I built Number 9 in early 2009 while immersing myself in the electronics of David Tudor, or rather, at least attempting to study Tudor’s approach to electronics as shown by the few hand-drawn schematics and photographs of open-circuitry found floating around the web. Admittedly, this was a bit of an arduous task, due to the fact that while Tudor may have been a bit of a genius and generations ahead of his time regarding his approach to electronics, his approach to labeling and organizing his wares were extremely lacking. However, while arduous, this only added to the intrigue of deciphering his circuitry, which was built into just about anything available, ranging from traditional project boxes to soap dishes. Casing notwithstanding, what I was most intrigued with at the time was Tudor’s use of passive circuitry – creating elaborate switching and filtering devices designed to be used without electricity. Looking to expand further into the world of “green” electricity, I decided to follow suit and attempt to emulate one or two of his notions.
However, where to begin? Looking to go for bang over buck, I decided to nix anything that was switch related and was a little shaky on filter implementation and schematic interpretation at the time, so I decided to attempt a simple passive ring modulator. It seemed easy enough – six components in a fairly straightforward layout: two transformers, which I had as a result of a couple experiments involving the effects of transducers on glass from a few years back, as well as four diodes wired in a ring, hence the name. Attach two inputs (one carrier, one modulator) as well as an output and boom – seemed easy enough, yeah? Well, sort of. When using schematics from the ’60’s, paired with components from the ’60’s, there shouldn’t be much of a problem. Pair a schematic from the ’60’s with modern components, and a couple discrepancies begin to emerge, especially with modern silicone diodes, which work under the assumption that whatever signal is being driven through them has a power source. When you send a passive signal into said beasties, oftentimes the small current produced via audio signal or guitar pickups isn’t enough to trigger the lower threshold of the diodes. Long story short, sound goes in, no sound comes out. Well, sort of – I found that by massively amplifying line level devices you could get a trickle of tone to come from the box, but would then have to again massive amplify the output, using hefty amounts of electricity before and after the box, and picking up a good deal of noise while you’re at it. An interesting side-note on this first attempt, however, was that if you ran a signal through the box backwards, ie output to carrier and modulator, the box acted as a very strange signal splitter, with the inverted output producing strange metallic tones similar to a digital bit reducer. But analog. And passive. It still required massive amounts of amplification before and after the unit, but, eh, it was a start, I guess.
It should be noted that shortly after completing this box, I started teaching in San Francisco and found my usual liquid assets go from “starving artist” to “young professional,” as much as I hate the term. Using this newly acquired “wealth,” which, being a teaching salary wasn’t much by Bay Area standards, but considering it was a step up from sub-subsistence living, I found a combination of lifestyle and capital to be quite opportune, especially with regard to being able to invest in proper components, as well as the occasional new pair of shoes and expansion in wardrobe to include “not paint covered” garments as well – you know, the little things. Most importantly for the sake of this archive at least, it allowed me to continue expanding on this project, which is exactly what I did.