Feeling tired of those 909s and 808s? Getting bored with your DAW? Then this little beauty might spice up your next techno hit. How about to turn to the infinite perfection of a circle to get those gyroscopic grooves going. DIY has been a trending area for some time now, more and more artists are looking beyond traditional gear to find inspiration and that unique sound. Building your own synths, drum machines and what have we is an intriguing field of exploration, alongside other areas like field recording or wacko experimentation with vintage tape recorders and children’s toys.

That’s what instrument designer Koka has done, and the results are pretty impressive. The “BlinkWheel” looks more like a miniature carousel than a musical device, and it uses a spinning conductive axis to trigger glitches, bleeps and groans from nodes placed at the circumference of the wheel. Using a variety of switches and tempo alterations to change the quality of the sound, the wheel produces some surprisingly agile deconstructed minimal music with ease.

Koka is far from alone in this field. Björk, the Icelandic pop experimentalist had a handful of new instruments made for her 2011 album Biophilia. The most impressive of which is the gameleste – a mash-up of two pre-existing strange instruments, the ancient Indonesian gamelan (an ensemble of tuned bronze percussion) and the celeste, a tiny piano featuring small steel bars. British percussionist Matt Nolan and Icelandic organ builder Björgvin Tómasson put the two together to realise Björk’s idea.

Another great performer is Ewa Justka who consistently adds more DIY gear to her set up. She stated in a recent interview:

“I started building and designing my own circuits about eight years ago when I moved to London from Warsaw. I originally moved here to study piano, but I ended up finishing a degree in computational arts at Goldsmiths because I wanted to learn to program. Then I started teaching programming for kids, which is how I got started building synths and running workshops.

Before I start making something, I look at other people’s and companies’ designs. Then I extract elements that are doable and not too complex. There are certain things you can’t come up with on your own and certain design rules that have to be followed. But I always try to experiment and fuck these designs up, in a way, by adding and changing different components so that the underlying schematic turns out a little different. One piece I built this way is my homemade instrument, The Motherfucker2. It’s a really noisy double delay and reverb, so it generates weird sounds by itself rather than just being an effect. It also has a built-in VCO and it sounds very gabber-y when sending an external trigger.”

Apples In Stereo‘s Robert Schneider made a cool thing by hacking Mattel’s mind-control game Mindflex and attaching sensors to both brain and vintage Moog synths. The result is brain-wave-powered sound. “You have to be very conscious of your thoughts, and alter the music by agitating your mind,” Schneider told Wired.

And of course it gets even more wacko. Like Christian Losert and Paul Schengber’s Ziggybox, it is a DIY project that generates sounds based on the position of cigarettes placed in ashtrays or by opening the cigarette packs.

This is how they describe it: At first glance, Ziggybox looks like an everyday item for smokers, which one could easily find in a living room. However, it is a synthesizer that generates and modulates sounds by placing cigarettes in the notch of an ashtray or by opening a box of cigarettes. Through simple handling and without any prior knowledge of sound synthesis, Ziggybox enables the user to produce complex levels of synthesized music.
The aim of this project is to enable access and control of a complex, digital environment, which is not usually transparent and under-standable for the common visitor. Our intention is to show that it is possible to conceptualize the creative utilisation of computer software in a casual way, by an interface, which initially seems to be unsophisticated in its manipulation. With this, the user is able to easily approach and control the system functionality of Ziggybox.
As the use of everyday objects are familiar to all, the interface serves as an open and easily approachable invitation for use. With this type of interface, where digital and physical boarders are blurred, it helps to open up a new relationship between technology and humans.
The project utilised C++ and Open Frameworks as the basic platform. Included light-sensors control the sound synthesis. Our intention is also to give the colour arrangement a special importance and the objects on the box are arranged in order to reinforce the possibility of interaction with common objects.
In this video the box is used as a MIDI-controller connected to Ableton Live.