Steal This Thought: NES Cart to MIDI Pan Flute

NES wind controller

So. In the course of getting hopelessly lost on wikipedia’s Esotericism category, I got thinking about what superstitious beliefs I hold or held when I was younger. Specifically, what suburban folk wisdom got chucked around before the advent of the internet and we all became part of the same hive mind of captioned photos and bad advice. That is, what was my natural religious practice before I started worshipping the Intertubes?

Like you, I spent a lot of time blowing into Nintendo cartridges when the damn things stopped working. We weren’t sure exactly why (invisible dust?) but somehow if you blew on the cart right or you blew in the slot right, you fixed the game and got to play. There’s an obvious sexual metaphor here but that’s not where my mind wandered to. Instead I started thinking about how cool it would be if all that blowing actually did something.

Hence, why not tear the guts out of an old NES cart and make it into some sort of screwed up digital pan flute? Conceptually, it seems like it’d work. 3-5 mics or piezos installed in the bottom of the cart, each one routed to a threshold gate that only sends a signal on if it is strong enough (ie: mic directly blown on). This signal would go on to trigger a sample or send a MIDI signal determined by which button is pushed.

Breath -> Mic -> Gate +Button Input -> Signal to Tone Generator/Sample Player -> Amp

To keep it simple, maybe the notes would not be a simple progression (A, B, C, etc) but would be notes in a desired scale or chords, thereby reducing the pan-flutish tendencies of such an instrument. What the world truly does not need is an electrified pan flute. Eff that.

A more ambitious build would split off the original mic input, amp it and mix it back in to the resulting audio to give it presence/distortion. But I have no clear idea how to do this simply, let alone ambitiously.

What’s up top is the 5 minute Photoshop mockup. I sketched it out on a post-it and on half an index card in a pub after work but I’m too lazy to scan it in right now.

Any idea what a threshold gate would correspond to in actual electronic parts? I figure it’d be some kind of capacitor that would only send on a current if it reached a certain value. If you’re reading this and you’re smarter than me, feel free to build it and hog all the sweaty geek admiration for yourself.  Just tell me how you did it.

Edit: Now I’m thinking Arduino in the middle to send MIDI from data gathered by a breath sensor (piezo).  Stay tuned.

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