To clarify, this is not the first piece of electronics I’ve ever built. Prior to this, there were a handful of experiments and prototypes that I made while I was in school, none of which surviving to see graduation. Regrettably, my woodworking skills are lacking and perfboard just isn’t my medium. Rather, this would be the first synth that disseminated into the world, created with an artistic intentions and in retrospect, serves as the springboard for a particular aesthetic rabbit-hole that occupied my attention for a few years. Not to mention there’s a story behind this one, which I’ll gladly share before going into technicalities and design specifics. Here we go.
Economically speaking, I finished my masters degree at a very bad time, which is not a good thing, especially when you attended school in one of the most expensive cultural enclaves in the solar system. Looking to apply my craft in something relevant to the field, I applied to numerous tech and media companies throughout Silicone Valley and was met with very little success. Not to elaborate, but within a month I was out of cash, out of options and left with no choice but to seek the aid of my family to lend a hand while awaiting some sort of miraculous economic upswing. So I set off for Colorado to work for my uncle for a spell, living off-grid in a yurt with a very small solar rig for rudimentary power. Often too exhausted to build a proper fire and faced with near-artic temperatures, I turned to building electronics as viable attempt to occupy my time and stave off the cold.
As an understatement, it should be noted that scrounging materials for experimental electronics in rural Colorado is a slightly arduous task, requiring zen-like patience and ingenuity ala the proper improvised aesthetics regarding the substitution of certain materials. For instance, finding a breadboard, or materials to manufacture a printed circuit board is…difficult. Not to say that it cannot be done, but at that moment it was definitely an issue. Not experienced enough to wire something completely point-to-point, I decided to take a stab at a couple paper-circuit designs posted by Peter Blasser by way of Ciat-Lonbarde, substituting rigid plexiglass for paper with the ultimate intention to walk out of the mountains with some sort of modular, electronic folk-synthesizer built out of the dregs of my environs – which would have happened if I hadn’t returned to California to defend my thesis before jetting off to Costa Rica to spend the holidays with Paulina and her family.
While in Costa Rica and still strapped for cash, I cobbled together what circuits I could and set out to make her a synth for X-mas, which I did, completing three portions of Pete’s Rollz-5 drum machine (two oscillators and one filter) and housing it in a unique interface. The case on this one is unique in the fact that it is an open design formed by clear acrylic, heated with a heat gun and bent accordingly into an aesthetic, if not ergonomic design designed by Paulina’s brother Luis, who happens to be an industrial designer. The black trim on the outside of the case is actually pieces of automobile window gasket, offering a streamlined edge to a pretty futuristic-looking contraption.
As mentioned, this box is squire to Paulina Velazquez-Solis, who has been known to incorporate it into her performances as Multifungi in and around San José. Unfortunately, the delicate construction of the box prevents extensive travel with the instrument – an issue that dominated my designs and building over the next couple generations of instruments. Below is a recording made of Number 1, performed at Casa5 in San José, Costa Rica, circa 06.22.11.