, but since they are only voltage dividers it doesn't really matter which value you put in. I'm still looking how the display has to go in. I'm looking for some build pictures of other people for that. But I'm sure I'll figure it out in the end. Next time is actually testing the boards with the lab power supply and see if there are no shorts. First without the ICs and then a second time with ICs and see if everything stars. More about that in a next part.

23 December 2020

SchallPlatte 23 Released with Synth.NL Track 'Gemini'

Yesterday the German Music Club Schallwende released their 23rd sampler CD called 'SchallPlatte'. They released this CD only to the member of the club to give them a nice holiday present because all the concerts were canceled due to the Corona crisis. My track is called 'Gemini'. This track was inspired by the Gemini Space program that superseded the Apollo missions to the Moon. The Gemini project ran from 1964 en 1966 and was basically a dress rehearsal for Apollo. I didn't compose much new music since my Apollo album in 2011, so this track felt a bit like a dress rehearsal again for me too. Since the beginning of 2020 I finally have a small studio again in Rotterdam (NL) after having to sell everything because of my divorce. I'm currently working on several new solo projects, but this was the first track produced in my new and very small 'Jurassic' studio. I hope you like it. You can listen to the track on my website on this url: https://www.synth.nl/music/samplers/schallplattexxiii. The CD is not for sale officially, but Groove Unlimited might have a few in their web shop later on. I will let you know if they are available and put the link on the website.

Deckard's Dream DIY (Part 3)

 The next board I made was the IO board. This board takes care of the communication of the Deckard's dream with the outside world. The audio and midi connectors are on here, the power connector and also the USB connector. There is small SMD chip you have to solder on here and I was very confused about the orientation of this IC. So I asked on the Muff Wiggler forum and got some advice, but I'm still not 100% sure it is correct. I also read something about the Capacitors being wrongly oriented on the PCB and in the schematics. I guess I will have to be care full and do some measuring before I hook it up.

Another important board is of course the Power Supply. I still need to fix the cooling blocks but further this is not a very difficult PCB to create. The downside is though that it sticks in the same slot on the main PCB as the voice boards and you definitely do not want to mix them up. There is only one slot where the Power Supply should go. I also got the advise on the forum to test all the boards separately and the same goes for the Power Supply. Better test them all first with as less components inserted as possible. Also first test the PSU on the Lab Power Supply where you can limit the current to make sure you don't have any shorts. 

And here is a picture of the Main PCB where you can see the blue slots that will fit the voice boards and the Power Supply. The SMD components on this board were already preinstalled. I wonder why they didn't do this on the IO board. As you can see the rest is pretty straight forward. The only board left is the control PCB with all the sliders and knobs for the front panel. More about this in the next part.

20 December 2020

Wall-E DIY Project with Wifi (Part 4)

 And here is a picture of the final assembly. I put the speaker back in place. I created an USB connection at the bottom of the case so I can power Wall-E that way but also for emergency programming in case the OTA (Over The Air) updates over WiFi should go wrong somehow. Then I won't have to open it up again for reprogramming. For the power I'm using a Raspberry Pi USB Power Supply with provides 5V at 2,5 Amp. I guess that should be more than enough. In the picture you can now also see the red LED I installed next to the Oled Display. That led is connected directly to an GPIO pin of the ESP12 only with a simple 220 ohm resistor in series you can see in the top right corner of the PCB. You can see the motor controller left on that and there is also a transistor on the PCB that takes care of powering the lights in the eyes of Wall-E connected to another GPIO pin of the ESP12.  

And here is a picture of the complete assembled Wall-E. I'm not 100% happy with the placement of the display but this is really the best I could get. The glue on the double sided tape was very strong and I didn't want risking damaging another display since they are quite expensive. But overall I'm happy with the outcome. After all it is just a gadget for ourselves in our gadget cabinet. It has been quite a project. I have been busy with it for almost a month. Not every day of course, but including waiting for parts. You can control it by pressing the button that I forgot to mention previously. That is also attached to a GPIO of the ESP12. That is why I ran low on GPIO ports. They display already takes up 5 as well. OK I will conclude this series with some video's showing what it can do. And by now I can also control these scenes over voice commands and triggered by home automation scenes over WiFi. I hope you enjoyed this series.

19 December 2020

Deckard's Dream DIY (Part 2)

After soldering all the capacitors on only one thing is left and that are all the IC sockets. After that I did a careful inspection for the orientation and checked for missing components. As you can see if you inspect the picture closesly there are some resistors not in place. So I started reading on that and it turns out this is meant to be this way. They were put in by the designer to have the possibility to do some changes to the filter afterwards in case that was necessary without having to design a new PCB. I didn't put in the IC's yet. I read on the Muff Wiggler Forum that it is better to test the PCB for shorts first and then put the IC's in later. So I decided to do that as well. It is always a good feeling when you finish a PCB like this, but then also the worrying starts if you made no mistakes. But we'll see about that later. I followed the instructions closely so at this point I can't see what could have gone wrong.

