Zynthian – an Open Synth Platform

So this MIDI thing keeps evolving.

The second revision of the LEGO Laser Harp is almost done and I was looking for a way to make it sound more like Jean-Michael Jarre. I found a site with lots of files related to his instruments including the Elka Synthex used on Rendez-Vous album.

Since ‘Yoshimi’ (and is ‘father’ ZynAddSubFX) is a software audio synth there is probably a way to configure it to generate the sounds of the Elka Synthex… but that’s not something I can do, would need to use other’s work (and found nothing, except that the file format is ‘.xiz’).

But that page had soundfonts. And since Fluidsynth and Timidity++ can use soundfonts I can use one of those soft synths instead of Yoshimi. But it would be like going back to the initial setup so I decided to try another option I already had found a few months ago: Zynthian.

Zynthian is based on the Raspberry Pi and is sold as a kit – a case, a few buttons or knobs, a sound card and a touchscreen. But it’s also ‘open’ so we can use it with our own devices and I already have the basic ingredients.

So I downloaded an image for my Raspberry Pi 4 and tried an headless setup with just a USB audio card. It worked… sort of… I could configure most of it from the browser except the “music instrument” itself, I needed to create a “layer” and choose a synth and couldn’t find how to do it from the browser.

I connected a screen to the HDMI port and a mouse to the USB port and used the GUI. And saved a ‘snapshot’ so I don’t need to do it again after a restart. And now it really works in headless mode.

I now have a MIDI synth that accepts ipMIDI over wi-fi and can use soundfonts. If this works good I might order a Hifiberry sound card and make a LEGO case for my Zynthian box.

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