Friday, July 25, 2014

Electric Waste Orchestra + Humboldt Electronic Light Orchestra?

So a couple days ago I read about the Electric Waste Orchestra (EWO) in PSFK. It seemed like an idea that is harmoniously complementary to the Humboldt Electronic Light Orchestra we're working to kickstart with the Humboldt Laser Harp project. Then today I met Tibora Girczyc-Blum, the director of SCRAP Humboldt, and I realized how well the EWO concept meshes with the SCRAP Humboldt mission. Per PSFK:
Electric Waste Orchestra hard drive instrument
"The Electric Waste Orchestra at Makerspace Urbana, located in Champaign-Urbana, Illinois, takes outdated technology and turns them into pieces of fully functioning musical equipment. One guitar, shown in the video above, is comprised of an old keyboard number pad, six hard-drives, Arduino hardware and some software, all of which will not decay into toxic waste. They have other musical hardware in the works, including a Wiimote, and yes, they can all create beautiful music. The electric orchestra is a clever way to bring new life to these old technologies...It’s nice to see people taking these old gadgets out of the dumpsters
Arduino controlling the hard drive instrument
and onto the stage to bring others joy
Here is a YouTube list of the EWO videos. It looks like they're in the early stages of learning to play somewhat 'traditional' music with their Aduino-controlled instruments. However, some of the music played in the video embedded in the PSFK article seems closer to circuit bending than to traditional music. If you're not familiar with circuit bending, Wikipedia says circuit bending is:
"...the creative, chance-based customization of the circuits within electronic devices such as low voltage, battery-powered guitar effects, children's toys and digital synthesizers to create new musical or visual instruments and sound generators. Emphasizing spontaneity and randomness, the techniques of circuit bending have been commonly associated with noise music, though many more conventional contemporary musicians and musical groups have been known to experiment with "bent" instruments. Circuit bending usually involves dismantling the machine and
Cateura sax from trash
adding components such as switches and potentiometers that alter the circuit
You'll likely get a different definition of circuit bending from every person you talk to about it, but "BEND: A Circuit Bending Documentary" is a relatively good place to start if you're new to the genre.

While circuit bending is an aspect of the EWO that microcontroller people would likely enjoy, creatively reused materials seems to be an aspect of EWO that's more along the lines of what SCRAP Humboldt would focus on. When I did a YouTube search for  arduino recycle electric instrument, two of the more interesting finds were The Recycled Orchestra of Cateura and Bash The Trash. There are countless other videos of musical instruments made from upcycled goods, so if Humboldt musicians and upcyclers want to join forces, there
Bash The Trash cardboard trombone
are plenty of examples out there to learn from, and homegrown ingenuity can add local flavor to the effort. Most of the instruments in these videos aren't based on Arduino or other microcontrollers (MCUs), but there are plenty of musical instruments made with the SCRAP Humboldt approach to creatively reusing materials, and there are enough MCU-controlled instruments to make it an enjoyable challenge for the electronically-inclined members of the Humboldt Microcontrollers Group.

Make some music (with any type of instrument or source materials you prefer) and make the world a better place!


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