You know how in movies where there's a mad genius tech-wizard/hacker (often a precocious teen) who can make the most fantastical creations with seemingly no effort? It's such a great fantasy with little analogue in the real world. Sam Battle, he of Look Mum No Computer strikes me as a character from one of those films, except he is very real. Read the rest
Otemrellik made this "100% homemade" nifty modular synthesizer. Here's his video about how he built it and how it works.
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I've been wanting a Teenage Engineering op-1 for years, but I can't justify paying $1300 for something I might not use a lot. But the Behringer TD-3 synthesizer, at about 1/10th of the price, looks like it's as much fun as the op-1.
It's a remake of the Roland TB-303 Bass Line that came out in 1981. According to Wikipedia, the TB-303 "was a commercial failure and was discontinued in 1984. However, cheap second-hand units were adopted by electronic musicians, and its 'squelching' or 'chirping' sound became a foundation of electronic dance music genres such as house and techno [this song being the one that started it all]. It has inspired numerous clones."
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Bertolt Meyer wears a myoelectric prosthetic arm and hand controlled by electrodes attached to his residual limb that pick up impulses generated when he consciously contracts that muscle. Those impulses are then translated into control signals for the prosthetic hand. An electronic musician, Meyer had the idea to swap out the prosthetic hand for a DIY controller for his modular synthesizers so he can play music just by thinking about it. This is the SynLimb. Meyer writes:
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Together with Chrisi from KOMA Elektronik and my husband Daniel, I am in the process of building a device (the "SynLimb") that attaches to my arm prosthesis instead of the prosthetic hand. The SynLimb converts the electrode signals that my prosthesis picks up from my residual limb into control voltages (CV) for controlling my modular synthesizer. The SynLimb thus allows me to plug my prosthesis directly into my snythesizer so that I can control its parameters with the signals from my body that normally control the hand. For me, this feels like controlling the synth with my thoughts.
On Hackster.io, Jeremy Cook, writes about the Harmonicade, a modular 5.5 (x2) octave, multi-channel MIDI keyboard which uses arcade-style push-buttons arranged in the Wicki-Hayden button layout.
Like Dvorak layouts, this alternate note arrangement is much less common. As seen in the demo video, however, KOOP Instruments has leveraged the Wicki-Hayden setup to create a stunning dual-pad instrument that looks like a lot of fun to play. The dual input pads are entirely modular and plug into a central control unit using DB25 connectors that are wired to the buttons in a matrix.
The central board contains a Teensy 3.6, plus a number of additional buttons and knobs for control over the sound. After being properly translated, digital audio signals are passed along via a MIDI jack.
On the KOOP Instruments site, the have all of the CAD files, project code, and build instructions you need to create your own Harmonicade. Read the rest
From her groundbreaking first album Switched-On Bach (1968) to the unforgettable soundtracks for A Clockwork Orange (1971), The Shining (1980), and Tron (1982), Wendy Carlos is a living legend of electronic music. In March, Oxford University Press will publish Wendy Carlos: A Biography, written by musicologist Amanda Sewel, musical director of Interlochen Public Radio. From the book description:
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With her debut album Switched-On Bach, composer and electronic musician Wendy Carlos (b. 1939) brought the sound of the Moog synthesizer to a generation of listeners, helping to effect arguably one of the most substantial changes in popular music's sound since musicians began using amplifiers. Her story is not only one of a person who blazed new trails in electronic music for decades but is also the story of a person who intersected in many ways with American popular culture, medicine, and social trends during the second half of the 20th century and well into the 21st. There is much to tell about her life and about the ways in which her life reflects many dimensions of American culture.
Carlos's identity as a transgender woman has shaped many aspects of her life, her career, how she relates to the public, and how the public has received her and her music. Cultural factors surrounding the treatment of transgender people affected many of the decisions that Carlos has made over the decades. Additionally, cultural reception and perception of transgender people has colored how journalists, scholars, and fans have written about Carlos and her music for decades.
