Number 31

Tiny Furry Oscillator

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I almost HAD to make this one, considering the circumstances. What I never expected was how ridiculously cute it would turn out. Here’s how it happened: In October 2012, Pau and I were putting the finishing touches on our piece for BAVIC and were at a loss for what to do for speakers in our sculpture. A few months prior, we’d swapped the discmen used in the original installation at BIENARTE8 for Arduinos driving WaveShields enclosed in industrial project boxes and were thinking about doing the same for our speakers. Unfortunately, there wasn’t enough space inside our boxes to mount both the Arduino and a speaker, so we decided to look for external solutions that could not only survive the rigors of international shipping, but also sound slightly better than the computer speakers we’d used in the last two installations of RARO. I was in New York at the time, and as is my wont, one of my usual New York activities involves sorting through my belongings in my parents’ basement, cataloguing, downsizing, eliminating and combining. With few exceptions, after every major adventure (college, grad school, that time I lived off grid in Colorado, second foray into the Bay Area and my upcoming return to the states after two years in Central America), I usually end up unloading my gear into 18 gallon tupperware bins on the understanding that I’ll sort through it later once I’m settled. This never happens, but eh, I try every time I’m home for about a week. I figure, what’s the point of having six boxes with various student loan info and tax forms, etc, when you can just have one large one… or something. Anyways, it was on one of these forays that I discovered a package of slim-profile multimedia speakers from a project I did at Mills that involved activating various pieces of resonant glass in a candlelit amphitheater at sunset, by way of these speakers, an ARP 2600 and a boatload of amplification. I think there was a camouflage net involved as well – flair for the dramatic, etc. 5 years later – box, basement. I was also researching alternative guitar pedal enclosures at the time and was intrigued by a couple tiny buffer pedals, so, curious about the actual size of the box and curious whether one of these unearthed speakers would fit in the enclosure I placed an order. It didn’t fit.

Fast forward. It’s now December – my time back in Costa Rica was just cut short via an important job interview and I’m back in New York frantically assembling 3 fur-covered opto-synths as supplemental material for a pending lecture on alternative interfaces and multimedia performance. This tiny box is still on my desk, along with supplemental materials left over from the three little furry oscillators.

Fast forward again. Now it’s February. Our installation at BAVIC is up and in effect, we’re recently married and a majority of our wedding guests have either returned to the states or are kayaking through mangroves on the Pacific coast and won’t be back for a few days. I’ve just unpacked my electronic supplies to see what I can offer for this inkling open-source synth class I’m thinking about teaching and Pau is sorting through fabric scraps left over from Panama to see which should be kept and which should be trashed. We’re usually relatively efficient when it comes to fabric use, so most of the scraps were scrapped, but there were a couple larger pieces that could still be used for… something. I look at desk. Small box, opto-synth guts, lavender fur-tailings. Had to do it. And two days later it was done.

Sonically, it’s pretty cool in spite of its simplicity – 4 oscillators with set frequencies are supplied by a 4093 IC wired in typical cascading fashion ala Handmade Electronic Music. One photoresistor controls the master power supply, the other controls the pitch of the first oscillator. Instrument can be played via a series of gestures, such as stroking, petting, hitting, hiding, cuddling, and so on. It’s kind of bass heavy for a little guy, but eh, what can you do.

Here’s two examples of the Tiny Furry Oscillator in use – one by me, the other by Pau – take ye listen and enjoy!

At the moment, this particular lavender creature lives with one Fernando Arce of the Costa Rican band aUTOPerro. I look forward to hearing what he does with it.

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