Macumbista FuzzTone SoundBox

Posted in Announcement, Documentation on May 6th, 2014 by admin

A new generation of the SoundBoxes is born, combining the touchable body contacts and high-gain portable amplifier from the original design with a nasty distortion with enough controls to keep your fingers busy wiggling for a long while.


* Large, high-efficiency (read: LOUD!) 12cm speaker
* High-gain input, suitable for contact microphone, electric guitar, etc. (Line level signals can be attenuated if clipping is not intended.)
* Line output
* Neutrik 6.3mm (1/4 inch) jacks on both input and output
* Four-control, switchable, extreme[!], vintage hand-selected Germanium transistor distortion
* Six “circuit-bending” touchpoints
* 9V battery operation
* Includes a resonant spring contact microphone.

This SoundBox could easily be used as a portable guitar amplifier with built-in distortion, for example, or can be used as an instrument in it’s own right to create a wide range of electronic sounds and textures.

The sound of this instrument is quite similar to what can be heard in the following video (however the video was done with the SoundBox and FuzzTone distortion pedal as separate units). Through the creative use of feedback, as well as the CHP and SQZ settings on the pedal, generative tones and chaotic patterns can emerge:

nonlinearity I from macumbista on Vimeo.

The price is EUR 225 (incl. 19% EU VAT) / EUR 190 (shipped outside the EU) plus shipping. Each instrument is made to order with an approximately one month waiting time. A 50% deposit on the price is required to begin work.

Please contact me using the CONTACT page here, or through MACUMBISTA at-the-domain GMAIL dot COM. Thank you for your kind attention.

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MAAJAAM Weird Sound Workshop Estonia

Posted in Documentation on July 30th, 2013 by admin

From 13-16 July 2013, I led a small group of workshop participants to build their own electronic sound instruments–either the Weird Sound Generator (from the Music From Outer Space website), or one of my own SoundBoxes. The location was MAAJAAM, an experimental residency/workshop space initiated by Timo Toots in an old farmhouse in the Estonian countryside near Otepää.The workshop ended with a group presentation and invitation to the audience to play the instruments in the outdoor garden of the Genialistide Klubi, Tartu.

I would like to extend my admiration and gratitude to the hard work of the participants: Aivar Tõnso, Annabel Põder, Bianca Triinu-Toots, Kaarel Narro, Kalev Toots, Mihkel Tomberg, Taavi Suisalu and Timo Toots.

MAAJAAM workshop “Music from outer space” from Timo Toots on Vimeo.

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Duelling Benjolins

Posted in Announcement, Documentation on July 11th, 2013 by admin

Duelling Benjolins from macumbista on Vimeo.

Although I have been building Benjolins for more than one year, this was the first night I actually had two Benjolins finished at the same time. So of course I had to get them communicating with each other. As usual, please forgive the less-than-high-fidelity in-camera mic sound.

I’m taking reservations for four new hand-made Benjolin 2013v3 pieces to be produced in August. The design will be slightly different, more “modular” in style, with attenuators on all the control voltage inputs. Price should be EUR 495 (incl. 19% EU VAT) / EUR 416 (shipped outside the EU).

Let me know if you are interested, and thanks for your kind attention.

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WolfTone SoundBox

Posted in Documentation on June 23rd, 2013 by admin

This WolfTone SoundBox contains a children’s toy voice-changer circuit which has been modified to include three switches and six touchpoints which interactively modify the sound, 9V battery/DC jack power, a line-level/headphone output, a backlit transparent speaker and an interior lined with handmade Japanese paper. A detachable condenser microphone provides the input to the circuit, which can be either the performer’s voice or feedback from the speaker.

Please view the video at the bottom of the page for a demo of the first prototype circuit.

The price is EUR 225 (incl. 19% EU VAT) / EUR 190 (shipped outside the EU) plus shipping. Each instrument is made to order with an approximately one month waiting time. A 50% deposit on the price is required to begin work.

Please contact me using the CONTACT page here, or through MACUMBISTA at-the-domain GMAIL dot COM. Thank you for your kind attention.

WolfToneBox Demo from macumbista on Vimeo.

WolfTone Drumming by Jack Herz.

