I ask you: what is the foundation for rhythmic electronic music? I suggest that the humble step-sequencer is the backbone of many of today’s musical genres and memetic evolutions. To have electronic rhythm, you need to start with a clock and go from there, dividing it into fractions and multiples. Then start assigning sounds to those divisions and you’re pretty much there- techno is happening.

I’ve been working on prototyping a sequencer-synth and in doing research, I’ve come across numerous projects that tackle this idea with great enthusiasm. Because a sequencer can drive any type of electronics, projects tend to fall into two categories: audio, or visual. Additionally, I’m seeing two main drivers for the sequence itself: the nimble arduino, and the CMOS 4017 Decade counter IC. I’ll survey here some of the finished projects to give an idea of what’s possible. Come with me, won’t you, on an exploration of the world of DIY sequencers.

First up, a few excellent audio sequencers:

basic arduino sequencer from nikolaosh on Vimeo.

This “basic arduino sequencer” by Nikolaosh is undeniably fun. Looks like four potentiometers controlling software synth parameters, with the Arduino doing the sequencing as well. Basic, but effective nonetheless. You can see more details and grab the code here.

BeatSequencer 1.0 from Kamil Garbacz on Vimeo.

This “Beatsequencer” by Kamil Garbacz also uses Arduino to drive a matrix of LEDs. Looks like the top row indicates the position of the step, while the bottom 3 rows indicate on/off status for the beep assigned to that row. A matrix of switches turns each step on and off, 808-style. It’s a very compact design with a minimal interface, but it seems to work.

cigarduino punk console from frogstar on Vimeo.

This “Cigarduino Punk Console” from frogstar has a lot of great elements- nice pulsewave synthesis from the Arduino and a fun cigar-box case. It’s a little light on the LEDs though- don’t we all like our sequencers to have big banks of LEDs pusling through their paces?

In the 4017 category, we’ve got this nice little box from Note!. It nicely marries the Atari Punk console to the 4017 running as a 4-step sequencer. Good glitchy tones get put through their paces.

This sequencer from 9volts really opens up the possibilities here- he’s using the 4017 synched to a drum sampler, triggering circuit-bent devices and controlling gating and filtering. That’s what I’m talkin’ about right there.

Visual sequences:

PAN PC + 555 + 4017 from h.cosas on Vimeo.

This experiment from h.cosas uses the 4017 to drive an LCD display with interesting results. Dig those color bars!

This LED pattern sequencer by WootsPC is very nice to look at- this should give you an idea of what can be done with a basic sequencer, some LEDs, and an eye for animation.

What I take away from all of these projects is the idea that a sequencer can drive pretty much anything, and the most fun and interesting projects lie not in the sequencer itself, but in what is driven by the sequencer.

I’d really like to see someone who combines these LED animations with a good sounding, nicely-interfaced sequenced synth that’s syncable to MIDI clock input, but I think I might have to build that one myself- I’m working on my own like-minded project, and I’ve realized I’ve got a ways to go before I’ll be satisfied with the results. In case you’re curious, here’s my little project as of two weeks ago. I’ve made some modifications since then, but you get the basic idea.

Is anyone else working on a sequencer project? Please post it in the comments and tell us what how it’s coming along.

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  • http://rekkerd.org ronnie

    Loving the 9volts one. Here's a nice little 16 step-seq drum box (not by me) that I noticed on ebay the other day: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wIWm5DnXsb0

  • http://www.recompas.com Travis

    I designed a simple little decade counter + 555 clock based sequencer, the voice of saturn seq…i think its been mentioned on the blog. The 4017 is a super little chip, and adding extra clocking options, sync to midi, etc, really isn't too terribly difficult. I think for our next version though, we are going to go with a micro-processor based solution to enable things like random step selection, midi clocking, and other features.

    videos and such:

  • http://www.glacialcommunications.com Sam Harmon

    I've been working on an Arduino-driven multipurpose sequencer for a while now – it's eight steps and has MIDI output (including sync), as well as a PWM "CV"/Gate output, which with the flip of a switch become a special drum mode for output to analog percussion modules. I've got a poorly shot & narrated video of the drum mode here, and the code is here.

  • http://www.myspace.com/nayseven nay-seven

    cool idea to group all this project !
    for my part , i am also intereseted in hardware sequence but i try to use what i have yet and here is a try with the BCR2000 :

  • http://www.myspace.com/nayseven nay-seven

    doh !
    seems my link disapear…;-)
    so here again..sorry

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  • http://www.aomalley.org Andrew OMalley

    Slightly on topic of light sequencers, I'm working on a modular lighting installation; while the light sequences are pre-programmed, they are influenced by motion sensors in the gallery space:


    I plan to add audio sensing in the future.

    Love the blog; cheers from Ottawa, Canada,

  • http://una-love.com Michael Una

    Nice one, Andrew. What are you using to drive the sequences?

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  • http://hackingbynight.wordpress.com/ 9volts

    thanks for featuring my video on your blog … more info about the sequencer and other circuit bending projects on my blog http://hackingbynight.wordpress.com/-...

  • http://www.aomalley.org Andrew OMalley


    Thanks for checking the vid. The sequence is preprogrammed into a microcontroller, but the speed and colour are determined by motion sensors in the gallery. It's part of a modular installation platform I'm developing.

    The sequence could also be defined by the external sensors but I haven't actually experimented w/ that aspect yet.

    I'll keep you in the loop as things progress.


  • jo

    Hi all, this is a great site!
    I've built a ArduinoPoweredMoodlamp http://nejo0017.wordpress.com/2008/11/03/arduino-
    and am very interested in getting sound in the controller. I just don't know if there is enough power in the ATmega168 to calculate all the fourier expansions for discrete frequency values…

    Maybe I'll have to take a laptop with flash/ or processing software running.

    Regards from Germany,

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  • http://islam-basic.blogspot.com ibnu fulan

    You are not the average blog writer, man. You definitely have something powerful to add to the World Wide Web. Such a special blog. I’ll revisit again for more.

  • http://roompainter.com/ residential painting

    Excellent Post, but this has nothing to do with dog fencing.