Setting up a headless M8, day 1

Let’s get M8 Headless working

So, I always buy little gadgets with every intention of using them, but very rarely do. This is shameful, but then much I what I do is shameful.

Having seen the Dirtywave M8 on some Youtube channels I follow, I decided I wanted one, but also decided that I wasn’t worth the $550 + shipping and presumably duties, so opted for the ‘headless’ version, knowing full well that, as for most of my gadgets, there is a large amount of learning headroom available on cheap clones before I could ever blame to tool. If it sounds like I’m being overly self-critical, you’re probably right – it’s the mood I’m in today. We’ll just have to ride it out.

What is an M8? Do you know what a Tracker is? You know, music thing from the early 90s, started out on the Amiga, then became a format in its own right? Normally four tracks of rather bit-crunched samples played back with pitch shifting and that’s about it. Very fun sounding, rather constrained, but a very large corpus of tunes. High-energy techno is most common. Well, the M8 is a ‘hardware’ portable device realisation of this idea, but mixes in a minimalist interface strongly inspired by a music utility called LSDJ for Gameboy. All packaged up with a screen, batteries, etc. But it also adds an addition four tracks, FM synthesis, effects, exporting/rendering of output, midi input and output. Pretty amazing. But like I say, $550 and additionally rare as hen’s teeth because they’re made in super low numbers by an indie producer. Of course $550 is not a lot to pay for a musical device, but it is a lot for me, someone whom uses a $1 cable to charge his phone and used a soldering iron to fix his $5 Christmas lights.

What is the alternative? I put the first mention of hardward in quotes because it is of course largely a bit of software. In this case, it runs on something called he Teensy 4.1. This is a small development board with oodles of input and output pins that is basically an Arduino on steroids. It has a USB interface which powers the device and apparently also exposes a sound device as output. The software (actually firmware, depending on semantics) is available for free from the author on GitHub. It incorporates a bunch of other Open Source stuff so this is a very righeious thing to do, so I will of course throw the chap some coin or more probably a hoody/t-shirt if I end of spending more than a few hours with this.

There’s apparently a GUI for Windows and Mac, and something that works with Raspberry Pi the will show the lo-fi interface on your PC instead of using the hardware. So, we’re basically looking at a brain-in-a-box version of the device, and not using the many other input/outputs on the microcontroller to drive the screen, read the buttons, talk MIDI etc. etc. Seems like a reasonably compromise. The device looks awesome, don’t get me wrong, but it is normally on desks full of other devices being used by people whom know what they’re doing. That’s not me.

Moving on.

Following these instructions, I purchase a Teensy 4.1 (from Amazon – sorry) and an SD card. Yes, I have several, but they’re being used for other stuff.

To be continued (when I have had some sleep.)