Musical Circuits Goes to Moogfest 2017



Four Days, Four WorkshopsMusical Pencil Moogfest Schedule


Interview with Jasmin Blasco of Dublab RadioDublab Jasmin and Elliot

Jasmin and Elliot talk about Moogfest, the square wave oscillator workshops, the history of drawing devices as a tool for making music, making music on a Mac Plus in 1987, the democratization of new technology, the Minimoog, postmodernism, musicology, the meaning of “time,” polka, raga, EDM, black midi, what inspires composers and artists, technology fetishes, gear lust, and sitting on the floor playing a Realistic MG-1 in a music shop in Great Falls, Montana twenty years ago — in no particular order.   

Complete Dublab Moogfest 2017 Day 1 Livestream archive here.


Workshop Prep 1:  Parts, and Parts, and PartsParts

Piezos    Pots

AnalogClipping    Bagged

Workshop Prep 2:  Synth in a Brown Paper BagBagism Shagism

Bags with Breadboards   Synth in a Bag


Musical Pencil at Work

Musical Pencil Technical Notes, Schematics, and Demos here

A (Random) Forest of Musical Pencils at Moogfest


And Then What Was

Banded Moogfest 2017  Banded Moogfest 2017 2

Was What Had Been.Sweet Dreams and Flying Machines



Thanks to Lorna-Rose, Vivian, James, Jessie, Arikai, Michael, Zack, and everyone else who helped me throughout the four sessions of the Musical Pencil Synth Make-and-Take at Moogfest 2017.

Over four days, we built 53 kits with participants, almost all of whom had no electronics experience,  but left Moogfest with a square wave oscillator they had built themselves — all wrapped up in a brown paper bag.

~ WEI 2017


Posted in Circuits, Moogfest, Workshops

A Postmodern Drum Machine

TOFU Time 1

Tofu Time:  A Solid Block of Extra Firm Time and a Very Sharp Knife

“How does time function in postmodern music?  Postmodernism is profoundly temporal, but it uses, rather than submits to time.  Its music shapes time, manipulates time.  Time, like tonal sounds and diatonic tunes and rhythmic regularity and textual unity, becomes no longer context but malleable material.”   ~  Jonathan D. Kramer, Postmodern Music, Postmodern Listening 2016, p. 152.

Most drum machines build a beat from the sample up.  Some, like the Roland 808, allow you to press buttons to determine the position of samples in a left to right sequence.  Others, like the Akai MPC-1000, allow you to set an empty loop length and trigger a sample as your previously triggered samples loop endlessly until you fill up the loop space.  Both drum machines work from the bottom up to build a beat.

This isn’t that drum machine.  This is a drum machine that approaches beatmaking from the top down — a postmodern drum machine.  Instead of building a beat by adding samples, this drum machine lets you build a beat by dividing time down.  This is a drum machine that treats time like tofu, a big block of extra firm tofu.

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Posted in Arduino, Drum Machine, Experimental Music, Postmodernism

Silence, Chance, Cage, Code

Random Silence 2

“Un coup de dés jamais n’abolira le hasard.”  ~ Stéphane Mallarmé, 1897

John Cage is well known as the composer who formalized the use of silence as a compositional element on par with any other note or sound.  He was also the composer who, though Zen Buddhism, introduced chance into composition, allowing the I Ching to dictate the terms and conditions of sound heard in a way that no egomaniacal romantic would have ever allowed.  Cage was content to determine the methods of composition without micromanaging the process note-by-note. Continue reading

Posted in Experimental Music, John Cage, Uncategorized

Musical Circuits @ KNOBCON 2016

Experimental Music: Composition with an Arduino MIDI Controller

Knobcon  Chicagoland, September 2016knobcon-2016

With an Arduino, a breadboard, and a handful of parts, you can build a MIDI controller that works as a sequencer or a classic beatbox. But the same design can be used to implement interactive MIDI effects that bend musical time and space. From real-time manipulation of tone clusters to playing the silences between the notes, simple midi parameter misdirection to an exploration of vertical time, hyperrealism and perceptual illusions – one basic Arduino MIDI build can serve as a useful platform for a wide variety of sonic explorations. In this talk, Elliot Inman of Musical Circuits will demonstrate the build and code necessary to get started and demonstrate various musical effects.

Apologies to Hiller and Isaacson, 1959, for use of the title.



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Posted in Arduino, Circuits, CODE, Experimental Music, MIDI

Musical Circuits at UNC


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Posted in Circuits, Experimental Music, Uncategorized, Workshops

Binary Beethoven: Coding a Musical Idea

Beethoven Title

Beethoven Two Measures

The first four ominous notes of the Fifth Symphony are well known:  da-da-da-dum!   That musical idea seems so obvious now, but think just for a moment about how radical it was and is.  First, this is a symphony that doesn’t begin with a note.  It begins with a rest, an eighth note rest.  It begins with a moment of silence.  Second, the motif is only four notes, but the first three notes are the same note, the G, repeated three times.  The fourth note, the Eb, is held until the conductor motions to continue.  The orchestra is barely two bars into the music when the conductor stops the performance.  Finally, if you have the entire score, you can see that every instrument plays those exact same notes (G, G, G, Eb) and does so at ff.

So, Beethoven notated a very loud repetitive group of notes to be played by an orchestra in unison – and, based on the tempo, to play it very fast.  He started with silence and, two bars into the symphony, stopped the entire orchestra.  And that’s why Beethoven was a genius.  That’s why we’re starting with Beethoven.  Because… Beethoven.

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Posted in Arduino, CODE

A Musical Stylus for the World’s Simplest Oscillator

AM Oscillator as Built 10

“Rule #17: If it sounds good and doesn’t smoke, don’t worry if you don’t understand it.” ~ Nicholas Collins, Handmade Electronic Music: The Art of Hardware Hacking, Second Edition, Routledge, 2009, p. 144.

Collins describes it as the “world’s simplest oscillator” and that must be true. One integrated circuit, a capacitor, a resistor, a battery, and a couple of wires. That’s it. There are countless examples of this circuit available on the Internet, but Collins’ Handmade Electronic Music book provides a step-by-step guide for many such circuits.  Collins has posted an earlier draft of the manual here.

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Posted in Circuits, Uncategorized | Tagged