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Category Archives: sound art

For Science Day 2012 at UL, we decided to build a fun controller and sound synthesis demo. Over the past few years, we’ve had a number of postgraduate students exploring for example Galvanic Skin Response for artistic expression. It was slightly surprising to see the hype when Makey Makey launched earlier in 2012. I was puzzled that they didn’t seem to be aware of the work by for example Erkki Kurenniemi and Ralph Lundsten in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Kurenniemi’s DIMI-S is Lundsten’s Love Machine.
We were inspired by the original work by Kurenniemi and Lundsten and we designed and built a 16 channel analogue resistance multiplexer. The circuit uses four inexpensive CMOS chips (CD4051, 8-channel mux) and a couple of transistors (connected as a current mirror), connected to an Arduino and then to a laptop running Pure Data (PD). The Arduino controls what two pins that are active at any given time, rapidly scanning the whole matrix of possibilities (there are 240 possible connections, with 16 channels).
LoveMachine++ interface circuit
We then designed a sound synthesis system in Pure Data (PD) with both a spectral synthesizer, taking the parameters from the resistance matrix and doing a reverse Fast Fourier Transform, and a sequencer, where the mixing and filtering is controlled by the resistance matrix.
LoveMachine++ demo setup
We had to explain to the first few students that they had to touch at least two fruits or vegetables to get sound. After about an hour, word was spreading and experimentation flourished, with several students holding on to vegetables, shaking hands, touching foreheads, etc.

A short video clip from today’s demo.

Schematic diagram

LoveMachine++ interface Schematic Diagram

Bill of Materials

Name Value/Type Description Quantity
D1-3 1N4148 Diode 3
IC1-4 CD4051 8 channel analogue multiplexer 4
Q1-2 BC556 PNP transistor 2
R1 560K Resistor, 0.25W 1
R2 220K Resistor, 0.25W 1
R3 47K Resistor, 0.25W 1

Source code

Arduino code

PD patch

[note: I cobbled together a simple communication protocol in the code and patch above. Basically, an ASCII-based fixed packet length with a terminator character, which makes it easy to see and debug]


Some background on Kurenniemi’s work:

Mikko Ojanen, Jari Suominen, Titti Kallio, Kai Lassfolk (2007) Design Principles and User Interfaces of Erkki Kurenniemi’s Electronic Musical Instruments of the 1960’s and 1970’s, Proceedings of the International Conference on New Interfaces for Musical Expression, pp. 88–93.


Can you live without this?

What if you wake up one morning and this isn’t here?

Will you have any honey for your porridge?

In fact, will you have any porridge, at all?

Bee colonies around the world are in decline, due to a number of mitigating factors.

Perhaps we can listen to the bees in a new way….

We’re concerned.

Very concerned…

Over the past 13 years, I have had the pleasure to work together with Sean Taylor under our common name Softday. It all started when Sean asked me if it was possible to make music form a year’s collection of weather maps from the Irish Times, which in due time resulted in Bliain le Baisteach (A Year with Rain). This was an excellent starter project for our collaboration as it was well funded and went straight to prominence as it became part of the Irish Pavilion at the Expo2000 World Millennium Exhibition in Hanover in Germany. Since then, our Softday collaboration have resulted in numerous projects (check out our web site ) and we are now working on a new and very exciting topic: the life, and potential death, of honey bees. At the time of writing this we have about two years of research done, with plenty of field recordings from honey farms and nature, photos, video, scribbles and sketches. We are now heading for the final realization of the project and the premier is set to the 27th of April 2013, starting at 15:00, in Glenstal Abbey, in Murroe, Co. Limerick in Ireland.
While we have managed to get all our projects over the past 13 years funded, one way or another, this time we’re exploring what has become known crowd-funding, in addition to the great support we have received from Create and the Irish Arts Council. Perhaps, as a friend suggested today, we should call it hive funding, as our current project is about honey bees. Please note that if you support us, we give you something back.

