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By Steven Barile
$31,902 pledged of $40,000 goal
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All or nothing. This project will only be funded if it reaches its goal by .

About this project

(more videos throughout)

What is The NDLR...

The NDLR is for anybody who loves making music but finds themselves staring at their keyboards not knowing what to play. It is a new MIDI device that defines a new place in your synth studio. It fits between your sequencer and keyboard controllers and your sound modules. It keeps your oscillators busy by playing sequences of notes over several MIDI channels so you can keep your fingers busy tweaking patches and twisting knobs!

The promise of The NDLR: multiple synthesizers playing notes and chord changes at the same time, in time and in key. The initial idea evolved into playing up to four independent parts: a drone note, bass line, pad notes, and a motif sequence, simultaneously. 

The NDLR can play up to eight synthesizers via MIDI. It can independently send...

  • a bass line to one synth.
  • an arpeggiated sequence to your favorite lead synth.
  • chord notes of a selectable range and position to up to four synthesizers by using "interleaved poly-chaining".
  • a drone note targeting those exotic evolving synths. 
  • a transposed MIDI pass-through. Transposes from the key of “C” on your favorite external sequencer or keyboard controller into the current chord notes.

A ring of seven buttons enables playing any chord degree directly. When shifted, the same buttons allow you to pick chord types: triads, 7ths, 9ths, and suspensions, etc. The sonorities of these chords, major, minor, diminished... are automatically selected based on the chord degree and the key and mode chosen.

All the above mentioned technical details melt away while playing The NDLR. But we quickly realized while developing those features that keeping songs fresh with ever changing patterns and chord progressions is vital. In Keyboard Control mode, the chord degree and chord type can be selected externally by a KB or sequencer. The notes played by the KB or sequencer become the root note of the chords that The NDLR plays. 

The eight encoder knobs enable you to vary the sequences, rhythms, densities and range of notes. There are also three LFOs and two randomizers that can be assigned in the 8x modulation matrix to most of the parameters of The NDLR or to external MIDI CCs. This ensures that in addition to the motion of your synth patches there can also be an automated chord progression and modulation of The NDLR parameters. See the specifications below for more details.

We stuffed all this into one box that's easy to use and fun to play. It's an easy choice for anybody who loves making electronic music and wants to tweak knobs on their otherwise silent synthesizers. So please support this Kickstarter project now.

Signs of Life: Here is the first bread board version of The NDLR. 

The NDLR - bread board version 1
The NDLR - bread board version 1

The NDLR in it's Natural Environment:
The hand wired NDLR prototype. Playing up to 8 synths, transposing KB input, and being chord-sequenced while staying in time and key! 

The NDLR - With Friends
The NDLR - With Friends

 Watch Steve give a breakdown of The NDLR functionality.

The User Interface:
The NDLR is easy to use with all options clearly printed on the face plate. 

The NDLR - Face Plate Graphics (as of 9-3-17)
The NDLR - Face Plate Graphics (as of 9-3-17)

 

The NDLR - Main Screen (as of 9-3-17)
The NDLR - Main Screen (as of 9-3-17)


We developed a one-knob-per-value single layer menu system. Enter menu mode by pressing the Menu button under the screen. Pressing on any of the 8 encoders will choose the corresponding menu. These menus are shown below. The first menu is replicated 4 times for the eight Mod-Matrix slots, and correspond to the left 4 encoders. The last four menus correspond to the right 4 encoders. They are: 1) LFOs & Randomizers, 2) MIDI Channels, 3) System Settings 1, & 4) System Settings 2. Each menu has 8 options aligning to the encoders for direct input.

The NDLR - Menu System (as of 9-3-17)
The NDLR - Menu System (as of 9-3-17)

The usage flow of The NDLR is quite simple. Press PAD, BASS & MOTIF buttons to start them playing, twist the knobs to tweak the arps, press a chord button to change the chord or chord type. 

NDLR Use Flow
NDLR Use Flow

Notes: User interface as of 9-3-17, minor changes may be required. 
The NDLR is USB powered, USB cable included. You supply the USB power brick.

The NDLR 1st PCB: Here is the first rev of the PCB, it works flawlessly! We stuffed the through hole components and built up the prototypes.

The NDLR - 1st PCB stuffed
The NDLR - 1st PCB stuffed

 

 For the support of our spouses and special friends that really help us gain some momentum with this project, THANKS! 

Paul for his help with electrical engineering design and board layout consultation!
Kelly for his help with G-code creation and the use of his CNC mill!
Andy for his vector file tips and clean-up and vinyl printing and cutting!

Shout-out to some of our inspirations:  
Nick and the guys at Sonic State, love your reviews and Sonic Talk!
Dave of Notes and Volts, our original inspiration for this project. 
Paul at PJRC.COM, for a great development platform and libraries.Cuckoo, lookin' at you through the mirror.Burg, ollilaboratories endless synth jams while we work.Volt Divers and Cult of Volt artists thanks for the fun nights in PDX.PDX Craigslist, we bought all your synths, and we had to lie about it.

