My DIY Romanian style horn fiddle

May 13, 2017


I’m in love with technologies that repurpose other abandoned technologies. When I first learned of the Romanian horn fiddle I instantly decided that I must make one.

Figuring out the design was tricky because I’d never seen one in person before, and the images online are mostly low resolution or hard to read. I even got clever and started searching using the proper Romanian name “vioară cu goarnă” (provided by a friend — thanks Sebastian).


Here’s what I learned: The Romanian horn fiddle is very similar in design to a stroh violin. Both instrument replace the box resonator and f-holes of the violin with a diaphragm and horn. In the case of a Romanian horn fiddle a repurposed phonograph reproducer provides the diaphragm and a sawed off trumpet horn provides the horn. The bridge connects to the arm of the diaphragm on the needle holder. The arm vibrates, pushing and pulling the diaphragm. The diaphragm compresses and displaces air, which is communicated by the horn to the outside world.


I built my fiddle based on photographs kicking around the web, so I can’t guarantee that it’s 100% authentic. That being said, it sounds just like the ones on Youtube, i.e. totally awesome. Whenever I play it to people for their first time, their jaws literally drop. To me the most important part isn’t perfect authenticity but the spirit of reuse and ingenuity. I made mine out of wood scraps gleaned from a dumpster behind a carpentry shop, a trumpet curbed in my neighborhood, and I found the phonograph reproducer on ebay severed from it’s player years ago and at a very affordable price because it doesn’t have the right brand or serial number for collectors to covet it. The finger board, tuning pegs, and fine tuners I purchased manufactured online. I starting working on a jig to make the finger board, but I learned that it’s quite difficult to accomplish the compound radius of a violin finger board. Alternatively, I could have used a broken violin for those parts.


The fallow field

June 3, 2016



July 20, 2015

“Sporography” print

I’ve been experimenting with a printmaking process that I will call “sporography.” It’s really no different than the spore prints that a mushroom collector makes for identifying species. I’ve always loved the patterns that the fine gill or pore structure produces on the paper. I’ve been taking this a step further by developing it into a fine art print making process. There are a few examples online of others who use this medium, but it seems surprisingly underdeveloped to me.


Distance softens features, akin to blurred light

The microscopic spores behave remarkably similar to light. For example, the further the mushroom is from the paper, the softer and less defined the features are – just like a blur of light. I like to look at them almost as if they were a photogram created by a mushroom shaped light source resting on photo sensitive paper. I took this a step further by pretending that the mushroom is a light source and placing objects between it and the paper. This effectively makes a spore sprint Rayogram.

The silhouette of a Queen Anne's lace flower

The silhouette of a Queen Anne’s lace flower

There are a couple exceptions. Spores don’t pass through transparent objects, so you are pretty much limited to silhouettes. Think alpha particles… Also, spores don’t refract, or exhibit wave phenomena.

As a photographer who has long departed from the wet dark room and begrudgingly taken up the inkjet printer, I love the simplicity, and non-toxic process. It brings me back to that direct experience without the hassle, mess, and hazard of the old chemicals.


  • Use a smooth archival cotton paper such as arches hot press
  • Finish the print with an archival fixative commonly used for fixing charcoal drawings
  • A couple drops of water on the mushroom cap will inspire sporulation
  • Cover the ‘exposing’ mushroom with a bowl to prevent air currents from disturbing your work


August 19, 2014


96 Crickets Afoot

March 18, 2014


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.

Perpetual Ocean Machine

November 12, 2013


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.

Pure Data Tutorial

October 3, 2013


I’m making a (hopefully) helpful introduction to Pure Data programming for making your own electronic and experimental digital sounds.

Comments and requests welcome.

Final testing

July 14, 2013

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.



Erosion Threshold

April 7, 2013

Erosion Threshold

The Lumiphone

April 7, 2013

Basic Sawtooth Oscillator BreadboardedI’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

basic sawtooth osc schematicI 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.

Light control

Resonant FilterLight turns out to be a convenient and interesting control signal. You can play the lumiphone with hand shadows. You can also play it with a microcontroller like an Arduino by varying the brightness of an LED. You can even play the lumiphone with the brightness of a computer screen – which can be controlled by a custom program written, for example, in Pure Data or even Javascript. CDS cells take the light cast on them to produce a resistance. This variable resistance is used in the synthesizer to control different things, namely the Frequency of the Oscillator, and Cutoff of the Filter.


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.