For all that latest plug-in may perform every kind of synthesis ever, much of electronic sound boils down to a few basic techniques. Perhaps that’s part of the appeal of DIY electronics: it’s a chance to do less.
What strikes me about Brian McNamara’s work is how elegant it is: simple boxes interconnect with basic functions. These are digital instruments – inside those black boxes, the soul of the thing is a microcontroller – but tightly focused on a simple task. I asked Brian to walk us through his favorite projects. You may have seen the Wicks Looper before, but it’s just as nice to see these three side by side. The common theme: finding a single, focused idea, and executing it in an object whose design makes its function clear and accessible.
Here’s Brian describing his work.
The Swooftronic Pi was the first sound project I made that was fully my own design. It consists of two small boxes joined by a cable. One box goes in each hand. Each box has a light sensor in the top; as you let more light into the right hand sensor, you increase the frequency (pitch). As you let more light onto the left hand sensor, you increase the length of the note played. At the heart of the Swooftronic Pi is a Picaxe microcontroller; it is used for the two analog inputs and the stereo sound outputs.
The Wicks Looper is probably my most popular project. It’s a very simple device that allows you to build up sound loops using a push button and a rotary potentiometer. When the write button is pressed, a sound is written into memory, corresponding to the position of the pitch control. The sound is then replayed next time the loop is run. Once you have built up the loop you want, you can adjust the tempo control to make the loop go as fast or slow as you like.
The EM-Tronic is one of my more recent projects. It’s a super simple synth that has 2 controls — one for the frequency and one for how fast the sound is repeated. This device creates some really interesting sounds from the delay circuit when the speed and pitch are increased together. The speed control also allows modes to be selected that change the sound of the basic tone.
The inspiration for all of my projects is my interest in electronics and music. Until I started building these projects as a business, I always worked in electronics workshops and played in bands in my spare time. Building these projects seemed like a good mix of the two. You can find more info about my projects at my Etsy shop: http://www.etsy.com/shop/rarebeasts and project site: http://www.freewebs.com/rarebeasts/index.htm