The NDLR Specs…  

Physical Layout:

  • Dims: Size 9.2” x 6.2” 
  • 1 Color LCD Screen 1.8” (128x160) 
  • 8 Rotary Encoders 
  • 7 Chord Buttons 
  • 3 Pause/Play Buttons 
  • 1 Pad / Bass Toggle Button 
  • 1 Shift & 1 Menu Button 
  • 1 Recessed Firmware Update Button (upgrades via USB)   

Physical Input/Output: 

  • 2x MIDI 5-Pin Inputs (A & B) 
  • 1x MIDI 5-Pin Outputs 
  • 1x MIDI USB In/Out + Power   

MIDI-in Options: 

  • Selectable “Transpose-In” MIDI channel - transposes from the key of “C” to the current NDLR key & mode. NDLR passes transposed Note-On/Off events to the same MIDI out channel number. 
  • Selectable “Keyboard Control-In” MIDI channel – translates Note-On messages to play chords. Notes “C” to “B” (white keys) map to chord degrees I-VII. Optionally black keys can choose the chord type (triad, 5th, 6th, 7th, 9th sus2, & sus4). Sonority is automatic based on key & mode. 
  • Selectable MIDI-through for unused MIDI-out channels from MIDI-in A & B. “Transpose-In” & “Keyboard Control-In” MIDI channels can be from any MIDI-in port (USB/5pin).  

MIDI-out Options: 

  • Selectable Drone MIDI-out channel (Off, Pad, 1-16). Pad choice means same as Pad channel. 
  • Selectable Pad MIDI-out channel (1-16). Polychains play on next successive MIDI-out channel(s). Example: Pad MIDI-out ch = 4. Polychain = 1 – all pad notes on ch 4. Polychain = 2 – every two notes plays on channels 4/5. Polychain = 4 – every 4 notes plays on channels 4/5/6/7. If you are playing 6 notes with Polychain = 2, note1->ch4, note2->ch5, note3->ch4, note4->ch5, note5->ch4, etc. 
  • Selectable Bass MIDI-out channel (1-16). 
  • Selectable Motif MIDI-out channel (1-16).  

Arpeggio / Note Options: 

  • Drone – none, root note of current chord. Changes with chord play.
  • Pad – (Note) Position, (Note) Range, and (Note) Density (notes derived from chord degree, chord type, key, & mode). Scrolling the position will invert chords automatically. All 3 adjustments will turn notes on and off, useful for awesome soundscapes. 
  • Bass – 20 (Note) Patterns, predefined chord-note sequences, 6 (Arp) Variants (up, down, up & down, up & down repeat, interleaved, random), Clock Division (whole note, ½ note, ¼ note, 1/8 note, 1/16note, 1/32 note).
  • Motif – 40 (Note) Patterns, 6 (Arp) Variants, 34 (Time) Rhythms – predefined note value sequences, 10 (Octave) Positions, 8 (Velocity) Accents – ¼ note upbeat, ¼ note downbeat, 5x 1/8 note variations…, (Arp) Length, 8 (Time) Offset – 1/8 note offsets from downbeat.  
  • The modes include all 7 standard modes plus: major and minor pentatonic, Hungarian, and tonic 2,3,4,6 (movable chord centers). This is not a complete list we are still considering others. Feel free to let us know what you'd like to see.

Menu Options: (see image for all options) 

  • Pad, Bass, Motif velocities (0-127).   

Preset Save/Load Support: 

  • 7 slots (details TBD).   

Modulation: (work in progress) 

  • Probability knob – (assigned to Bass note velocity steps, TBD).
  • 5 Sources: 3 LFOs – Rate (0.1 – 20Hz free running, 4 bars - 1/8 note sync), Wave Shape (Sin, Tri, Sqr, Pulse, S&H) and 2 Randomizers. 
  • Destinations: most all parameters + selectable MIDI-out channel for 127 CC’s (0-127 values) 
  • 8 slot mod matrix - Src, Dest, Amount, and Offset. 

MIDI CC control: (work in progress)

  • Most all parameters will be CC addressable.

Clock (sync): 

  • Internal clock (10-300 BPM), 24 ticks/beat.
  • External clock-in on MIDI-in A, B or USB.

Risks and challenges

There are always risks in manufacturing electronics in volume.

The photos above are of the most recent versions. We have plans for some changes to the prototype board, for instance moving the CPU to the main board. The face plate is currently 1/8" plexi-glass, with plans for silk screening: black background with 3 color text and graphic treatments. We have only made vinyl printed versions so far.

Even though we have over 50 years combined experience in the electronics industry, this is our first time sending our own product through the manufacturing process without the backing of a giant chip manufacturing company. This is the first musical instrument device we have produced. We are confident that our experienced team of consultants will help us catch any issues.

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