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VIDEO: Experimental Sound Instruments Workshop, TAIK MediaLab Helsinki

Posted in Documentation on February 20th, 2013 by admin

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

Students from my Experimental Sound Instruments workshop demonstrate their hand-made projects on the final day. Their instruments involved a variety of technologies, including Arduinos, solenoids, motors, transducers, pickups and amplifiers which I presented over the week. This workshop, which I give at the school annually, ran from 04-08 February 2013 at the TAIK MediaLab in Helsinki, Finland. The students presenting were Johanna Storm, Ari-Pekka Leinonen, Scott McGregor, Saku Kamarainen, Ana Gutierrez, Thomas Svedstrom and Rajeev Siewnath.

My next MLab workshop should be in Oct/Nov.

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Posted in Documentation on October 16th, 2012 by admin


TONEWHEELS is an experiment in converting graphical imagery to sound, inspired by some of the pioneering 20th Century electronic music inventions, such as the Light-Tone Organ (Edwin Emil Welte, 1936 Germany), the ANS Synthesizer (Evgeny Murzin, 1958 USSR), and the Oramics system (Daphne Oram, 1959 UK). Transparent tonewheels with repeating patterns are spun over light-sensitive electronic circuitry similar to that used in 16 & 35mm motion picture projectors to produce sound.

The TONEWHEELS Hurdy-Gurdy presented at Acces(s) is not an “interactive” artwork in the common sense. While it does not reward the impatient museum visitor with flashing lights and noises at the simple touch of the button, it does invite participation in the process of technological music creation. Although it first appears to be a very traditional instrument known to many folk-music cultures, it functions in a very different way which can only be discovered by playing it.

The artist would like to thank Tobias Traub of Oroborus Customs e.K. and Carlo Crovato for their invaluable assistance in creating this instrument. Circuits designed by Jessica Rylan and Eric Archer are also used within the system.

More information on the TONEWHEELS project can be found at


This instrument functions by turning light into sound. The audience is invited to experiment with it, provided that they read the following instructions and handle the instrument carefully.


1) Pick the instrument up by the strap and put it around your neck. You will hold the instrument as seen in the painting shown below, “Jeune fille à la vielle”, by Jules Richomme (1882). Please handle the instrument by the edges. Do not handle the triangular area in the middle, this area is very delicate!

2) Activate the power switch and adjust the volume knob at LOCATION A.

3) Using your the fingers of your left hand, locate the pressure-sensors at LOCATION B. When you press these, you will see different lights turn on at the center of the instrument.

4) With your right hand, turn the crank at LOCATION C. This will spin a wheel printed with transparent patterns. These patterns break up the light which falls on several light sensors, creating the basic tone of the instrument.

5) The sound of the instrument passes through a filter which can change its tone. The controls for the filter are marked in green at LOCATION D. The switch controls whether low, middle or high frequencies are passed through the filter. The controls marked “LFO” can be used to modulate the filter, while the controls marked “FIL” are used to affect the frequency and resonance of the filter.

6) There is also a distortion effect, marked in red at LOCATION E. The distortion only works when the large button has been clicked, and the red light is on. The four controls marked “DIS” control different aspects of the distortion.

7) When you are finished, please gently set the instrument down flat on the table and turn the power off.


1) The speed of the wheel affects the basic frequency of the sound
2) The filter and distortion shape that sound, but can also produce sounds of their own.
3) A good place to start is with the distortion off and all the controls set to the middle position.
4) There are some control settings which may not produce any sound at all!

“Jeune fille à la vielle”, by Jules Richomme (1882)



This hurdy-gurdy project might be the most complicated thing I have ever tried to build, involving quite a bit more technical research and development by myself and several others than I expected at first. All in all, we took about two months to build something that really needed a year to do right. Live and learn, unfortunately in that order. So when it was all over, and I finally had my first free day in ages, I took a little walk in les Pyrénées with Vincent Meyer

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A.LIVE with Vanessa Ramos-Velasquez at Basic Electricity Berlin

Posted in Announcement on September 22nd, 2012 by admin

A•LIVE Information Metabolism from Vanessa Ramos-Velasquez on Vimeo.

I will be playing a live, improvisational set for modular synthesizer, found objects and SoundBox at Basic Electricity Berlin on Friday 28 September 2012. Joining me will be video artist Vanessa Ramos-Velasquez with her live electronic microscope visuals. This will be our first, exploratory outing with the A.LIVE bio-art project, and we’re both quite curious to see how it goes. Hope some of y’all out there can make it.