Fifty one years ago today, the first incarnation of the prog rock band, King Crimson, gathered in a cramped basement space below the Fulham Palace Cafe in London. One of the instruments the band would use that would come to distinguish their early sound was that strange, iconic 60s instrument, the Mellotron.
Keyboardist Ian McDonald was taken by the sound of this instrument as it was employed by the Moody Blues (and on The Beatles' Strawberry Fields) and thought it would work well with the type of lush and orchestral sound the band was looking to create. Later in the year, in the summer of 1969, the instrument would again appear on David Bowie's Space Oddity (played by future Yes man, Rick Wakeman).
Of all of the strange instruments that've worked the edges of popular music (the Theremin also comes to mind), the Mellotron is probably the oddest. Basically an upright organ cabinet filled with tape heads and recorded tape strips that you trigger through the keyboard, the Mellotron is like some crazy one-off contraption that caught on and actually got manufactured.
In this video, Allison Stout, of Bell Tone Synth Works, a synthesizer repair shop in Philadelphia, PA, takes us under the hood of a Mellotron MK1 and how it works. One can only imagine how finicky and prone to breakage touring versions of these things must have been.
And here's one of King Crimson's Mellotrons in action during a performance in 1974 at the ORTFTV Studios in Paris. Read the rest
In my experience, most people haven't heard of the Rentals — and most of those who have heard of them only really know them as "that other band that Weezer's old bass player was in." Or the band who wrote "Elon Musk Is Making Me Sad."
That is all technically accurate. The group was started by Matt Sharp while he was still Weezer's secret weapon. And Elon Musk does make him sad. Since leaving that other band, Sharp has continued to release orchestral synth-y power-pop with a rotating cast of musicians under the Rentals moniker over the last 20 years. The group has included performers like Maya Rudolph, the Haden Sisters, Joey Santiago from the Pixies, Patrick Carney from the Black Keys, and many others.
The spaced-out track above is an instrumental mix of a tune from the band's upcoming sci-fi-themed album, Q36. The band has been releasing a new track every 2 weeks, along with a corresponding limited-edition t-shirt and hitRECORD project. And while I liked the regular version of "Invasion Night," I absolutely love this ambient version of it. Sharp cut out all the the vocals, drums, and bass in order to focus on his synthesizer sounds and the guitar work of Nick Zinner (most famously of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs), and the result almost makes me feel like I'm in the head of Major Tom as he floats to his death.
The video that goes along with it was actually part of the Rentals' 2009 album Songs About Time, which included 365 photographs, 52 short films, and 3 EPs, all created in real-time over the course of a year. Read the rest
Sam Battle of Look Mum No Computer, the mad sonic scientist who brought us the Furby Organ, has done it again. This time, he turned a Sega Genesis/Mega Drive into an awesomely retro-sounding synthesizer.
The Sega Mega Drive included a Yamaha YM2612 six-channel FM synthesizer chip under the hood. Sam broke that out to create his synth which so epically invokes that iconic, often cringe-worthy, 80s synth sound.
On his second YouTube channel, Look Mum No Computer But More Serious-ish, he goes into more detail about the YM2612, the Sega Drive, and putting together the synth. Read the rest
In 1978, Japanese electronic music maestro Osamu Shoji (1932-2018) released this killer analog synth reimagining of the Star Wars soundtrack. I find Shoji's take on the familiar themes to be far groovier than the disco exploitation of Meco's US chart-topping "Star Wars and Other Galactic Funk" released the previous year.
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iSongs is a YouTube channel that shows popular songs being recreated from scratch with the music-making app that comes with the iPhone. It's an excellent and incredibly dense tutorial, too, for those with the "observe and copy" learning style. Read the rest
Love Hultén took a Korg Minilogue 4-Voice Polyphonic Analog Synth and modded it with a wooden case inspired by the Commodore SX-64 (1984). Read the rest
Master maker Tim Jacobs created a fantastic business card that's actually a Stylophone synthesizer complete with MIDI capabilities. It's based on the original 1967 Dübreq Stylophone, a small synthesizer played by touching a built-in stylus to the metal keyboard. The Stylophone was famously used on David Bowie's "Space Oddity" and Kraftwerk's "Pocket Calculator."
