I've always been a big fan of drum machines. Owned a DR-5 for over a decade and enjoyed the hell out of using it on lots of (unreleased) tracks. I've always wanted to buy another one, but the pricing always seemed to put even low-end models soundly outside of my range.
I still recorded drums, but it ended up being more of soft drums (either already with my DAW, or purchased separately). Assign a VST, drag in some generic MIDI pattern, and you've got yourself a reasonably sounding backing drum with little effort.
Time passed, and the "Maker Revolution" arrived in the guise of the Arduino. It, along with it's slightly larger (and far more user friendly) cousin, the Raspberry PI. The movement spawned a lot of imitators, as well as megatons of parts and accessories.
Thoughts of creating my very own drum machine surfaced. Ideas sketched out and quickly discarded. In the meantime, awesome projects like the bleep drum seemed to pop up everywhere.
I knew I wanted something, but, I didn't exactly know what I wanted it to look like. It's difficult to start when you have no idea what you want it to eventually be.
I think I was browsing synthtopia one day when I run smack into the Vermona. It was love at first sight. Here was something that could produce all sorts of drum sounds, and had lots of knobs to roll and tweak to your heart's content.
My initial look at the device wasn't exactly what I was looking for. Close, but not exactly. However, it did give me a pretty good template idea to work from.
Using Vermona as a "idea template", the project finally started gelling together. So, several big concepts are in play now. I think of it more as a "analog sequencer" (like the SAM-16) than a formal drum machine.
- User-selectable BPM, between 60 and 120.
- 8 knobs across. Each knob is a 1/8th note. The higher the turn, the louder the note. All the way down and no sound is produced while all the way up is the loudest.
- Device has x channels. One for bass drum, another for snare. Further expansion will allow for more instruments, like second snare on the Vermona
- Due to constraints, no sound generating capabilities of it's own. It will just send MIDI events out into a DAW or other device for generating noise
Yep, pretty crappy pics done in a rush, but here's the overall concept laid out.
Revision 1 (4x2) will be a quick, proof-of-concept build. In it, I'll be able to get the wiring ideas down, physical knob positions, as well as all of the tricky math involved. It will also be a test bed on getting the correct MIDI events sent down the pipe.
I actually did Revision 1 about two years ago, but managed to tear it apart in the interim and use the components for other projects. It worked, but wasn't pretty doing so. Since the code escaped, I'll be rebuilding it from scratch to get the method to the madness.
Revision 2 (8x2) will expand on the idea. More inputs, slightly different math to handle the beat quantization. BPM display and MIDI will stay the same.
Eventually, by the end of it, I'll have something approaching a 16x3 board. Selectable BPM, active display, and MIDI out to a DAW or other drum machine. Some work has already been done, hooking up batches of potentiometers and getting the MUX coding handled, but there's still a lot of steps to go until there's something usable.
I'll be keeping this site updated as this thing progress.
The only thing I like better about projects is project names. You can tell a lot about something by what it's named. For this project, I'll be going with Project Shango.
Shango is the African God of storms...
...He was long ago elevated to the ORISHAS after a glorious career as fourth King and warrior hero of the Yoruba. Now he bangs the drum for his people and plays rolling rhythms on his storm clouds.