Incidentally, the audio in the above video comes from the soundtrack of Machine Deva, the recent collaboration I did with my father, Steve Holzer. Interesting to hear it in another setting… Machine Deva recently won the Best Experimental Film prize at the Columbia Gorge International Film Festival. Way to go, Dad!

I will be offering copies of the Machine Deva soundtrack on CDR and DVDRs of the film itself some time in mid-November. Due to the extremely detailed nature of the hand-animation, which seems to be hopelessly corrupted by any sort of compression process, Machine Deva will never likely get put online. So unless you happen to be around when Steve or I screen it, this might be your only chance to view this remarkable work. Get in touch if interested…

Now Playing

neil youngon the beach[1974]

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Regnskov 2012 in Copenhagen and Aarhus

Posted in Announcement on August 16th, 2012 by admin

Mads Bech Paulszewski-Hau and I will be running the “Rainforest” series of workshops at two events in Denmark next month: the LAK Festival in Copenhagen (6-9 September 2012) and the BY i BY Festival in Aarhus (14-16 September 2012). There are still spaces in both workshops, particularly the Aarhus one (which will be outdoors!), so please get in touch if you are interested at MACUMBISTA at the domain GMAIL dot COM.

Regsnkov 2012 is a contemporary re-interpretation of David Tudor’s series of compositions from the 1970′s entitled Rainforest. It uses various types of sonic transducers to play live sounds through a selection of resonant, found-metal objects in the performance space. A matrix mixer allows the sound from any of the performers to be sent to any of the objects, creating an immersive, tactile and spatial sonic experience.

The project is developed in a workshop format with up to 8 participants over a period of several days. The participants will work from the bio-acoustic model of an actual rainforest, where it is necessary for each species’ survival that they can both hear and be heard within their own niche of the busy forest soundscape.

You can download a PDF of information about the project here:

Other up and comings:

28 Sep – [w/Vanessa Ramos-Velasquez] Basic Electricity, Berlin DE (more on this soon!)
9-13 Oct – TONEWHEELS, Le festival accès(s), Pau FR
17 Oct – TONEWHEELS, RIAM Festival, Marseilles FR
22-26 Oct – Neanderthal Electronics, Danish Art Academy, Aarhus DK (TBC!)
29 Oct-02 Nov – Neanderthal Electronics, Nordic Sound Art, Copenhagen DK
05-09 Nov – Neanderthal Electronics, Sibelius Academy, Helsinki FI
16 Nov – TONEWHEELS, VisionSonic, Paris FR (TBC!)

Now Playing

crippled black phoenix(mankind) the crafty ape[2012]
wovenhandlive at roepaen[2012]

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Video–Studio Improv 30 Apr 2012 + Norberg Report

Posted in Documentation on August 1st, 2012 by admin

Derek Holzer-Studio Improv 30 Apr 2012 from macumbista on Vimeo.

Getting the computer out of my live sound was the best thing that ever happened to me. When I work with the modular synthesizer, I feel like I have a piece of clay in my hands which I can squeeze in any direction I choose. This short improvisation was made during filming of the documentary “Learning to Listen”, on sound artists in several European cities by London College of Communication students Dann Linn, Marianna Sangita and Andi Spowart.

Soundbox at Norberg Fest, photo by possan

Norberg Report

I’m just back from my Swedish gig, where I spent the weekend gazing longingly at leggy blonds and red farmhouses, slapping mosquitoes, sipping expensive beers and teaching 25 people to build small noise-boxes in the summer sun. Concert went great, with a huge Function One sound system in the gigantic, resonant Mimer mine-shaft hall for that all-over body bass-massage kind of feeling. One of the best parts was that, some weeks ago, I dreamt that two friends from Estonia came to the festival with me. When I wrote them about it, they replied, “Roadtrip sounds like a great idea! See you soon!” So they did.

Big thanks to Sol Andersson and Johannes Ahlberg for the invitation and John Anker Corneliussen for the sound! Also managed to catch a few great sets, most notably by Carl Michael von Hauswolff and the lovely drone duo Kyrkan. Just as awesome, and tasty to boot, was James Brewster‘s Electro-acoustic cafe–a mic’ed up espresso stand with the option for extra delay or wah on your foamed milk.

