Awesome Stuff: Beyond Chiptunes

from the now-that's-cool dept

My criteria for the projects in these posts is simple: I look for things that make me say “hey, that’s pretty awesome,” whether or not I’m entirely sure if they need to exist. But once in a while something makes me say “hey, that’s really awesome” even though it definitely doesn’t “need” to exist, and the Ming Micro 8-bit video synthesizer is one of those cases.

Chiptunes are fuelled by a kind of sonic nostalgia: the desire to take the infectious bleeps and bloops of old 8-bit game consoles and use them to create new compositions. Off in another part of the music world there’s the video DJs, using high-end live editing equipment and advanced visualization algorithms to mix and modify images alongside the music. The Ming Micro brings the two together: it’s a real-time chip graphics engine built on a compact Arduino board. What does a “chip graphics engine” do? Well, in short, it’s a visual synthesizer:

Awesome, right? The Ming Micro is entirely controlled by MIDI, the standard language used for music devices and synthesizers. It hijacks the channels normally used for bending notes and altering synth parameters and applies them to live-generated visuals which it outputs in NTSC video at 240p — the completely authentic look of retro consoles. MIDI is widespread and highly customizable, meaning the Ming can be controlled with knobs and sliders, “played” on a piano, and even integrated into a larger MIDI music workflow to interact with instruments. It even includes some basic chiptunes synthesis of its own, with a pair of square-wave generators and a noise generator.

It’s not just for producing abstract dances of garbled pixels (though it’s entirely capable of that) — it can incorporate loadable graphics packs from an SD card. The graphics can be built from scratch, even in something as simple as Notepad, since they are stored in a special ASCII-art format, and then they can even be modified and re-written live via MIDI. The possibilities are pretty much endless.

Now, in fact, the Ming Micro isn’t the first device to do this — it’s actually a successor to the Ming Mecca, which is even more powerful. But there’s a critical difference: while the Mecca clocks in at close to a thousand bucks, the Micro is a mere $200. Essentially, it’s the engine from the heart of the Mecca — rather than coming with a massive pre-designed control panel, it’s just the synthesis unit, ready to be plugged in to just about any MIDI device and/or a PC. (The “or” is worth noting: the Micro can do lots of stuff all by itself without ever touching a USB port, but the associated control app unlocks a whole lot of more advanced functions and settings). The low price point makes it available to a whole world of creators who probably weren’t in the market for a $900 Mecca, and I’m excited to see what they do with it.

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Comments on “Awesome Stuff: Beyond Chiptunes”

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12 Comments
persona (profile) says:

elitist ass

Wow! Great job, Mr. Neckbeard Elitening McAsscrack. Your criteria for awesomeness is so godlike that you apparently deem all other chiptune, hell, all other musical artists to hell. Congratulations on your idiotic hipster opinion, hopefully the internets will explode out of a unicorns butt and your egotistical opinion will disappear forever. Our future depends on it! According to you, nothing else is good enough to exist! Ooooh-noooos, neckbeardmagneticmirrorwavesofmillenialdickdom!

Seriously, stop with the neckbeard elitist shitposts. Drop the lame.

Hans Christian Anderhole says:

Do it in software! Dammit!

The capbilities of this box are exceeded by almost any computer made in the last thirty years, including phones with usb support. Why make dedicated hardware device whose function is duplicable by any Apple ][, Atari 800 or Commodore 64?

Also, I’d like to give myself a shout out for what I think is a pretty amusing fictitious name.

Leigh Beadon (profile) says:

Re: Hate to say this..

Where are you finding Amiga 500s for $50? Don’t forget, you need the MIDI expansion unit too. And how much work/knowledge/software do you estimate it would take to integrate it into a modern MIDI workflow as a graphics generator controlled by the CC and Pitch Bend channels, compared to this plug-and-play device?

I’m not trying to be a jerk but, it just seems weird to point out that a machine whose explicit purpose is to reproduce vintage technology is… reproducing vintage technology. Of course it’s not doing anything an Amiga couldn’t – that’s the entire point.

ECA (profile) says:

Re: Re: Hate to say this..

YOU MEAN FINDING A DB9 SERIAL TO MIDI IS HARD??
And Plug and play dont work well, without a program..there are TONS of them for the amiga..and direct programming is/was simple…
WOW, didnt realize the Amiga is so collectible..$200+..
Oh well, go with the Com64, atari 5200 and 7200…all designed with Midi..

Leigh Beadon (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Hate to say this..

Plug and play dont work well, without a program

When something is preconfigured to use the same MIDI channels output by a massive array of control boards ranging from incredibly cheap to the highest-end of professional gear, plug and play actually does work quite well.

But anyway… Yes, I acknowledge that you could do everything this board does with a wide variety of vintage computers, and also with the proper software on a modern computer. You could also do everything this board does with… this board. Your call, really. It’s still a cool device.

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