Circuit Bending Adventures: Part 2

A short one today, to say that I’m nearly finished with my MA and I’ve been designing some sounds using the library I’ve created from circuit bending some old toys. It’s been a pretty fun process and hopefully will just be the beginning of my circuit bending adventures!

I’ll be releasing the library of sounds that I’ve recorded and created from these toys sometime over the coming months.

Check out some of the sounds here:

Circuit Bending Adventures: Part 1 (Plus I Have a Mailing List Now!)

So I’m coming towards the end of my MA studies now and as part of my final major project I decided to create some sound libraries. These are based on filling gaps within my own library, and exploring techniques and ideas that I’m unfamiliar with and interested in. So far it’s been both a steep learning curve and extremely fun!

I’ve been interviewing people who do this currently, field recording, editing, tinkering learning about metadata and all kinds of other stuff pretty much non stop for the last few months! I’ve got three libraries currently in the works and I’ll be releasing them from sometime in late October onwards. If you’re interested you can sign up for my shiny new mailing list, you’ll see a pop up form on the homepage of this site!

Okay, plug over, now back to the subject in hand, circuit bending! Specifically circuit bending some sweet old toy synthesisers, a Major Morgan and the legendary Stylophone! The Major Morgan I’ve had ever since I can remember but it was gathering dust in my dad’s house and so I brought it home with me a while ago with the intention of doing something creative with it. The Stylophone was a kind gift from my mother-in-law (she knows me well)! I’m a total newbie to the world of circuit bending, so I decided to keep it simple and just add an output jack and on/off switch to the Major Morgan.

Because he’s so small, I found it tricky to fit them in him, so inspired by this great blog post  (which involves a much more complex build than mine) I built a breakout box and stuck the components in there.  I followed the instructions from this article to wire up the components.

The process looked like this:

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The initial opening him up and inserting bits into the breakout box

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Then I built some multicore wire using heat-shrink I had kicking around and hooked up the speaker and jack

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Connected up the on/off switch and proceeded to try and get everything back in the box

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And here he is post surgery, looking as maniacally happy as ever…

I bought all my components from Bitsbox who are great and UK based, and it came to under a tenner in total. I used a switch jack as suggested in the article so the speaker turns of when he’s plugged in. I then went on to dismantle the Stylophone feeling emboldened by my new found circuit bending success, but then I remembered I don’t really know anything about electronics so I basically just put it back together!

I did add an LDR to the circuit, attempting to use it as a pitch bend by mimicking where the tuning knob was wired up and it did indeed affect the pitch. However, it only changed the pitch by about a semi-tone in either direction. I’m guessing it’s not providing very much resistance and this is why, any electronics aficionados please feel free to tell me if that’s correct in the comments as I’d love to get some more extreme light based pitch shifting nonsense out of the Stylophone!

Here’s some of the sounds I got out of both instruments:

This is going to be the first in a series of circuit bent toy libraries as I’ve got loads of other toys waiting to be messed with in my cupboard at home. I’d encourage anyone to give circuit bending a go, even if you know literally nothing about electronics. I didn’t know anything at all when I started this project and I feel like I’ve come away (a little) wiser and having made some fun new sounds. If you do have a go, please let me know, I’d love to hear about other folks projects and hear the sounds you make!

DIY Stethoscope Mic

It’s been a while since i’ve written anything here as I’ve been wrapped up in studying for my MA and working at my new job at Doghouse Post but this week I decided I should get back on writing this blog and making some recordings.

With that in mind, and inspired by Akash Thakkar and Rene Coronado, I decided to make a stethoscope mic. I’ve only recently come across these as a concept, and Akash’s GDC talk about the sound of Hyper Light Drifter (which you can find here) made me decide to give it a go myself!

The build was based off of Akash’s design and both he and Rene were (as far as I know) inspired by Diego Stocco so thanks Diego for inspiring me by proxy! My version is substantially lower budget than all of these guys, but I was able to make it in under an hour, for under a tenner and mostly out of stuff I already had lying around.

The ingredients were as follows:

1 x Stethoscope – From Ebay – £3.99 inc. postage.

1 x Lav Mic – I already had this from my previous DIY parabolic mic build, I decided to reuse it for this as the parabolic mic was a bit fragile and just all round not that good.

1 x 3cm section of garden hose – From my garden hose! Thankfully my housemates didn’t seem to mind me cutting up the hose.

1 x Shitloads of gaffer tape

That’s it. The build was super easy and the end result looks a bit like this (I’ve since added more gaffer around the hosepipe section, please excuse the state of my sofa!)

I haven’t had much chance to make recordings yet this week as I’ve been pretty busy with work, but hopefully I’ll get the chance to make some and share them here in the next few weeks. I did, however, take a quick test recording of my own heartbeat.

As you can hear, the noise floor is pretty high, but I expected this from a mic that cost less than £10 to build. It’s running through my Zoom H1 which has quite a high noise floor anyway, but i’m still pretty happy with the result and will be running around like some kind of weird sound doctor for the next few weeks, i’ll share the results here when I make some more recordings.

Learning Granular Synthesis pt 2

A very short post today, to say that it’s been a slow process trying to get my head round Max over the last couple of months, but I finally have a fairly useable patch that I’ve been playing around with quite a lot.

Really this is more of a glorified sample player than a true granular synthesis patch, in as much as it has no options for multiple grains, grain density and so on. Still, I’m pretty happy with it as a complete novice to both granular synthesis and programming in general.

In presentation mode it even looks (reasonably) presentable:

Out of presentation mode, not so much:

I’m working on some new music using prepared guitar samples processed through this patch, I’ll update this post with some of it when I’m ready to share. In the mean time if you’d like to share Max patches with me please get in touch, I need all the help I can get…

Learning Granular Synthesis Pt 1

In the last couple of weeks on my MA course, we’ve been learning about editing audio using phase vocoder based technologies, and granular synthesis. This is frankly, all a bit technical and mind bending for me, but I think i’m starting to get my head around it and I’ve been playing around with editing some of my field recordings to create ambient/drone pieces.

On the 2nd of November I was out and about around the Harbourside in Bristol making some field recordings.


Field Recording on the pontoon beneath Prince’s Street Bridge

I borrowed some kit from the universities asset store (Sound Devices 552, Rode NT4) and made some basic stereo recordings from various points around the Harbourside.

Here’s one of those recordings, after normalisation and trimming in Audacity.

As you can hear in the above clip, theres some pretty prominent violin playing from a guy to my right at the start (he was pretty good!)

I decided that it might be fun to try and use some spectral editing to remove some of the partials that were not his violin, with the aim of making his playing more prominent and hopefully without completely trashing the original sound in the process.

I used SPEAR to do this, which is pretty fun to play around with and free! Here’s the result.

As you can hear I (somewhat) succeeded in making the violin more prominent, however I kind of turned the rest of the recording into a strange, banshee like sine wave fest. Not exactly what I was aiming for, but since SPEAR actually re-synthesises the sound, it’s kind of impossible to avoid this if you remove lots of the quieter partials. At least for me it is, more practice and time with it will help i’m sure.

Anyway, I then took this file and fed it into MacPOD (another cool piece of free software) and did some granular synthesis mostly just using snippets from the first 10 seconds or so where the violin is playing. Here’s the result of that.

I’m pretty happy with this as both something substantially more listenable (to my ears at least) than the original re-synthesis, and significantly far removed from the original field recording.

I’m currently playing around with Max, building a very basic granular synth patch, in part 2 I’ll talk about that, share the patch and hopefully some interesting sounds I’ve made with it!