Interior of the Mimer photos by possan, Derek Holzer live set at Norberg Fest by Rotwang @

Another great thing was the wide range of folks who dropped by to build these little Neanderthal instuments–people who by and large would never show up at an “experimental noise” gig suddenly discovered the insane, child-like pleasure of making their own noise. A selection of these good people can be seen above. Thony Ekström has posted a 28 minute video of the workshop presentation here. I like the part where the orchestra warms up in the beginning…

Norberg Neanderthal photos by Björn Eriksson and Rotwang @ (last). Tack!!!

Electronics Work

I spent quite a bit of July working on this chopper with a student named Alvaro Ayuso. He didn’t quite finish it… a problem if you’re a young Spanish dude with too many friends around I suppose. Synth building is a solitary pursuit. So consider this a work in progress. Good going so far, amigo, now let’s bring it on home!

Tech details: line input, mic input, 2 x line outputs, dual VCA, 2 x VCO, dual VC Slope, Utility LFO, DC Mixer, Steiner VC Filter, Wave Multiplier. All PCBs by Ken Stone/CGS.

And finally… here’s a Serge Power Supply Unit I built for my friend Richard Scott:

Yeah, I guess it’s been a busy month…

Now Playing

old man gloomno[2012 hydra head]
omadvaitic songs[2012 drag city]
swanslive at berghain[04 aug 2012 berlin](looking forward!)

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SoundBoxes Helsinki Info + Video

Posted in Documentation on June 18th, 2012 by admin

The MUU Gallery requested info-sheets for each of the instruments I am showing there. A whole weekend of vector-scribbling later, I present these examples of my mad Inkscape skillz as testament to the fact that I probably should get more sunlight this summer…

Download the PDF catalog with photos here:

Wolf Tone Box
Derek Holzer

This box was created from a found children’s karaoke toy specially for the MUU Invisible Time exhibition, Helsinki (FI). It features a voice-changing circuit, condenser microphone and loudspeaker mounted in an antique wooden box, and has been equipped with “bend points” where physical contact with the circuit changes the sound.

1) On/Off Switch
2) Volume Knob
3) Input Jack
4) 9V Power Input: for battery or wall adaptor
5) Speaker
6) Bend Points: touching two of the screws together with your finger can “bend” the sound of the instrument, or flip one of the switches to hold a certain sound
7) Condenser Microphone with Flexible Neck

To Play:

A) Press the On/Off Switch, you will see a small light above the Speaker when the box is activated
B) Speak into the Condenser Microphone
C) Adjust the Volume Knob to lower the level, raise it or create feedback
D) Feedback can be also created by lowering the Microphone nearer to the Speaker
E) Experiment with the Bend Points using either fingers on the screws or the switches
F) If the sound dies out, speak into the microphone again

This instrument is for sale, price EUR 260.

Macumba Benjolin
Derek Holzer

The Benjolin is a circuit designed by Rob Hordijk from the Netherlands. It contains two oscillators (one slow and one fast), a band-pass filter and a circuit Hordijk calls the “Rungler”, which allows chaotic feedback possibilities between the different parts of the circuit. This one has been customized with an old silverware case, a built-in amp and speaker and a patchbay for further chaotic interactions.

1) On/off Switch
2) Inputs: the four left-hand-side jacks are inputs, don’t unplug these. The black connection with the red cable connects to the speaker. The other input jacks connect to different parts of the oscillators.
3) Outputs: the eight right-hand-side jacks are outputs, play with these. The black jack is the output of the filter. The others others are different parts of the oscillators.
4) Volume knob
5) Output jack, for plugging into other SoundBoxes
6) Speaker: this is turned off when something is plugged into the output jack
7) Filter Controls: these will only change the sound when using the black output jack
8) Oscillator Controls: these change the frequency and chaos levels of the oscillators

To Play:

A) Flip the On/Off switch upwards
B) Adjust the Volume Knob
C) Create feedback by plugging the blue cables from the left-hand side into the different output jacks on the right hand side
D) Listen to different parts of the synthesizer connecting the red cable from the black jack on the left-hand side to any of the output jacks on the right-hand side
E) Use the top row of knobs to adjust the two oscillators
F) Use the bottom row of knobs to adjust the filter, and remember you only hear the filter when the red cable is connected to the black output jack
9) The Macumba Benjolin requires two VERY FRESH 9V block batteries to operate properly

This instrument is from the personal collection of the artist. Customizations of many electronic music circuits are available on request.

