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Enjoy Never-ending Breakbeats Courtesy of Raspberry Pi Pico

Tod Kurt's Raspberry Pi Pico breakbeat generator
(Image credit: Tod Kurt)

Looking for some chilled beats to work to? Prolific tinkerer Tod Kurt, also known as Todbot, has you covered with an RP2040-based system that uses CircuitPython to mash up breakbeat samples, including the famous Amen break that started it all, into a never-ending background thump. The story comes via Hackster, and there's code on Github for those who like to roll their own.

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The system works with any RP2040 board, such as the Raspberry Pi Pico, using its PWM (Pulse Width Modulation) pins to generate audio signals. Kurt chose to base the project on Adafruit's ItsyBitsy RP2040. The code chooses random WAV files from a curated list of samples, and uses CircuitPython’s AudioMixer object to mix them together. As the samples are often of different lengths, you’ll need another program to do the beatmatching. 

AudioMixer is configured with the same number of voices as there are samples - nine in this case - so it’s possible all the samples could be playing at the same time. Remarkably, and despite a few bass and cymbal interludes, the short video of the never-ending breakbeats Kurt has posted on Twitter never sounds disjointed or jerky.

Kurt’s simple output hack sees the audio signal passed across a breadboard to a 3.5mm audio jack, and on to a portable speaker. In fact the whole system is technically portable, as it’s powered over USB from a rechargeable power pack, so you can take your beats to church, the supermarket, a movie theater, anywhere your breakbeat soundtrack would be appreciated, really.

The Amen break comes from an instrumental B-side, composed in 20 minutes in 1969, that backed the single "Color Him Father" by the Winstons, a soul group from Washington DC. The seven-second drum break, later mercilessly sampled by hip-hop artists, came to be the basis for much drum ‘n’ bass music. However, the Winstons, and their drummer Gregory Coleman, have never seen a cent in royalties. Color Him Father won a Grammy award, but the Winstons had little success and ceased performing in 1970.

Kurt's CircuitPython projects, including this one are detailed via his GitHub project pages.

Ian Evenden
Ian Evenden

Ian Evenden is a UK-based news writer for Tom’s Hardware US. He’ll write about anything, but stories about Raspberry Pi and DIY robots seem to find their way to him.