ETHERUS is my ultimate MIDI performance music controller based around arduino. It´s a dream come true after years of try an error and I am happy to explain you here some of its history.
Put your hands in the air:
Since I started digging in to DIY, my very first project was a simple Theremin.
I´ve been always fascinated by the fact that was one of the first synthesizers, created by Leon Theremin a visionary which was advanced to his time and that even tried to substitute the entire section of Strings (violins, cellos…) for his alien instrument… respect. Also the father of modern synthesizers Robert Moog made his first theremin while he was young, with his father as a magazine Kit of radio enthusiasts.
As soon as I knew of the invention wanted one, but again, it costed a lot. At the time all you could get was the Moog version, and some crappy kits all expensive… so built myself one.
Moving your hands around an electromagnetic field, or just light resistors, have a very fun effect in the performer, but also in the crowd… like magic…
It’s not the sound but the amount of FX I could do, it was very suitable for the kind of music I normally make. From sci-fi FX to sweeps up and down… But I got to a point where I felt I couldn’t get more out of it as my external effects units wont allow me to make many variations of the annoying monophonic sound.
Sorry to say “annoying” but the truth is I never intended to use my Theremin for orthodox music, I just played once a Happy birthday song in a friend´s birthday and they almost bit me to death. Also my first two devices didn´t even had a normal octave range that would allow you to play notes, so it was merely for FX´s.
At this time I managed to get my hands on a Nord Micro Modular, ou yes the perfect companion for my annoying monophonic friend. Now I could generate all sort of sounds with it, talking synths, vocoding, filtering, ring modulators and a long etc. I also built myself a patch that would do some basic envelope and frequency follower so I could automate parameters in the modular with the hands movements around the theremin at the same time than playing sounds… Very fun stuff.
Some of the patches I made where just triggering sort of scales I would have programmed in the Nord Modular, this started to give me ideas about playing scales… Rather than a continuous tone.
Rendez Vous – The laser Harp
I love classics, and I love Jean Michel Jarre, so… Once again, I started another project, this time the most time-consuming EVER, and the one which brought me finally in to the wonderful and codeful Microcontroller world…
I started the idea of building a MIDI laser harp back in 2008 when I moved to the UK. My knowledge about coding, Arduino or any thing alike was below 0, in fact I was refusing the idea of getting in to it, as I knew what was going to happen. Pandora’s Box Opening… And I´m a person with no existing concept of free time.
So my birthday came and (after talking about it for ever) my girlfriend bought me a microcontroller to make my own MIDI controller. With this device you didn´t have to program, you had 16 analog and 16 digital inputs wich would send MIDI values automatically. You could program to some extent the MIDI values to send, certain aspects of the pins state, but realistically it left me with no options very quick.
For me one main point in the Laser Harp was to be able to not just send MIDI notes, but also MIDI CC by moving your hands up and down, this would add another level of “expression” and usability to the available Laser harps around which would just trigger sounds for 20.000 dollars!!!! WTF yes please I want two!
I could achieve this just by using lasers, photo-cells and proximity sensors, at the time SHARP GP2D12. I knew the DBeam Roland system from my beloved MC-909 and this was what I was after. I could not use this with my microcontroller as they were logarithmic sensors, and were not supported in this platform… Anyway many ideas arise, left, the project got stock in some hardware issues aswell as I was using 8 individual Lasers and receptors, and ghost notes where everywhere.
The second main issue was that this device was USB MIDI compliant, very good but what about not using a computer? well the answer is simply not supported, I got a bit pissed off with the support of this board and decided to forget about it… just for now…
ETHER + Ultra Sound
So back in 2013 and after accomplishing some Arduino successes, I decided to get my hands in that “splinter” I had in my mind. The F***ING Laser Harp…
I made a whole redesign of the idea and hardware, simpler and more easy to carry. Where rather than using 8 beams for triggering 8 notes, you would trigger up to 128 notes with one hand, and controlling the volume with the other, as a Theremin does.
But this time I wanted to have the chance of using music Scales. Digging the web to find Binary scales, I managed to my hands in Arduino Sketches that were quite what I was after, just some tweaking and voila, but the truth is that I found many problems while interfacing with ultrasonic sensors.
Now you can play scales, control FX´s, trigger any event that allows MIDI automation.