After spending a significant amount of time last year on a work project that involved lots of sound design for a sonic branding thing, and research about such things (I’ll post the deck from that when I can – “sensitive corporate branding top secret things”), I ended up building an Atari Punk Console (Stepped-Tone Generator). It’s based on Forrest Mims’ original design and cobbled together from a variety of other work found online. That led to a lot of other sound circuit curiosity and I’ve since gone down a synthesis rabbit hole trying to learn as much as possible about how synthesizers work, the history behind them, and how to make my own stuff (I recently learned that I have a direct connection with someone who worked for “Bob” and returned his Polymoog years ago to the guy that designed it – mind blown). Bob Moog. Like, the guy that invented all this stuff. Yeah. I’m an experienced sound guy and have designed, recorded, mixed, and mastered plenty of audio over the years professionally. I have some minor music chops too, but I never knew what was under the hood when it came to analog sound synthesis. And, I love analog (post about super-8 film cameras in the works). One to always want to know how things work, I became intrigued after making the APC.
I received a Radio Shack all-in-one electronics kit for Christmas as a kid and spent hours building every project in the manual. Man, I miss Radio Shack. My family is an eclectic bunch of artists, engineers, and all around makers of all sorts. My cousin (more like my brother) built and programmed a robot before we were teenagers in the 80’s. The guy’s brilliant. I would link to his custom R2-D2 build if I had that. I need to dig up some photos of the things we made as kids. And my Dad, well, he can pretty much figure anything out and then be really good at it. So, I come from a long line of folks who are really good at making things. I got plenty of cross looks as a kid for taking apart Dad’s important stuff. A typesetting machine comes to mind. Sorry, Dad. We’re basically the same person, so I never got in any actual trouble for that. In fact, it was supported and that curiosity made me who I am. Capable. I figure shit out. A reverse engineering artist, if you will.
All of this led to discovering a fantastic world of DIYers building their own sound making things. One in particular, Sam Battle AKA Look Mum No Computer. Amazing dude. The artist/trial and error engineer is something I appreciate. And, his “JUST TRY IT” attitude is spot on. I’ve always said, “Work comes from work, so just make stuff.” Anyway, I’ve been making sound circuits. I plan on making a lot more. I’ll be documenting those projects here along with other nostalgic ramblings.
REVERSE AVALANCHE OSCILLATOR
Below is my stripboard drawing of the Reverse Avalanche Oscillator. I Based this on Look Mum No Computer’s design and it’s pretty much exactly the same. Being a visual artist and designer, it helps me to learn by making my own drawing from scratch. Plus, I get all picky about the layout and stuff. Ya know. I have a love affair with schematic drawings as art, but that’s another thing. Here’s an Illustration I did for the launch of a 3D printer (Full list of shit I did for these asshats here). Tech and art combined. You wanna hang it on your wall, right? Marketing. Engineering types never get marketing and vice versa… usually. I could tell you lots of stories. What if, you could be both? Groundbreaking idea. Most often the engineers have awful taste but think they know what’s cool. I digress. I try to be on both sides. I’ll share some inspiration from way back that started all that with me when I have time. And, for the record, Look Mum’s style is brilliant. I love it. Thanks for sharing, Sam. And also, make it your own, right? Brilliant.
So, I used some electronics prototyping software called Fritzing. It’s stupid easy to use. Think, “My First Crayola.” And, yes I know, Autodesk Eagle, etc. I’m fairly competent with Fusion 360 and other CAD and 3D applications. And, lots of folks HATE Fritzing. But, it’s simple. Sometimes the easy way is just fine. And also, open-source software usually sucks from a UX/UI perspective IMO. Design and usability matters (I’ve designed more than a few user interfaces). Check out Apple‘s work on human/computer interaction – It’s all about humans interacting with machines, which = good marketing. See how that works? Fritzing is buggy as hell (possibly not even supported anymore). But, it’s free, like “beer” or some shit that the asshats used to say a lot without explaining. I’m open to that discussion – Inclusion is important. Whatever. Use what you got. Make stuff. And, don’t be an asshole. Life lessons.
After some fumbling around and reverse engineering the software’s included SVG files, I figured out how to make custom parts for Fritzing in Illustrator. So, I made some stuff. I removed the middle leg of the transistor (Base leg) for reverse avalanche and made the 3.5mm TRS panel jacks I had in the lab. I also made some little arrows… there’s my obsessive schematic design thing in play. The Fritzing part files are below for download if you wanna make a drawing. I recommend you do. And then get out the soldering iron. I plugged it into my mixer, turned up the gain and volume and actually shook the windows in my house. JUST TRY IT!
More to come, including video and sounds…