From Jacobs' project page about his StyloCard that ended up costing a bit more than $3 each:
Printed Circuit Boards as a business card are a great gimmick. I'd seen ones with USB ports etched into them, which enumerate as a keyboard and then type a person's name or load up their website. It's just about possible to build them cheap enough to hand out as a business card, at least if you're picky about who you give them to.
A couple of years ago I took a stab at making one for myself, but I didn't want it to be pointless. I wanted it to do something useful! Or at least entertain someone for longer than a few seconds. I can't remember quite how I got the idea of making a MIDI-stylophone, but the idea was perfect. A working midi controller, that's unique enough in its playing characteristic to potentially give some value, while at the same time costing no more than the card would have done otherwise, since the keyboard is just a plated area on the PCB, as is true on the original stylophone.
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Boing Boing pal and maker superhero Mitch Altman, creator of the amazing TV-B-Gone, spent several years designing a simple-yet-powerful DIY music synthesizer that he could use to teach creative electronics and also digital signal processing to kids and adults. The result is the ArduTouch Music Synthesizer! And it's only $30! Demo videos below. Mitch wrote about the method behind his maker madness in IEEE Spectrum. From his essay:
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As a kid with a lust for music, I was rocked by the Moog synthesizer sounds of 1968’s Switched-On Bach. I needed to learn how to make those sounds! Thus began a lifetime of learning and synthesizer making while I made my way in the tech industry, where I ultimately created the TV-B-Gone, a gadget that lets you turn off almost any model of remote-controlled television. Since the popular success of the TV-B-Gone, I’ve created many fun, open-source, hackable hardware kits for the maker workshops I give around the world. In these workshops, newbies learn to solder, tinkering their way into electronics and microcontrollers. Remembering my own youth, I wanted to provide them with a kit that was simple to assemble [PDF] and use but still a fully fledged music synthesizer.
The result was the US $30 ArduTouch. This project incorporates, on a single board, a touch keyboard, an ATMega328P (the same processor used in the Arduino Uno), and an audio amp with a speaker. It also has a software library that can serve as an entry point into the world of digital signal processing.
Your supervisor would like to speak with you today at 10:53am. Good thing you have a great tasting sandwich to deal with that unreasonable feedback.
In the 1980s, Pennsylvania-based Michele Mercure was composing music for theater, film, and TV animation. After a trip to the Netherlands, she became inspired by the German kosmiche music scene of Kluster, Tangerine Dream, and the like. But Mercure cut her own path into experimental electronic music, weaving her synthetic, rhythmic soundscapes with strange samples and cut-up vocalizations, resulting in tracks that move between abstract and ambient dreamscapes and mechanized intensity. For decades, Mercure's self-released cassettes (under the name Michelle Musser) moved through underground trading circles but many of those recordings will now reach a wider group of heads. Beside Herself is a gorgeous 19-track Michele Mercure retrospective released today by the esteemed curators at RVNG Intl. and Freedom To Spend labels. To celebrate the release, Mercure and Mary Haverstick created the wonderful "Electronumentary" above. Below, one of the album tracks. From RVNG:
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Mercure’s artistic path never ran through creative meccas New York, San Francisco or Los Angeles. Raised in Springfield, Massachusetts, and then moving to Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, in her twenties, Mercure was already an adept musician when she encountered a local and lively theater scene, and was asked to score an unorthodox performance of Waiting for Godot. The experience was pivotal in marrying music and image for Mercure, and so she began making music for film, television, dance, and theater. It wasn’t until a long sojourn in Eindhoven, however, that she became transfixed by electronic music (ala Conrad Schnitzler, whom she would correspond with for years) that would inform her music to come.
Mercure’s contemporaries became the kindred minds of the Eurock “scene” such as The Nightcrawlers, Lauri Paisley, and Don Slepian.