M79 Super
Derek Holzer

The smallest synthesizer I have ever made, the M79 Super was built during the Piksel Neanderthal Electronics workshop in Bergen (NO). Here, three oscillators, a tiny speaker and two sound-reactive LEDs are placed inside a beautiful, old, palm-sized flashlight from the 1970’s.

1) On/Off Switch
2) Third Oscillator On/Off Switch
3) Oscillator Frequency Control Knobs
4) Output Jack: to connect the M79 Super to larger speakers
5) Very Small Loudspeaker
6) Two Audio-reactive LEDs: one of these displays the waveform of Oscillators 1+2, and the second displays the waveform of Oscillator 3

To Play:

A) Slide down the On/Off Switch located on the side of the object
B) Flip the Third Oscillator On/Off Switch up or down to activate/deactivate Oscillator 3, and notice what effect it has on the sound
C) Adjust the frequencies of the different Oscillators
D) You can make a filter by covering the small Loudspeaker with a cupped hand or your mouth

This instrument is for sale, price EUR 130.

Electric Spring II and III
Derek Holzer

These are simple, resonant drone boxes using the feedback between a simple contact microphone with a coil-spring and the speaker to make rich harmonic sounds or metallic reverb effects. These were created in an edition of three for the Electric Spring Festival in Huddersfield (UK).

1) On/Off Switch
2) Volume Knob
3) Input Jack: other kinds of microphones or instruments could also be connected here
4) Contact Microphone + Spring: this microphone picks up physical vibrations rather than sounds from the air. It has a resonant coil spring attached to it which makes the drone and also can be used as an “antenna” to search for new sounds
5) Speaker

To Play:

A) Turn Volume Knob all the way to the left
B) Place the Contact Microphone across the Speaker
C) Flip the On/Off switch upwards
D) Adjust the Volume Knob until you start to hear a tone
E) Adjust the position of the Contact Microphone + Spring and the Volume Knob to find new sounds
F) You may gently touch the Speaker with the Spring, but please do not press hard or you will damage the Speaker

These instrument are for sale, price EUR 80 each.

SoundBox I
Derek Holzer

This was the first SoundBox instrument I created in 2010. It uses feedback and the physical vibration of the speaker cone to create different kinds of chaotic sounds.

1) On/Off Switch
2) Volume Knob
3) Input Jack: other kinds of microphones or instruments could also be connected here
4) Speaker
5) Contact Microphone: this microphone picks up physical vibrations rather than sounds from the air. It has two “antenna” attached to it to search for new sounds.

To Play:

A) Turn Volume Knob all the way to the left
B) Place the Contact Microphone across the Speaker
C) Flip the On/Off switch upwards
D) Adjust the Volume Knob until you start to hear a tone
E) Adjust the position of the Contact Microphone and the Volume Knob to find new sounds
F) Place some of the found objects provided in the speaker and see how the vibrations move them around and change the sound

This instrument is from the personal collection of the artist, and is used frequently in performance.

SoundBox II
Derek Holzer

The second SoundBox I built, this one remains a bit incomplete–it looks better than it functions. Besides the normal SoundBox microphone/amplifier/speaker feedback loop, this one was intended to have a small synthesizer circuit which would alter the sound as it passed through. This part didn’t work out so well, but I left the controls to remind me that one day I should fix it!

1) On/Off Knob
2) Three Useless Controls
3) Input Jack: for Contact Microphone or other sound sources
4) Speaker
5) Contact Microphone + Spring: this microphone picks up physical vibrations rather than sounds from the air. It has a resonant coil spring attached to it which makes the drone and also can be used as an “antenna” to search for new sounds

To Play:

A) Turn the On/Off Knob clockwise, you will feel a click when the box turns on, but please don’t expect it to control the volume as well!
B) Don’t bother with the Three Useless Controls either, they’re only decorations at this point
C) Adjust the position of the Contact Microphone + Spring to find new sounds
D) You may gently touch the Speaker with the Spring, but please do not press hard or you will damage the Speaker

This instrument is from the personal collection of the artist, and is a work-in-progress.

Derek Holzer: live SoundBox Performance at MUU Gallery, Helsinki 07 June 2012. Video by Rita Leppiniemi.

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