From Design

Filament Synthesizer

This past semester I designed and constructed an instrument that modulates sine waves with the amplified sound of light bulb filaments. The instrument is in two parts: the first being the amplified light bulb interface which allows for control of amplitude and the frequency at which the filaments are vibrating (by way of dimmer switches), the second being an FM synthesis interface (originally conceived for two teensy 3.1 microcontrollers programmed to generate a series of four controllable inputs, sine waves, and outputs– this proved a problematic and unstable system as one of my audio shields intermittently failed) in Max MSP mapped to a MIDI controller. The sound of the light bulbs are routed individually to control four respective sine waves in Max. The MIDI controller allows for immediate control of the overall amplitude of the sine waves, individual amplitude of the sine waves, modulation depth (how much the sound of the filaments effect the sine waves), and base pitch of the sine waves (which are harmonically related, each offset an octave from the base pitch).
























Sound Lab Kitty (Sound Lab Mini Synth)

When I graduated from Evergreen, I rewarded myself with a synthesizer kit. After much research I decided on the Sound Lab Mini Synth from Music from Outer Space (Ray Wilson). The kit arrived in July 2013 and I have been steadily working on it since (I was a teaching assistant in the summer and I’ve been in grad school and working, so, steadily is what I can manage). Nothing like thwarting the anxiety of graduation and grad school prep with a lot of soldering. Anyway, at this point I have…

– populated the main board

– constructed a +/-9V Linear Power supply

– built a case

– designed and drilled the front panel

– had front panel silk screened by my friend Lauren

– populated and labeled the back of the front panel for wiring

So, a lot has happened. I have been endlessly frustrated with the documentation that Ray Wilson provides. The board is laid out seemingly randomly, which made it rather tedious to populate. I was careful to check every single component twice and clean all the leads before soldering them in, so I don’t foresee any issues, but there’s really no way to test the board until you wire the panel. I am choosing not to worry about this, and instead choosing to curse Ray Wilson’s name (I did really enjoy his Analog Synth book from MAKE and his TL07X op-amp webcast, but still). All that said, here are some photos.

Don’s workshop is the best place in the world. Don Johnson has been an immense help throughout this process and through most of my projects– hooray for mentors! Asking for help is important! He also builds amazing tube amps (that you should look into if you love amazing tube amps).

Here is the board with just resistors. The blue tape thing behind it was my resistor organization system. I taped the resistors to a piece of cardboard and labeled it for increased efficiency.


Now, the board with all components. I heat synched all of the diodes and transistors. The sockets are soldered in and awaiting chips.


Here is the secondary board of my power supply. This board will first be wired out to the transformer, and then wired to the negative and positive points on the board. I am assembling a ground bus inside the case for power ground. The panel will have its own ground bus. The kit was originally meant to be run off of a 9V battery. I thought that was ridiculous, so Don helped me to work out how to build a Linear supply board.


Of course this post would be incomplete without your discovering that I really love cats. More specifically, I designed my front panel with a bunch of very tastefully drawn cats on it. I drew the cats. There is also an abundance of cat puns. This is my design. If you want to use this design, please ask me first. I don’t bite, I just want credit.

sound lab kitty cat

Here is the burned silk screen for the panel. Lauren is basically my hero.



Finally, here is my current progress. the front panel has been populated, and the back has been labeled so I can begin wiring it. In addition to the main board, I am constructing a Sample and Hold and an External Trigger input. I am going to build those circuits point to point on perf board because it is decidedly cheaper and easier than printing them, and just as effective. I will document the case further as I proceed with upholstering it with vinyl (likely it will be glitter vinyl, because you can’t stop the cute train, and this is MY synthesizer). I will also need to drill four 1/4″ jack sized holes into a piece of aluminum and amend it to the case for the output/input jacks. I will also post further documentation of the power supply section as some folks might find that useful in their own projects (+/-9V power supplies are fairly commonly needed things).









So yay! I’ve done something! It is not done, but I am pleased so far with the progress I have made. I’ve made PLENTY of mistakes along the way, and I’ve learned a lot. Mistakes are your friend, they teach you things!






Tape Delay Instrument System

Through my work and study during the Fall of 2013 in David Bernstein’s course entitled 20th Century Literature and Theory (focusing on the work of Pauline Oliveros), I spent a great deal of time analyzing, utilizing, and modifying instrument systems utilizing analog magnetic tape machines. I wrote extensively on this subject as well as presenting on this and related systems in seminar. If you would like to access the full text and citations, it can be found HERE. The signal flow of the particular system I constructed (based on Oliveros’ instrument developed at the San Francisco Tape Music Center and University of Toronto in 1965 and 1966 respectively) is illustrated below:


I utilized this instrument for both improvisation and performance, as well as preconceived composition. Its implementation presented a few technical challenges, which I documented and made suggestions of potential mechanical and circuit modifications. I found the system quite musically intuitive, once properly adjusted, and had a wonderful time playing with pure sine waves both above and below the range of human hearing to produce different tones and LF modulation.

As I discuss in the academic research paper I wrote on this system, the range of the interface makes the utilization of standard notation particularly elusive. In my practice with the system, I calculated the frequency to pitch relationships of a range of octaves in both equal temperament and just intonation, in order to approach composing for the system more traditionally and to achieve my musical intent.

Freq:Pitch (Extended Octave)

Just Intonation Freq:Pitch

Despite thorough documentation of these rather ingenious tape delay instruments and effects, Oliveros is generally excluded in discussions of instrument systems utilizing magnetic tape and related reproduction technologies.

Here is the composition I produced utilizing this particular system (I did not write standard notation for this composition, as my main goal in its execution was to exhibit the sonic capabilities of the system). :

[soundcloud url=”″ params=”color=ff6600&auto_play=false&show_artwork=true” width=”100%” height=”166″ iframe=”true” /]

The improvisational work I did with the system has also been documented, though I have not had access to it.

Custom Stratocaster


Here is a stratocaster guitar I rewired and redid the body on. I had had the guitar since I was 12 and the wiring had always been a tad terrible, so I took it upon myself to remedy that. I dismantled the body and wiring and completely sanded the body down to bare wood (it had previously been red with a ton of primer to boot). Then I burned a peony pattern into the body with a wood burner and varnished the entire body with four coats of marine quality varnish (the wooden boat nerd in me wanted to let the wood breathe… who needs epoxy).


After finishing up the body work I rewired everything with new pickups from GFS. I used a boutique zebra humbucker on the bridge and two overwound strat pickups on the body and neck. I inverted the phase of the body and neck pickup and wired everything to a five way switch and tone control. The neck ended up being too high on the body so I had to have the body routed down 2mm in order to set the neck flush with the body. I also installed a new tremolo bridge with five springs to hold it in place and then adjusted the height and intonation. I learned a ton and can’t wait to do more!