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February 25, 2005

Intelligent MIDI sequencing with hamster control

Cornell student Levy Lorenzo created this three note polyphonic MIDI sequencer. Each channel has two hamsters, one controls the melody and one controls the rhythm.

Hamster MIDI project page includes a full report (pdf), audio, and video of the hamsters in action.


This project was initially fueled by the desire to explore the MIDI protocol. It was decided that this would be accomplished by building a MIDI device. I also aimed to make something novel that had never been done before. But to balance out the unusual nature of its design, I wanted to also to create something that was very musical.After much consideration of different technical design aspects and contemplating various musical ideas, I was able to arrive at a project that would fulfill all of my musical and engineering goals.An intelligent MIDI sequencer was designed with hamster control. The MIDI sequencer intelligently produced melodies by manipulating the musical elements of rhythm and note-choice. Guided by inputs based on hamster movements, Markov chains were used to perform such beat and note computations. In culmination, 3 simultaneous voices were produced spanning 3 octaves and 3 rhythmic tiers. Each voice was controlled by two hamsters: one that was responsible for adjusting the rhythmic qualities of the melody and another that modified the note sequence. With all of these elements in combination, an output was produced with very musical qualities.All of this was implemented using an Atmel Mega32 microcontroller, distance sensors, a HamsterMIDI Controller, and 6 hamsters. Embedded C programming implemented the algorithms and computations within the sequencer.Overall, this project was successful. The control between the hamsters and the musical intelligence turned out very well. The music sounds as good as I imagined, and I am very satisfied with the outcome of my design experience.

[Via Loren, via Music Thing.]


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but do the hamsters have groupies?

Ho hum. It's been done.

Ewing: Thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you. Ladies and gentlemen. I have in this box twenty-three white mice. Mice which have been painstakingly trained over the past few years, to squeak at a selected pitch. (he raises a mouse by its tail) This is E sharp...and this one is G. You get the general idea. Now these mice are so arranged upon this rack, that when played in the correct order they will squeak 'The Bells of St Mary's'. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you on the mouse organ 'The Bells of St Mary's'. Thank you.

(He produces two mallets. He starts stritu'ng the mice while singing quietly 'The Bells of St Mary's. Each downward stroke of the mallet brings a terrible squashing sound and the expiring squeak. It is quite clear that he is slaughtering the mice. The musical effect is poor. After thefirst few notes people are shouting 'Stop it, stop him someone, Oh my God'. He cheerfully takes a bow. He is hauled off by the floor manager. He comes back and has a few more 'hits' before being dragged off again.)

One thing I can tell you about Hamsters:

DO NOT feed them Velveeta! While they look real holding small chunks of the golden ingot in their little hamster hands, they will, an hour or so afterwards, start to shake and tip over dead.

SB (it's been done)


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