Musical Electronics Library

Auckland, New Zealand

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Arduino Synths

Kim Newall at Colab has been investigating sound synthesis using the Arduino microcontroller. Chances are if you are even slightly a nerd you will have encountered the Arduino, a very popular single-board microcontroller that heaps of people use to make robots, art, and, etc. I personally haven’t used one yet but Kim has been showing me some stuff that seems like it could be real useful for MEL. Like we can maybe make a big run of boards and program them to do different things, and house them in the VHS cases just like the other MEL stuff. It would be a good thing to do a workshop on — people could build the boards and then learn how to program their own effects and synths. Also maybe we could have an SD card slot on the MEL collection arduino things, so members could borrow them and pop in their own firmware on an SD card.

So, this is all new to me and therefore interesting and exciting. Here are some relevant links:

Arduino Synth Page

SID chip emulation with the Arduino

Mozzi: sound synthesis library for Arduino

Here’s a thing that someone made using the Mozzi library:

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Circuit Scribe: Draw electronic circuits where the drawings work electronically, you see?

Conductive silver pens have been around for ages, but this Circuit Scribe project, they claim it’s easier to draw with, and they made magnetised components to go with it. So you can draw a circuit and stick components onto the traces magnetically. Seems like a good idea for teaching kids the principles of basic electronics. Also maybe you could make your own magnetic components, or just stick them on there some other way. And then make pretty pictures that have sound and flashing lights. Good for an exhibition at the Audio Foundation?

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Look at this freak box

Illucia is an open source project.
It’s a hardware controller that is used to control interactions between any software that sends or receives OSC data. This could be video games, music software, anything. Think about that! You could use Ms Pacman to write your Carmen Sandiego fan-fiction!

All the details (including how to build the hardware) are online here:

software is here

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Workshop: Build a Light-Controlled Oscillator

On Saturday the 17th May at 1pm we will be running a workshop at the Audio Foundation. In this workshop you will be provided with a circuit-board, electronic components, and guidance necessary to build an oscillator whose pitch and volume are controlled by light. You can play this instrument theremin-style by moving your hands near the light-sensors, or put it in moving shadows or near flashing lights for automatic control. The circuit-board is specially designed to fit into a tin can.
light theremin Prototype
This workshop is suitable for beginners. We can teach you how to solder.
Only $40 including materials! Get in touch right now if you want to participate, space is limited. Email kraus [AT] kraus [dot] [co] [dot] [nz]
 do it
Thanks, see you soon!?

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Idea for a new instrument:

You can get these alcohol sensors

mq303and I was thinking, an idea for an instrument would be a thing where you had to blow into a tube and the sensor checks how much alcohol is in your breath. If you haven’t had enough to drink the instrument makes no sound. Keep drinking and try again, now you’re drunk enough and it starts to make sound.

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Ciat-Lonbarde: Post-70s Electronics

How do I start explaining about the truly un-credible world and works of Ciat-Lonbarde? I don’t think I can do this justice, but I’ll try to scratch the surface.

Ciat-Lonbarde is a company run by Peter Blasser of Baltimore, Maryland, USA. He makes and sells electronic musical instruments with beautiful, handmade wooden cases, and unusual, touch-sensitive controls.

Sidrassi Organus

The Ciat-Lonbarde website is bewildering. There’s a lot of made-up language: mido, sandrodes, din datin dudero. My favourite is the “Spesal Cuck”, which is a control that makes a power-supply fluctuate up and down — voltage-controlled power-starvation. The site is also a labyrinth. He doesn’t seem to delete any old info — it’s all in there, stretching back several years, but most of this material is only revealed by a google search.

Blasser’s view of electronics is richly metaphorical and not normal. For example, the Plumbutter is conceptualised as “a modern (utopian) city, with factories as the downtown, and a wide swath of organoform, but matricized suburbs, leading to wilde woods.” If you want to read something, look at the technical papers for the Plumbutter and watch your own eyes bug out. But this strangeness is the work of a seriously skilled, inventive, brilliant designer.

Ciat-Lonbarde circuits are unique, utilising paradoxical feedback and the touch-weaving of complex paths, to create strident, chaotic sounds as well as tender, shy sounds. The Plumbutter, for example, emits organic bursts and pulses of noise, fluttery drones, subtle pocks of percussion, and storms of moans.

As well as selling instruments, Blasser also releases free DIY projects in paper circuit form. The circuit pattern is printed out, folded and glued to thin cardboard, and punched with a needle. Components are then inserted, their leads woven together and soldered to create the complete circuit. I recommend starting with the Lil Sidrassi, which explains the process and shows what all the symbols mean. Peter describes the Lil Sid as “a very touchable bee motorcycle sound maker box”. The design can be customised — several of the capacitor values are deliberately left up to the builder, so that each box will be unique. We currently have two Lil Sids in the MEL collection, each with it’s own character. They are called “Ricko Studio 1 and 2”, in memory of our friend Richard Neave.

If you really get into the paper circuits, Blasser has published full instructions to build the Rollz-5, which is a “drum and drama machine”, and the ancestor of the Plumbutter. The Rollz is a big project, I won’t kid you. I’m just finishing mine and it took me a long time. It sounds unlike anything I’ve ever heard. It sounds like a kind of electronic music that hasn’t existed before, that’s fresh and exciting, exotic and strange, but drawing on the familiar raw roots of analogue synthesis. Peter calls it “Post-70s electronics”.


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Handmade Electronic Music

The book that inspired the Musical Electronics Library: “Handmade Electronic Music” by Nicolas Collins.

This book is SO GREAT. It assumes no technical knowledge whatsoever. It starts out with a lot of fun projects that don’t even require soldering, such as playing the insides of a transistor radio with your fingers. There are so many good ideas here, like the Matrix Mixer, which doesn’t require power, and is perfect for turning a pile of innocuous guitar pedals into a complex, chaotic feedback oscillator. Most of the things in the book are analogue sound generators, but there are also ideas for computer controllers, eg. using hacked joysticks, and some video circuits. The emphasis is on adventurous, bold hacking and circuit bending, with a generous helping of from-scratch DIY electronics as well. The tone is always encouraging, which makes it a pleasure to read. There is a minimum of theory.

The second edition includes a DVD, which has video tutorials:

audio examples, and, best of all, a long series of 1-minute video clips submitted by hardware hackers around the world, showing off their amazing creations:

Nicolas Collins has generously shared the pdf file of his original workshop manual Hardware Hacking, upon which Handmade Electronic Music is based.