I’m in the planning stages of a new electro-acoustic sculpture. I’ve made some prototypes of the basic circuit and drawn up some sketches of the final piece. The 96 speakers presented in a grid on the wall will click repeatedly at about once a second in interfering phasing patterns, much like car blinkers at a traffic light, or crickets. In this project, I’ve been interested in the use of identical ready made objects, and repeating structures – invoking. As always, I’ve involved waste in the narrative by employing off-castings of industrial manufacturing sourced from a surplus warehouse.
The proposed sculpture comprises 96 oscillator units, oscillating independently. For the oscillator circuit I sought out the simplest possible design. The relaxation model fits the requirements. I discovered that a reverse bias transistor model could be used for a minimum of parts. The one transistor design cleverly makes use of a lesser known property of BJT transistors. Many common transistors exhibit a negative resistor effect when reverse biased.
The spring reverb had its day in many a recording studio as a cheap and convenient substitute for a real hall, equipped with loud speaker and microphones. I’ve been exploring the creative artistic possibilities of a giant spring reverb made out of a bed spring, and using it more like an instrument, rather than a mere effect. I intend to play it like a resonant cavity by putting it in an amplified feedback loop. It would then play in a harmonic series scale – like the shepherds horn, which by the way has a beautiful tradition of simple folk calls. At present the signal to noise ratio of my setup is too low to get a reliable oscillation, so for now I’ve been tickling it with my fingers instead of a transducer.
Take a listen to the rich layered undulations produced by the setup pictured above, consisting of the spring and a four channel looper built in PureData. This is an excerpt from a recent performance at Waugh Agency.
I’m doing some final tweaks to my non voltage controlled oscillator design before I publish a final version. Turns out that it is very stable under temperature variations. I recorded a 5% shift in frequency between my 80 F house and my chest freezer. I don’t know if it’s a linear function, but at any rate I’d say the frequency shift per degree might be negligible for practical purposes.
I’m at the refining stages of a design for a light sensitive classic analog synthesizer that can be played with hand shadows. It may also be the world’s most inexpensive and easy to build analog synthesizer, as it does not contain any specialized components or special calibration circuitry. The result is a fun to play musical instrument with lots of timbral possibilities – pretty much identical to a Moog style synthesizer. The synthesizer, which I will call here a “Lumiphone,” bears its parameters to the player for instant connection, unobstructed by buttons and wheels or programming. It’s all raw at your fingertips, like a violin. This enables the player to make more expressive music, compared to that produced by your average keyboard synthesizer. It’s also a lot more work to play. You can’t just push a few buttons and hit play to get an acid baseline like the famous Roland TB-303. For this reason, even though structurally they are equivalent synthesizer designs, the lumiphone sounds different from the TB-303 and the like. I think the lumiphone will be most adored for its vast timbral pallet – which are all accessible at the flick of a wrist. It will of course also be adored for its accessibility in price and ease of construction.
Forgo tonality, gain simplicity and affordability
I found that the greatest barrier to entry in making a home brew synthesizer was the expensive and rare parts. It turns out that those special parts aren’t essential to the actual sound producing circuitry. I had to do a lot of research to figure out how to redesign the circuits without temperature and linearity compensation. The key was eliminating the voltage control paradigm and replacing it with light as the common control signal. In turn, the circuits reduce to a simple set of designs that any beginner hobbyist could put together in an afternoon. The trade off is of course that the pitch of the synthesizer may vary slightly given changes in temperature. This is irrelevant if you play the circuit by ear, rather than with a keyboard with fixed notes. It is also irrelevant to noise artists and experimental musicians who actively step away from tonality.
Given the surprising versatility of this lumiphone, paired with it’s thrifty and accessible design I think this thing could be the beginning of something great. I hope it will be a useful design also for noise artists, circuit benders, and electronic musicians who will no doubt want to adapt it and borrow different elements to repurpose them for their own designs – like the Atari Punk Console. It also could be the beginning of a different kind of electronic music – a fresh start for the theremen. There’s still a lot of minor details to work out – like power supply design and deciding on the most accessible parts to call for – but soon I will be preparing some schematics and documentation for the project so that anyone with basic electronics skills can build one at home or in a classroom. In the mean time, if you click around on my blog enough you’ll be able to piece together most of what you need to build one.
The canvas covered caravan my partner and I built as an experiment in affordable portable housing was recently featured in Popular Science Magazine. They did a really nice job documenting and photographing the project. We made the design ourselves and used a lot of salvaged materials. You can check out the article here:
and watch the video!
One of my photographs was featured in a music video for the up and coming electric classical guitar group Duo Orfeo. The super high resolution panorama was stitched together from several shots taken with a long focal length lens. I assembled the blizzardous scene using Hugin – an open source project worth checking out.
I discovered that due to the limited size and resolution of computer screens a “Ken Burns” view of the image is actually an ideal medium for appreciating these large images. I hope one day to have the resources to print this and several other composites I’ve been working on, but in the mean time this might be the best way to share these projects.