Experimental Sound Instruments

When musicians go to a shop and buy the latest Roland or Korg, they just take the music in the middle of the process I think, instead of taking it from the beginning. When you go and buy a robot or a machine or electronic device, you just forget half of the pleasure. It’s good to start with the origin and design your own sound sources and then play with them.
–Pierre Bastian (interviewed by Svetlana Maras)

Experimental Sound Instruments Workshop, TAIK MediaLab Helsinki from macumbista on Vimeo.

This is a workshop which I mainly teach annually at the Media Lab of Aalto University, Espoo FI. I have also taught it at different schools and programs in Finland and beyond, and it could easily be adapted for other schools, festivals, and arts centers.

WORKLOAD

During this workshop, students will create an electronic sound instrument over 4 – 5 days of 7 hours each.

LEARNING OUTCOMES

Students will explore simple electronic circuits which make up the various components of an analog synthesizer, and combine them in a portable, battery-powered, sound-making instrument. There will be a final presentation on the last day of the workshop where students will present their instruments and teach others how to play them.

CONTENT

In this course we will explore simple electronic circuits which make up the various components of an analog synthesizer, including:

* Voltage Controlled Oscillators
* Voltage Controlled Filters
* Generative Sequencers
* Noise Generators
* Envelope Generators
* Voltage Controlled Amplifiers
* Mixers
* Distortions
* Microphone Inputs

You will have a chance to build some of these various circuits yourself, explore ways of controlling them, and combine them in unique and personalized sound-making instrument that is portable, has its own loudspeaker, and can be powered by 9V batteries.

There will be a final presentation on the last day of the workshop where students will present their instruments and teach others how to play them.

You are required to bring a wooden enclosure of some kind to build your instrument. Please locate this before the course begins! Cigar or wine-bottle boxes work very well if you find one large enough. You could also fabricate one in a FabLab with a laser cutter, for example. The lid of this box should not be more than 5mm thick. The size of your box should be at least 20cm x 15cm x 6cm, and preferably larger if you want more interface controls or a larger speaker.

If you want a larger speaker than the 8-10cm ones I will provide, please salvage one from an old boombox, clock radio, or hi-fi system. The bigger the speaker, the louder and lower in tone it will create. Make sure it fits inside your box, however.

RECOMMENDED TEXTS

Collins, Nicolas: Handmade Electronic Music: The Art of Hardware Hacking (Second Edition). Routeledge, 2009.

Mims, Forrest M. III: Engineer’s Mini Notebook Vol I: Timer, OpAmp & Optoelectronic Circuits & Projects. Master Publishing, 2004.

Mims, Forrest M. III: Engineer’s Mini Notebook Vol III: Electronic Sensor Circuits & Projects. Master Publishing, 2004.

Mims, Forrest M. III: Engineer’s Mini Notebook Vol IV: Electronic Formulas, Symbols & Circuits. Master Publishing, 2004.

Williams, Elliot. Logic Noise. https://hackaday.com/tag/logic-noise/

Wilson, Ray. Make: Analog Synthesizers. Maker Media, Inc, 2013.

PREREQUISITES

While prior experience with electronic circuits is not necessary, participants will be expected to have some working knowledge of sound and how it is produced electronically (terms such as frequency, amplitude, timbre, oscillator, amplifier, filter, etc, should all be familiar).

PREVIOUS + UPCOMING WORKSHOPS

2018

Apr – Aalto Media Lab, Espoo FI
Jan – Aalto UWAS program, Espoo FI

2017

Sep – Helsinki Theater Academy, Helsinki FI

2015

Oct – Aalto Media Lab, Espoo FI

2014

Oct – Aalto Media Lab, Espoo FI

2013

Nov – Aalto Media Lab, Helsinki FI
Feb – Aalto Media Lab, Helsinki FI

2012

Feb – Aalto Media Lab, Helsinki FI

2011

Mar – Aalto Media Lab, Helsinki FI

2010

Mar – TAIK Media Lab, Helsinki FI

DOCUMENTATION

Images from a workshop with students of the Media Lab at Aalto University, Otaniemi/Helsinki, OCT 2014.

Images from a workshop with students of the Media Lab at TAIK (Taideteollinen korkeakoulu/University of Art and Design) Helsinki, 8-12 March 2010. Photos by Liisa Tervinen.