Felt calculator

Felt + circuits = sustainable musical goodness. Powered by USB, this felt calculator can squeeze and squeak to make noise.

Plastic, aluminum, wood … why not felt? Brian Crabtree and Kelli Cain, co-creators of the open source Monome multimedia controller, have long had an interest in alternative, sustainable materials for music and multimedia. They recently shared some of those ideas at a felt + circuits workshop in Los Angeles. (You may have seen the felt calculator synth show up on Music thing.)

Brian explains to CDM what the workshop was about, with a glimpse of why felt and copper-etched circuits could be the future. I’ve left it lowercase, in keeping with Brian’s textual aesthetic. -PK

the felt+circuits workshop wouldn’t have happened without the enthusiasm and encouragement of mark allen of machine project. teaching workshops helps raise money for the space in addition to bringing together a community. machine continues to serve as a platform for the intersection of art, technology, craft, and social consciousness. it’s certainly our favorite place in los angeles. we were very happy to be there in residence this last spring.

the felt+circuits workshop was one of numerous events we scheduled, all which involved a great deal of process. this workshop in particular covers a wide range:

– make felt from the wool of happy, healthy sheep living on a picturesque farm in northern california. (these particular sheep were rambouillet)
– turn wool into felt with a little physical labor
– learn basic schematic entry and circuit layout
– discuss and collect candidates for natural dyeing (all plant-based, best if we could locate and harvest locally)
– experiment with various dyeing methods (boiling and fermenting)
– transfer film of circuits (as well as images of the student’s choice)
onto copper then etch
– drill, populate, and solder circuit, test on some willing USB port
– create the creature of choice, sewing felt into magical squeak-embedded shapes

Jars of dye

the calculator was inspired by a favorite texas instruments calculator (much to see at the calculator museum). we found that color matching was very difficult and could take an entire day. the dark brown color alone took about seven hours and 4 different dye baths including amaranth, logwood, madder, and coffee.

we were lucky to have an incredibly enthusiastic and patient class. despite a few moments of uncertainty, the workshop went smoothly. felting, dyeing, etching, and soldering ended up being a great combination.


Ed.: And what about this felt calculator (and other projects made at the workshop)?

the calculator has conductive metal contacts on the back which control the pitch/volume of an oscillator. sqeezy squeak ish.

usb is power only.

no batteries.

others– bunnies, birds, monsters, pot roast. not sure how many finished up.

Squeezy squeakish, incidentally, is the name of my upcoming album. We hope to have more felt + circuits goodness soon; stay tuned. -PK

Dye mordents

Circuit boards