And then 7 more of these boards to go. Here is a picture when I finished three of them. After the first one it usually goes faster. I could finish a complete voice board one day actually. Creating all the voice boards took me about 10 working days where I also did some other work in between. My girlfriend also helped comparing the boards to see if they were all identical. And so far we could not find any differences between them. So so far everything looked great.

And here is a another picture I took during the building of the voice boards. I actually didn't make a picture yet with all the voice boards, but that will come later when I start testing and assembling. Now I need to look at the rest of the PCBs because there is a lot more. I also acquired the case by now and started looking for assembly pictures, because there is only a build document for the voice PCBs not for the rest. So you are kind of on your own there. Even though there are some nice people that really provide excellent information and help on the Muff Wiggler Forum. If you plan to build one yourself you should really create an account there and read up on the whole thread about the Deckard's Dream. By now I have all the 8 voice PCB's done. More in the next part.

Wall-E DIY Project with Wifi (Part 3)

After getting the display to work I started with the motors. In the left upper corner of the bread board you can see the motor controller I used. It is an L293D chip. It is basically a switch but you can control motor speed for a DC motor by using Pulse With Modulation (PWM). Basically switching on and off very fast. But I didn't use that at all. Only full on and off, but I had to move in two directions. The manufacturer of this Wall-E toy did something mechanically interesting. When the motor moves forward the head moves and when the motor runs backwards the arms move. With the L293D you can do this easily. You have a signal for direction and then it switches polarity for the power of the motor. I hooked the LD293 up with as less pins as possible since as you can see now I had to switch back to an ESP12 because I couldn't get the display driver stable on the ESP32 and I didn't want to spend a lot of time on figuring out why. So now I had the display working, the audio. Only thing left was the eyes and a led where I decided to go for single color in stead of  an RGB led. 

Then came the most complicated part. And I didn't really see that one coming. The display I bought was mounted on a small PCB. Between the display and the PCB is a very thing flat cable. I cut a small piece from the case so that I could stick the flat cable through that hole and stick the the display on the outside with thin double sided tape. But I couldn't reach in with my hand to attach the flat cable again and it was all very tight. After a couple of tries I got it, but then the display didn't work anymore :( I had put too much stress on the cable. So I killed the display :( I had to order a new one and bought a small flat cable extender in the process. After a week of waiting I could try again. This time I asked my girlfriend to help. And this time it worked :) So it did cost me an expensive display but I found a method to get it right.

After testing I concluded everything was OK for assembly. All electronics and software were tested. So I took a piece of universal development PCB with lots of holes and started soldering wires to it. This is a way to create a prototype PCB without actually designing and manufacturing a real PCB. I usually do this when I make something once. It is reliable and when you make a mistake it is easy to correct. So after assembling the PCB I tested everything again and it still worked. So time to assemble everything. More about that in the next part.


14 December 2020

BorkHavn Review by Schallwende

Now that the BorkHavn CDs are in also the first reactions are coming in. This is always the nicest part about releasing an album. As you might know producing this kind of music you don't do for the money, but it is nice if you can make people happy with your music. So far reactions have been very positive and BorkHavn also got some radio airplay already. But also the first reviews are coming in. I wanted to share this very nice review by the German Electronic Music club Schallwende with you. It was written by the CEO herself. It was originally in German, but it was translated to English here. The link to the original German version is here: https://www.synth.nl/reviews/borkhavn/1213-borkhavn-schallwende

Ron Boots & Synth.nl: - BorkHavn
It has taken eight long years and now she is finally here! "BorkHavn", the second collaboration of Ron Boots and Michel van Osenbruggen, better known in the EM-Scene as Synth.NL. This great record was created as a rough version during a relaxed family holiday of the Boots' and van Osenbruggens. During the day they enjoyed the beach life and the beautiful nature in Borkhavn, Denmark, and in the evening Ron & Michel "buried" themselves in the small improvised studio, which they had equipped with their brought along mini-equipment. Already the two thoroughbred musicians started to improvise. During these sessions I would have loved to listen and see ... Michel and Ron assure us that all the music on the present album was improvised live in this cottage.
The holiday together must have been musically very fertile for both of them, otherwise such an excellent record would not have come out. Unfortunately, the two of them withheld this jewel from us for many years and we were longing to find out whether and how things would continue after their joint debut in 2010 "Refuge En Verre". "Polished" and remixed in October and November 2020, the CD fortunately made it into this year's pre-Christmas season. "BorkHavn" is another ray of hope in these dark times of crisis, next to Electric Mud's "Quiet Days on Earth"- my CD of the year. (see my review in schalldruck No. 54.)
Of course the music doesn't sound Christmassy, quite the contrary! It is very powerful in many parts and sometimes even martial. In my head - even when listening to it several times - always the same film is playing: Erik "the Red" defeats the roaring sea after a hard fight and discovers Greenland with his Vikings. BorkHavn has become fantastic film music. Various musical variations such as melancholy, opulence, and gentleness, wonderfully expressed by a guitar in a minor key, staccato-beaten (snare) drums, as well as dreamlike, delicate piano playing, make the album something very special. This rhythmic interplay is a very interesting sound variation, which I have not heard so often.
In any case, both Michel and Ron, this time from a completely different musical side than before. Two EM giants have come together, whose music makes you want more! Chapeau, dear Ron and dear Michel!
For me, "BorkHavn" is an extremely cinematic consolation at the end of this bizarre year. Music on, head cinema on!
If you don't have this masterpiece yet, please add it to your wish list!
Tips on how to play: BorkHavn, Nordsøen, Torden, Gåpåmod
Sylvia Sommerfeld

