Palm or similar as integrated sound control device

Rather than mucking around with Gumstix and stuff, the excellent Christian Blanchard runs his Orgautomatix from MIDI data and a MIDI reader on a Palm (pic here of the setup). Old Palms go for a tenner and the Z22 is around 70 quid at the moment. IttyMidi does a package including an old Palm (only 8MB) for 120USD, so that’s about 3.50€ ;o) There’s a group, PalmSounds, dedicated to handhelds and music. Old list of software here, but all I want is a controller.

David Marks has done something similar:

I too am building a midi organ which played its first basic tune today !. Mine is powered by a surplus blower fan I bought from Alan Pell and which I am driving with a bench grindstone motor. I built my own controller from a DIY MIdi website. It has at present 64 outputs but can easily be upgraded to 128. I have modified a Palm PDA cable to supply a midi output from a Palm M130 and use midi player software downloaded from the States.

128 outputs sounds useful. I assume you could also do that by banking two shrinkwrapped 64-output modules. But I am not an electrical engineer, or any genuine type of engineer for that matter.

I can’t really see the point of buying a proprietary MIDI controller like this one:

(Christian is also using the as the next link in the chain.)


D says re controlling barrel organ valves using MIDI:

Could probably do that very neatly using micro pc like a gumstix
No need for hard drive for midi files – use flash memory. Power it off solar/dynamo, probably.

Customer projects

Do I want something like this? You bet:

More random interesting stuff

Paper roll punching

I’ve been genuinely surprised by how many people are still using paper rolls to control their organs, and how many organs are still being produced for this technology. The means used to bridge the gap between electronic composition and paper device control are interesting–they remind me of what I think happened in (Italian?) textiles in the transition to full mechanisation. Midiboek “converts standard Midi files to templates for street organs, pianola’s, music boxes and so on” and MIDster PUNCH is “way to punch your own music rolls in any format directly from MIDI files.” I want direct MIDI control from hard disk, so I can’t say that I’d use any of them. But it’s all interesting stuff.

Magnificent French orgue de barbarie entertainer

He’s got a false arm, he’s a spoons virtuoso, he’s got a good hat, his monkey plays the violin. In short, a genius:


  1. He’s got a pole support and the organ strapped round his neck, like all the guys in Mexico DF. That’s fine, although I imagine it must cause back trouble, but I like to be able to jump and run about in order to inspire a slightly higher degree of fear in the public.
  2. I’m slightly puzzled by the machinery. If he’s got his books spilling all over the place his replacement bill must be rather high. And I can’t figure out what’s going on inside when the front case opens. Are those more puppets inside? The monkey-violin effect must be digital, so is there actually any conventional machinery at all? Whatever, I need to look at more organ innards.
  3. We tend to associate the French with accordeons, but in fact their (related) barrel organ tradition (ah! French engineering!) is far more glorious, and to my mind superior to what those cunning Dutch and Germans get up to.
  4. Who is this man? What’s the rest of his show like?

“Orgue de Barbarie”

What with QEI having sent an organ to the Turk, it’s only right that the French have their organs come from Barbary. Wikipédia says:

L’explication la plus répandue de son nom viendrait d’une déformation d’« orgue de Barberi », d’après le fabricant italien de Modène, Giovanni Barbieri (début du XVIIIe siècle), mais selon d’autres opinions il vient plutôt du fait que les joueurs du XVIIe siècle et XVIIIe siècle « baragouinaient un français approximatif et qu’ils venaient “d’ailleurs” ».

Une autre hypothèse est une provenance du Maghreb. En effet à cet époque-là, le Maghreb était appelé la « Barbarie » par les Européens. Pour les « vrais » musiciens, les « amateurs » qui se contentaient de tourner une manivelle venaient voler comme des barbares leur musique et leur gagne-pain. Toutefois, l’usage veut que l’on écrive Barbarie avec une majuscule.

Le nom orgue est masculin au singulier, et au pluriel, lorsqu’il désigne plusieurs instruments distincts. Il peut être utilisé au féminin pluriel lorsqu’il s’agit d’un seul instrument. Exemple : les grands orgues de France (plusieurs instruments), le grand orgue de Notre-Dame, ou les grandes orgues de Notre-Dame (un seul instrument). Cette particularité ne s’applique pas aux orgues de Barbarie, pour lesquels on conserve le masculin.

To close the circle, here’s Mozart’s Turkish March (slightly tweaked) played on a Odin Barbary organ:

Bert Gilbert and his Eagle

This is not Bert Gilbert, the actor, wife-beater and adulterer (although possibly solely for the purposes of the decree nisi) who starred as ‘Arry Wilkins in the 1906 demonstration at the Hippodrome of the effects of The flood on London, of which was wrote:

Three hundred thousand gallons of water sweep away the bridges, pull down the houses, and float away everything that will float; while terrified horses and oxen dash down the hillside and plunge into the lake; and men and women are swimming for their lives. A very exciting five minutes, and a very clever piece of invention.

I wonder what scene ii was like.

No, indeed, this is Bert Gilbert, teacher, barrel organ man, drummer and singer, and an altogether more peaceful soul:

Points of interest:

  • Bert’s haircut.
    I’m going to invest in a few more wigs, but skinheads are natural organgrinders, politico-culturally speaking.
  • The paintwork, details [link do malware site deleted]. Bert writes that “these organs are normally painted in a fairly classical fashion. Sometimes they get a one-colour paint job, and the typical German organs often have flower motifs. I ordered my organ unpainted and in collaboration with [Bas van Duyvenbode at] Airbrush Workshop The Dovecot it has acquired its own identity. The organ is called ‘The Eagle’ so that it is only normal that the bird can be found on it.”
    A popular old organ tune is the Austro-Hungarian military march Unter dem Doppeladler, Under the double eagle, which will no doubt go down well in those parts of Catalonia where people still long for a Hapsburg dynasty. I know a few scenery painters here who might do this sort of job. The cabinetmaker is likely to be more of a problem, but I’m not yet sure what kind of cabinet I want anyway, as Mariano Rajoy said to the undertaker.
  • The innards, by Deleika.
    They look shipshape, but I want control from a generic chopped up laptop instead of Deleika’s no doubt excellent proprietary memory storage device. This is to give myself more musical flexibility (I’m writing the arrangements and want to be able to fool around as I proceed) and more (non-musical) input and output options, including stuff like infra-red movement inputs and the mechanical puppets output control I keep going on about. I respect [link do malware site deleted] Bert’s faith in cardboard books, but I need to keep weight down if I’m going to ride around with everything on a bicycle.
  • 20 notes. On the one hand that’s clearly not enough. On the other, part of the charm of writing for barrel organ is coping with the limitations of the medium. (When everyone still used cardboard books and music was sold by the metre, you had to be careful with arrangements to avoid stuff like diagonal lines of holes that could cause book tears.) Hmm.