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Entries in Electromagnetic (1)

Friday
Feb032012

New Book Full of Experiments 

I play hockey in a league based around the arts, and in order to be in the league you are supposed to be affiliated with the arts in some way.  There is a team of comedians, a team of actors and many teams full of musicians.  These players are both obscure as well as international household names.  The idea being that hopefully people working in the arts will be less inclined to cross-check each other in the face and live up to the meathead stereotypes many people think of when they conjure up hockey in their minds.  I play on a team with a lot of picture editors called Twisted Sister (we were sponsored by a local bar named Mitzi's Sister) and our team crest is a portrait of Dee Snider in full "We're Not Gonna Take It" make up.

As you can tell by the jersey we don't take the games too seriously, as much fun is had at the bar as on the ice.

There are also a lot of film makers and producers in the league and one of the guys I have become friends with is a great sound artist and avant-garde film maker named Josh Bonnetta.   He does great things with homemade microphones, field recordings and frequency scanning among other audio oddities.  He is currently working away from Toronto, teaching at Ithaca College, so I don't see him as often as I would like.  A few months ago I was consulting with him for the mix on one of his recent films, American Colour, before it premiered at the Toronto Film Festival (and is having its European premier in the Berlin Film Festival next month).  During on our conversations, he recommended a book called Handmade Electronic Music: The art of Hardware Hacking, by Nicolas Collins.

Here is a quick synopses from the publisher:

"Handmade Electronic Music: The Art of Hardware Hacking" provides a long-needed, practical, and engaging introduction to the craft of making - as well as creatively cannibalizing - electronic circuits for artistic purposes. With a sense of adventure and no prior knowledge, the reader can subvert the intentions designed into devices such as radios and toys to discover a new sonic world.  At a time when computers dominate music production, this book offers a rare glimpse into the core technology of early live electronic music, as well as more recent developments at the hands of emerging artists. In addition to advice on hacking found electronics, the reader learns how to make contact microphones, pickups for electromagnetic fields, oscillators, distortion boxes, and unusual signal processors cheaply and quickly."

I am only a few chapters into the book but I am really enjoying the read so far.  It explores ways to get sounds out of everyday objects, and although it focuses on sound art and experimental music, I am finding that there are a lot of tips and techniques that seem to be useful for sound editors and designers.  It is a very easy read, with lots of illustrations and photos to back up what the text is explaining.  It also comes with a DVD full of videos and audio tracks as examples.  One of the main themes seems to be "give it a try - see what happens!?"
One of the first chapters is about induction coil pick-ups and recording electromagnetic fields produced by various household objects.  I picked up a couple of telephone pick-ups from my local The Source store (Canada's version of Radio Shack) for the expensive price of $6 each, then started listening. 
Here are some of the things I have recorded so far:
These were all recorded by just suction cupping the pick-up to a electronic device and finding the best spot to hear whatever noises were being made.  The directional pattern for this type of microphone is extremely tight so moving the capsule just an inch or two can completely change the sounds you capture.  With a little experimentation I quickly realized I could use that hyper focus to my advantage if I moved the coil around or through an electromagnetic area. 
By swiping across the front of an amplifier I found a great Star Wars light sabre-ish energy sound:
Next up I soldered two of the cheap pick-ups to the same stereo mini connector.  This allowed me to record in stereo with one pick-up going to the left channel on my Sony d-50 and the other pick-up going to the right channel.

I found that if I kept moving them around over various electronic devices I could create lots of cool sounding force field like sounds.  Here is a video of the stereo pair being moved around the surface of a 24 port Internet gigabit switch box.  You can get an idea of how movement effects the sound that is captured.
As mentioned earlier I am only just starting out with the audio experiments in this book, but I am looking forward to trying out many other things in the future.  I will be posting the new experiments I try from the book from time to time in the coming months.   Stay tuned (or RSS'ed in this case?)........