More information and sales links for the album:



Wall-E DIY Project with Wifi (Part 2)

And then the display arrived. Time for some tesing. I also switched to an ESP32, since it has more CPU power and more Inputs and Outputs. I got the display working over SPI, but the library that I used didn't seem to be very stable. So I tested it on the ESP12 again and that worked fine. Hmmm what to do. I do need quite some IO to control everything. I planned on using an RGB led and that already takes up 3 Output pins alone. But first I decided to focus on writing the software to control the display. For the code it actually doesn't matter if it runs on an ESP32 or ESP12 so I could decide about that later. So first thing I did was watch some scenes from the Wall-E movie to determine what actually needed to be on the display.

And that also meant digging up some math knowledge. I used to be very good at math in school, but it is amazing how quickly you forget that stuff when you never actually use it. But I did need it because there is a Sun symbol on Wall-E's display and I could not load a bitmap or anything so I had to draw it with lines. And then you need a circle to begin with and then some line originating from the center in certain set angles where the starting point is further on the line. On the right you see that bit of code. Good old Sine and Cosine calculations :) Doesn't that feel like high school again. I did have to fiddle a bit with the scale because the resolution of the display isn't that high (128x128) so sometimes some lines just didn't look nice. But after some experimenting with values I was satisfied with the end result. And could focus on the rest. Next challenge was the bar that shows Wall-E's battery percentage and some text of course.

And here is the result that I managed to get. I think it looked quite OK comparing it to shots from the movie and actually comparing it to the sticker that was on Wall-E's chest. Also the bar is done with math and consists of rectangles. I decided that it should actually work so I made a function that I can feed a percentage and it draws the bar accordingly. You have to draw black rectangles to make the yellow ones disappear again by the way. I could not make the text fit by the way with the default fonts included in the library. So I had to create a custom font for that. Luckily there was an online website where I could do that. Ok enough for now more in the next part.

13 December 2020

Wall-E DIY Project with Wifi (Part 1)

My girlfriend and myself love gadget like I stated before. We especially like robots as well and Wall-E is one of our favorites. I started looking for a nice decent size Wall-E on E-bay but in good condition they are very expensive. So I eventually bought a broken one also missing the remote control that normally comes with it. So when it arrived the first thing I did was taking it apart to see what I could do with it. First thing I removed was the battery compartment since I planned to put it in our gadgets cabinet and it doesn't have to drive around. It will get a fixed power supply.

So I started measuring what the electronics still did but that wasn't much unfortunately. So I decided to cut all the wires and take out the electronics board. Then I slowly started to apply a low voltage to all the parts and see what still worked. It turns our the motors were still working. It had a motor to drive the wheels, but I don't need that like I said. But there is a second motor that moves the head and arms and that was neat and I wanted to use that. Second thing I found out is that it has lights in the eyes that light up blue. That of course is very cool. It had a speaker and sound board, so that brought me the idea to use the same mp3 player board I used in HAL9000 and get some sound from the movie Wall-E. On the chest Wall-E had a fake light that I thought would be cool to replace by an actual red led and also there was a sticker on his chest to represent a display. I thought how cool would it be to replace this by an actual Oled display! So I started looking for one with RGB color and in the right size and I found one :)

So now I had a plan. Time for action. First I took another ESP12 that I had and attached the MP3 player to it. I spend some time to sample audio from the movie and put the MP3s on the player. Luckily so far I could mainly use the software I already made for HAL9000. And I also put in OTA updating since I already had to take HAL9000 down once to update the firmware. I also put that in there. OTA means I can now update the firmware of the ESP12 over WiFi without having to attach it to the USB port of my computer. That is very handy and cool :) So now I had to wait for the display to arrive and also find something to drive the motor and the eyes. Soon more in Part 2.