Handmade ElectronicsThe synthesizer maker creates a fiction that musicians play with and make real. The electronic instrument enables the musician, just as silicon transistors and plastic capacitors enable its maker. Synthesis, or putting together, applies to music as well as electronic materials.
Synthetic materials are chosen for electronics to isolate fundamental properties such as resistance or capacitance. Organic materials are not perfect or ideal in this sense, but contain a variety of electronic properties. When paper and wood become part of a circuit, they change it in an unknowable way.
Sometimes I make a circuit board out of paper, encase the circuit in wood, and the device becomes doubly handmade. In a world where electronics are easily made by machine, why make them by hand at all? Because time spent soldering is time spent philosophizing on the nature and purpose of craft.
As a meditation consider four objects crafted from electronics materials:
- a rounded envelope of Alaskan copper. A geometric thorax shape sits above a T-split waist. Some have told me it resembles a fillet of salmon. The copper shield embodied wealth in potlatch culture.
- a spiral wrap of kapton, a plastic tape used in aerospace electronics, and anti-static mylar, for packing-protecting sensitive electronics components. A tiny crescent hook forms its armature. A single strand of copper wire gives its abdomen an insect-like striation. The synthetic sheen of the materials fools trout to imagine it as a pupal midge emerging from the deep.
- a small basket woven out of colorfully insulated strands of wire, salvaged by its maker from telecommunication installations in South Africa.
- a thin acoustic housing of wood around a resonant airspace containing two speakers and a paper circuit. It emits primitive and noisy sounds, perhaps an instrument to scare animals away?
|Four objects handmade from electronics materials|
The copper shield embodies a principle of hacking: its owner broke it into pieces, distributing them as gifts to guests at the potlatch, each of whom brazes a new copper shield. Copper, a fundamental component of electronics, is a spiritual material because of its elemental nature of repeatable re-melting. Its hackability arises from this inherent physical property. The copper shield held a revered ritual place in traditional Potlatch culture, representing animal spirits, thus interacting with the dreams of guests at a ceremony.
Spiritual science examines the invisible subconscious motivations and dreams behind human manifestations. For Rudolf Steiner, looking for “spirit” of an object involves taking a natural object and a perfect facsimile of it and trying to discern which one is living. Do electronics, especially musical ones, deserve only a physical analysis, or can we speak about the spirit of electronics? Spirit is recorded, crafted into the copper of the shield. The copper is dream putty: it can imitate the form of natural life, as perceived through the dreams of its maker.
There is something compelling about an object that synthesizes artificial and natural elements. It must have been handmade, fitted together; it is a sign of human touch. Think of what the tension between organic and synthetic messages to the end user. Plastic cases strike a subconscious chord of disposability. Even though wood is more biodegradable, users treats it more indispensably, because of how it looks, feels, and the sound of it. Protected by nostalgia, it is un-obsoletable: a musical instrument
Thousand Years Post-Electronic Medieval TimesYou wander the woods with your handmade electronic unit, but why did you make it? The bear following you wonders too at the strange sounds and its nightmares scare it from you- it's like dream putty. A media device would have captured you in its own dream state, and you would become too entranced to notice the bear sneaking up behind you. The primitive noisemaker yields psychic agency to its player who emboldens to face the bear.
What whimsical talk about hipsters and wild ones! It may, however, become relevant 500 years hence in the middle of the thousand years post-electronic medieval times. Then, media is not the dazzling promise it was at the beginning, but electronics has continued to develop as a craft. The bell of innovation has rung and decayed; Moore’s law did not curve upwards forever, but plateaued for many generations. The twentieth century was a crisis at the beginning of this bell-shaped acceleration, but now we know what we’re doing. My job as builder of analog synthesizers is to resonate with the original innovation of electronics itself.
Look at the development of bronze and other new industries that enabled the roman empire, a dizzying expansion and invasion. Bronze was immediately sequestered by powers into swords, but did new technology increase exponentially from there? No, it plateaued for a thousand years of middle ages, passing through many hands to be reworked, to develop as a craft. Electronic craft shall follow a similar path; initially developed for war, then realizing a latent potential for art over the thousand years post-electronic medieval times.
Moore's Law as a series of bell-shaped accelerations and technological plateaus.
Here's a note about ego during the twentieth century. At times of acceleration, people are thought of as inventors. In technological plateaus, however, they are more like resonators, fitting into a multi-generational continuum. Summoning spiritual electronics is our shared task during the thousand years post-electronic medieval times. After so many years of co-existance, electronics subsume into our subconscious, where dwells spirit. Focus not on the media, but the medieval; record spirit in dream putty, hack an electronic artifact and pass it along as a memory of your craft: a musical instrument