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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    icon
    persona (profile), 13 Feb 2016 @ 11:02am

    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.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 13 Feb 2016 @ 11:16am

      Re: elitist ass

      The video says the ming can be used for "techno ritualistic summoning". Unleash a demon upon him.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Leigh Beadon (profile), 13 Feb 2016 @ 11:44am

      Re: elitist ass

      ....what? I just think it's a cool piece of tech, is all. Not sure what unresolved issues you are projecting here, but leave me out of it.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Hans Christian Anderhole, 13 Feb 2016 @ 11:07am

    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.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    ECA (profile), 13 Feb 2016 @ 2:18pm

    Hate to say this..

    But this doesnt even MATCH what the amiga could of/WAS able to do, in 1985..
    And I think you could get an Amiga 500 for about $50 NOW..
    And the C64 was doing long before in about 1980...
    only difference in the USB plugs..

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Leigh Beadon (profile), 13 Feb 2016 @ 2:56pm

      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.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        ECA (profile), 13 Feb 2016 @ 8:08pm

        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..

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • icon
          Leigh Beadon (profile), 13 Feb 2016 @ 8:40pm

          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.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • icon
          Leigh Beadon (profile), 13 Feb 2016 @ 8:45pm

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

          (And for the record, tracking down a working Atari 5200 is not easy nor necessarily cheap, and it doesn't look easy to get a 7800 for less than $150 either)

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • identicon
          Lawrence D’Oliveiro, 14 Feb 2016 @ 9:42pm

          Re: YOU MEAN FINDING A DB9 SERIAL TO MIDI IS HARD??

          Speaking as somebody who was around at the time, that’s DE-9, not “DB9”.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 13 Feb 2016 @ 3:48pm

    You are wrong

    You are wrong Leigh, it definitely needs to exist

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Rekrul, 13 Feb 2016 @ 4:40pm

    Am I the only one who watched the video and thought "Hey Leonard, where's Sheldon?"

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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