Physical Computing Day One: Victorian Synthesizer Madness! Group C Reports In From Heck

The first day of Physical Computing started and ended with a bit of confusion in the Portal, but that is par for the course. Once we set up the various cameras and microphones, and dealt with feedback, echo, etc, the fun began!

The goal of the Victorian Synthesizer workshop is for each group to create an electronic instrument (or instruments) using parts and techniques that would have been known to the Victorians, and then make a final performance in the Portal.

Once we understood the basic techniques, we separated into our groups and set to work.

With motley assortment of raw speakers, wires, piezo pickups, batteries, nails, coins, some lentils (really), a strip of aluminum foil, inductive pickups, etc. the first task was to make some noise… which we certainly did!

The Performance:

Group C is a bit Oslo-heavy, but Iggy in Trondheim more than made up for it by recording some amazing sounds with an inductive pickup and his cell phone . . . and then processing the resultant sound into a mad bass bed-track for the rest of our improvisations. During the performance, he also created real-time sounds with the inductive pickup. So nice to hear.

Thomas and Paul in Oslo created some interesting sounds with a lentil-filled raw speaker connected to a 9-volt battery via a momentary switch, and a piezo contact mic running through a battery powered amplifier.

The lentil-filled speaker was quite rhythmic when played (rhythmically) via the momentary switch, recalling a cabasa shaker being throttled by an over-excited telegraph operator. SOS! This ship is going down!

The piezo was variously rubbed and scraped across various surfaces while the hand-held amplifier was lowered in and out of a SiO-sponsored refillable coffee cup (Coffee deal!), creating a modulation to the amplified tone that was quite satisfying, like picking an aural scab off of the hairy hindquarters of Mephistopheles him/herself, running like hell, and actually getting away.

Meanwhile, Aleks used the very non-Victorian computer program PureData to create a basic sampler-looper, and using a jerry-rigged small speaker as a microphone, proceeded to sample the noise we created, manipulate it in real time, then feed the sound back through one of the battery powered amps. Various echos, feedback loops, and howls that literally peeled the paint off the ceiling was the sonic result.

aleks PD day 1

We played all this for like, I don’t know, 5 minutes? When the last howls of the demon we had aroused faded and we emerged once again, blinking in the glare of the bright sunlight as if awakening from a dream, our comrades greeted us with a most thunderous applause.

This was probably because it was over, we assume.

Live-Demo: MCT-Students performing in the Portal