This weekend I went to BEAM Day, a day of workshops for creating music and sound art machines. This day is part of this year’s events for the BEAM 2012 festival taking place  22-24 June at Brunel University. I can’t make the festival this year, so the BEAM day was a good chance to meet some people creating and experimenting with electronic music, sound art and performance controllers.

Alex Allmont created a collaborative workshop to build an electro-mechanical noise machine, the Polytherelegomuino. People were invited to build mechanisms out of LEGO that would in turn operate the controls of electronic synths. Each participant had a LEGO board to create a mechanism on with a turning shaft providing power, all driven from a central motor. The result was like a robotic synth knob-twiddling noise factory!

Lego synth knob twiddling machine at BEAM Day 2012
One of the Polytherelegomuino machines at BEAM Day 2012. I built the board to the right with the ‘hut’ on it, which housed a worm drive mechanism for slowly turning a frequency knob connected to the Arduino based synth.

Here’s a video of the final machine taken by Alex – WARNING: watch your speaker level, this is NOISY!

The synths used in the Polytherelegomuino are based on the Arduino synths of Mike Blow’s optical theremin instruments, the Theremuino and Energy Ball Theremuino which Mike was demonstrating on the day.

Mike Blow's Theremuino
Mike Blow’s Theremuino at BEAM Day 2012.
Mike Blow's Energy Ball Theremuino
Mike Blow’s Energy Ball Theremuino at BEAM Day 2012.

Codasign ran a workshop for controlling OSC compatible audio software, such as Max/MSP, with movement gestures via a Kinect. The Kinect to OSC interface they were using is built in Processing using OpenNI libraries, which allows a person’s movements to be tracked and mapped to OSC parameters. In the workshop they showed how a synth in Max/MSP could have parameters like pitch, number of harmonics and filter cutoff controlled by hand movements and standing position, all tracked through the Kinect.

Other workshops included Bruno Zamborlin’s mobile phone (accelerometer) based gesture recognition for controlling sound and Noisy Toys circuit bending workshop.

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Building The WOM

At the Beam Festival in June I joined a group of people in building one of Tom Bug’s brilliant Workshop Oscillator Machines in one of the workshop sessions.

Building the Bugbrand WOM (Workshop Oscillator Machine)

Even though the WOM is a simple design it can make some complex and sometimes chaotic sounds. It includes some circuit bending tricks including ‘power starvation’. This causes the part of the circuit that creates the basic elements of the sound, the oscillators, to enter unexpected cycling patterns when they struggle to work as normal as their power is gradually sucked away. With power starvation switched on – just a slight twist of one of the WOMs controls… a completely new sound is created. Playing the WOM is noisy harsh unpredictable fun.

Bugbrand WOM (Workshop Oscillator Machine)

The contacts at the bottom of the WOM look a bit like a deranged piano keyboard. They’re actually electrical contacts which you touch to become part of the circuit to bend its function.

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