Thursday, March 31, 2011

Found Friday 71

Mrs. Weener and Children, Mrs. Fish, Mr. Pig, Sissig Dog.
drawing from a 1906 spelling book.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Circuit Bent Fun Years Keyboard

Yesterday I decided to take a break from In The Crystal Palace and mess around with some new toys instead. On Saturday I picked up some used kiddie electronics at the Salvation Army thrift store, including a Fun Years keyboard. A cheap Chinese knockoff, this toy keyboard has some interesting features, including several rhythm settings, a record button, and a "one key note" button. The electronic guts are what you would expect to find - a "black blob" IC common to most inexpensive electronics, and a separate amplification chip. To change the pitch I removed the timing resistor & and replaced it with a 500k potentiometer. I also added two photoresistors so that the pitch can also be altered by light/shadow. I also poked around the amp chip and found some nice distortion and feedback bends. Finally, I added a 1/4" output jack.

Overall interior view w/ modifications

View of pitch control w/ 500k pot & 2 photoresistors. Photoresistors are hot-glued inside a wood block which is hot-glued to the front interior case.

Exterior view of pitch controls. Photoresistors are above the knob.

Overall exterior view w/ modifications. The distortion/feedback bends are manipulated by the two knobs at the right.

I'm happy with how this project turned out. The photoresistors add an additional level of interaction and playability, and the distortion/feedback bends add some teeth to the audio. For example, there's a cheesy "Mandolin" setting that repeats the same note as long as the key(s) is held down, but slowed down & distorted has an ominous, driving Krautrock vibe.

Here's a short video clip:

and... here's the same clip but with the video scrambled using Audacity, slowed down 90%, and edited in length to fit original audio:

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Found Friday 70

Post-it note found inside a copy of Joyce Carol Oats' On Boxing (thanks Maggie!)

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Databending - Creating and Listening to RTF Files

Last week Boing Boing had an interesting post about using EXE files to create found audio clips. The basic idea is to use an audio editing program such as Audacity to open and listen to raw data files as audio files. The process is called databending and has been around a good many years (I know, I'm always late to the party). Anyway, I played around with this a bit, randomly selecting program files from our computer at home to see what kind of audio they would generate. Uncompressed files seem to work the best since there's more data to "read", although shorter files can be copied & strung together to create repeating noise patterns. Compressed files (such as .jpgs) seem to yield mostly static.

I thought about this over the weekend and wondered if you could have some measure of control, based on the makeup of the original data file. I played around with this a bit more using MS Works word processor to create & export various file types (DOC, DOCX, RTF, TXT, HTML) and open them as audio files. I found that RTF (Rich Text Format) files work great because they contain a lot of data, especially if you use the paint function to draw something into your file (files that only contain text are still pretty small). Also, adding clip art can make for some interesting audio. The only problem with the audio from RTF files is a constant high frequency squeal, which can be reduced/eliminated using Audacity's noise removal feature.

So.... here's an example:

A four-page document containing clip art pictures of accordions and keyboards, saved and exported as an RTF file.

The resulting audio file with removal of high frequency squeal, otherwise unaltered and exported as an mp3 file:

Oddly, the same clip art document minus the two brown keyboards pictures yielded the same audio pattern, but at a higher pitch.