Here’s a link to our Call for support on

(and similar audio recorders)

For casual professional recording of everyday sounds, ranging from nature to interviews, the Zoom H1 is a very convenient and inexpensive device. With outdoor recording, wind is almost always present in places like Ireland. If you use a H1 as it is, your recordings will rumble with every puff of wind and destroy your recording.
To remedy this, I initially bought a simple foam windshield and this was sufficient on calm days. But for the normal gusts of westerly winds we get in Ireland, the design had to be improved. Rycote are making Mini Windjammers that cost around £STG25.  As I know how windjammers work, I found the cost excessive and the Rycote design perhaps not the optimal solution.
Fluffy textile
I bought some nice fluffy/hairy textile in a local shop (Hickey’s). The criteria for the material was that the base material should be as transparent as possible and the outer coating as hairy as possible. As this was shortly after St Patrick’s day, I bought 2 meters of a green fluffy material for 5 euro (which is enough for perhaps 20 windjammers).
Wire cage
Next, I made a small cage from brass-wire, to contain the H1. You can use any kind of semi-rigid wire for this.

After shaping the wire-cage, I folded some fluffy textile around it with the inside out and marked where to cut the textile.

Fluffy textile sticthed together, and Velcro

I sewed the front of the textile in a curve to fit the front of the wire-cage, and along the bottom I stitched on some Velcro, which makes it easy to put the textile on on the cage and to get, for example, a headphone cable through.

Elastic cage
Finally, I used some elastic band to hang the Zoom H1 in the cage, to prevent handling noise and other unwanted vibrations to be picked up, and inserted the cage with the H1 into the green fluffy tube. Zip up the Velcro and you’re ready for recording.

Zoom H1 and Windjammer

Finished H1 Windjammer

Happy Recording!

I’ve been using the excellent site and apps Audioboo for a couple of years. While other Audioboo makers provide stories, music, guiding, journalism or audio-blogs, I think all my Audioboo podcasts are SILENT.

This is an issue I’ve been thinking about for many years. In the mid-1960’s I read Heinrich Böll‘s story “Murke’s Collected Silences” and at that time I was fiddling with reel-to-reel tape-recorders, microphones, and in general exploring different perspectives of sound. Inspiration!

There are so many different forms of silence. A silence can be really quiet and peaceful, it can be really loud (I consider this silence as well, as you can’t have any purposeful or useful communication).

My Audioboos are available at the Audioboo site, and now also via iTunes podcasts.

Enjoy the silences!

During the Sounding Object project, we researched and developed new approaches for sound on computers, responsive to physical interaction and easily matched to physical objects. One of the demos was the Vodhran, a virtual Irish Bodhran drum. The performers gestures are tracked using a Polhemus Fastrak 6-DOF electromagnetic tracker in realtime and the sound synthesized in real-time by our sound object models.

This summer, I’m planning to make another version of this, probably the Hodhran – a Hyper-bodhran, using a real bodhran, parts of a Wii controller, an Arduino and a few sensors (such as force sensitive resistors and bend sensors).

In the mid-1960’s, I first heard the sound of a synthesizer. When Wendy Carlos‘ album Switched on Bach was released in 1968 I was totally convinced that electronic instruments was the future. As I couldn’t afford to buy a real Moog, I spent a few years studying electronic engineering and telecoms to enable me to build my own, that I eventually used in my final year project in 1975. I think I’ve only one or two of the home-etched circuit boards left in some drawer. I had to disassemble the synth when I finished the final year project, as some parts were borrowed from physics labs, other parts designed and built by me (only recordings remain).

I was delighted today to find the Moog Foundation on the web. I fully agree with their vision that music, and in particular by using electronic instruments like the Moog-range, is an excellent way to get young people interested in art, science and technology. It is a very intuitive way to learn as you can start by exploring a few simple buttons and tweaking a few knobs – and immediately hear the result. The magic of this directness can then easily lead to a feeling of wonder about how it works. When you get onto that path of discovery, you can learn a lot about music, physics, electronics, maths, and a number of other things such as the importance of designing things so that they are suitable for human use. This is probably one of the most important aspects of Bob Moog‘s work. He worked together with musicians. While it is simple to get a knob to change the resonance frequency of a filter, the control curve (the mapping) has to feel natural to the musician (while it may sometimes be a difficult engineering problem to get the right non-linearity, especially when working with analog electronics).
So, here’s to Bob Moog, Wendy Carlos, and many others whose work and art I’ve enjoyed so much over the years, and still do. Let’s keep on designing, building, exploring and making.

>Friday and Saturday, JJ and I installed our latest sound sculpture at Gairmscoil Clu Uladh in county Donegal.

>Finally, we launched the catalogue for the Two Places Exhibition.