Using Aleph in the 2020s

The Aleph is absolutely gorgeous hardware, and there are a few fairly inexpensive units knocking around on the 'net. Obviously, it’s not going to be updated or re-released any time soon, but for those of you who have one, is it still usable (and perhaps integrate-able with Norns) in this day and age? Especially as the soon-to-be owner of a Grid, I’d love to be able to use such an on-the-metal device for, e.g. delays, mixing, CV routing, &c.


It’s usable. Nice thing about a very self contained device / firmware stack.

Theres a pretty serious flaw with the cv out driver, at which which you are more than welcome to take a stab. (Its OK for gates)

I guess I’d mostly recommend it if you are interested in hacking avr32 or blackfin DSP, as the provided DSP capabilities are limited. (Of course limits are useful tooz and there is plenty of music to be made there.) But it’s a very rare platform that lets you do that at all. (e.g., same DSP part as teenage engineering op-1, but open, and the with the unique ability to swap blackfin firmwares on the fly.)



i’ll share some in this thread when i have time but for…

and the grid apps it’s 100% fully functional

as i typed this @zebra explained the cv quirk


Oh right - as for norns integration - sure, there are possibilities (beyond th obvious audio routing - Aleph makes a nice mixer / panner / router / filter thing, since it is low latency and 4x4.) Aleph provides both host and device ports (limitations: the device port is hardwired to UART, and the host port can’t handle hubs.)

For example I’ve used it as a simple knob / switch / footswitch controller sending serial data, combined with audio synthesis and processing, in tandem with a larger xomputeer.


Sweet info, thanks. could you plug it straight into norns via usb (norns host, aleph device, or vice versa?) for bidirectional serial stuff?

this is a good question and i’ve been meaning to try it with 2host

what was your cabling like at the time? just usb data cable (A-A)? if you don’t recall no worries

USB b-a from Aleph device port to host port. Host reading from serial stream (super collider on tiny Linux netbook)

You don’t need 2host u less you what to send MIDI between

I’m talking about serial I/O.

Aleph BEES has operators for sending and reading singl serial bytes directly

(Uh, iirc,it’s been a minute)


Yes. Norns has no device port

Also would take some modification to norns device stack to do arbitrary things with a serial port. At present norns attempts to use every serial device as a crow or grid. It’s not a huge task to support other stuff but we haven’t done it bc the use case is so niche.


cool! is arc a different protocol then?

maybe a silly question, but what’s the mini-usb jack on norns other than a serial device port, given that you can connect a laptop to it as detailed here: wifi + files | monome/docs

Ok I phrased badly, yes that it is a serial device port, but it’s not directly accessible in norns stack, it is wired to rasbpi prinary UART for use as a Linux tty console.

Ok yes I was imprecise. Arc is also a serial device. Yes it uses monome protocol. I should have said “monome protocol devices”

It would not be a big deal to add a generic “serial” device type on norns, which would be the fallback identification for any usb-tty device that doesn’t look like a grid/arc. The interface to Lua would just fire a callback on each byte, or something.

Again this is pretty niche - I’ve never heard of anyone but myself using ad hoc serial protocols for controllers, nor have there been any requests for it. It would inherently be tricky to provide any kind of convenient API for scripts, beyond accessing the raw byte stream. But I suppose we may as well support it in the C layer at least


Thank you for the in depth answers! I’ll have to look more into that chip and it’s ecosystem, but this sounds quite promising.

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just in case you hadn’t already seen (though i figure you have!) the code is here and the hardware is here


someone made a shnth library for norns and i’m curious…if i didn’t care about midi would parsing the serial output from aleph be similar? obviously not the same but would norns see aleph as a complex HID thing or nah?

Nah, not the same thing

Suggest Approach described above for adding arbitrary usb-serial device support on norns. I can assist or review

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The chip is fun, but fair warning - only if you want to do " old school" fixed point DSP. It would be frustrating if your goal is to develop or port floating point algorithms


Possible to get stuck into the fixed point DSP coding and try it out without hardware btw… There’s a Linux/Jack wrapper and pretty decent emulation of blackfin fractional arithmetic primitives which is iirc how later modules like the FM synth, cubic interpolating varilines, etc were developed.

DSP emulation doesn’t cover all the ‘primitives’, might need to be expanded. And certainly didn’t try to emulate any of the optimised assembly routines etc… If you want to write proper blackfin assembly (as opposed to the C + funky fract primitives) you’re have to run it on the device. but there is at least a tool for hot-updating the blackfin over serial without rebooting the device (much quicker). All this stuff is possibly a bit hidden in the repo hit me up if you can’t find it.

The ‘standard library’ of DSP is by no means complete but most of the basics are working and fairly reusable - delay lines, oscillators, filters, envelopes…

Also a wrapper for compiling BEES operators as puredata externals, again find this very handy for debugging more complex ops.


it really is one of a kind
especially love the fs jacks (and placement at the front of the unit)

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mechanical design nightmare, glad you appreciated it


it is awesome to use!
The development side has been really informative and helpful too!

i had an aleph a bunch of years ago, sold it as it mostly collected dust. now i’m feeling the itch again… has anyone here sold and then returned to the world of aleph?? am i fully insane for considering getting back in the proverbial game?

when i had it, it was basically my only piece of gear other than a laptop, which probably had a lot to do with its dust collection. now i have a few CL instruments and drone commander, not to mention a vibraphone with contact mics… it might get more use out of me now.

what do y’all think? talk me into or out of it!