Last summer Touchin' Bass record label boss Andrea Parker invited me to write a track for an interesting sounding project that launched at Edinburgh Fringe Festival 2014. A selection of music producers curated by Parker was tasked with writing a track inspired by, or in some way responding to, an image created by an artist associated with the Gamma Proforma urban art label. This is the image I was given, by Mexican artist Kidghe:
(hope it's ok to use the image Kidghe, let me know if not!)
I love getting asked to do project such as these, far more interesting than simply writing a tune for a compilation. My approach to interpreting this image was literal and lateral. To me, this is a collection of related, collapsing and thrusting solid objects in free space. The shapes suggest chaotic movement, competing for space and attention; in form and texture they are akin yet seem to follow no discernible pattern or structure. The track therefore needed to be texturally homogenous, structurally unpredictable, and rhythmically jarring.
I sourced the sound design for the track (everything - drums, pads, bass sounds etc.) from transcoded raw images taken from the art piece. This is a technique I've used over the years which involves cutting up images in Photoshop, converting them to .raw image files, and converting these into audio. The results are often very noisy and spiky but give some interesting glitches and raw square wave sounds such as the example below:
You can hear clips from all the tracks on this record, which features well known artists such as Luke Vibert, Cristian Vogel, Kero, Andrea Parker as well as my humble self here:
There will be a limited edition 3x12" box set with printed artwork booklet, a copy of which I am very much looking forward to receiving soon. Meanwhile, tracks can be purchased from Beatport.
I've spent the last week designing a small pickup winder for my workshop. This is my fourth design. I've learned a lot about mechanisms, Arduino, sensors and fabrication through making these machines, and to date haven't made nearly as many pickups as I would like due to the winding machines not working as they were supposed to. All in all, winding pickups is fiddly and frustrating, but it's so satisfying when after all the hard graft you have something that works.
Below are some photos of my various attempts.
The first image shows an electric drill rigged up to a portable drill press, with a tachometer made from a hacked pedometer and reed switch, and a bolt for adjusting the speed of the motor. The drill was old and the motor speed fluctuated so much that the magnet wire kept breaking.
The second image shows my "deluxe" attempt. I wanted to bring some new skills to the fore in developing this, namely ability to use CAD, and hence get parts laser cut, and the use of Arduino. Partly based on the plans by Jason Lollar with a nicer look and some high tech bits, this build was plagued with problems. Using a universal AC sewing machine motor to drive the shaft, a stepper motor hacked from a scanner for the traversal (to feed the wire onto the pickup bobbin from side to side so if doesn't all bunch up in one position), an LCD for RPM and wind count, a numeric keypad and an Arduino Mega doing the number crunching. My plan with this was a fully automated machine that would count turns, calculate resistance, have variable "scatter" patterns and turn itself off when the desired count was reached.
However, while I got a lot of the separate functions working, I had major issues with noise from the sewing machine motor, and couldn't get the tachometer working (based on an IR beam break setup). The tachometer is essential as without knowing how many turns of wire have gone onto the bobbin, none of the other functions are any use. So after coming very close to getting it to work I decided I could do better and scrapped it.
Version 3 from 2014 was made with the benefit of having a CNC router. I never got around to making a proper PCB for this as I was swamped with other projects last year, but I did wind about 30 pickups on it successfully. In this design I used a 24V pancake motor with a built in encoder which made counting turns with an Arduino trivial. A servo motor was to take care of traversing the wire onto the bobbin, feeding the wire through the ball end of a guitar string which the servo moved up and down. I went for a non-traditional orientation of the main motor, but soon realised why this wasn't used in other design. The traversal distribution wasn't even- gravity tends to favour the bottom rather than the top! Anyway, due to this flaw I decided to scrap the machine and start again.
The new machine, which is based around a 200RPM geared 12v DC motor, is greatly simplified. I wanted something small and portable with minimal controls - speed pot, start/stop button, and reset button. There is a manual traverse with a mechanism for limiting the travel to accommodate different bobbin widths. Essentially this machine is a prototype for a pickup winder I can use in instrument building workshops. I've learned a lot about the process of making pickups over the past few years, so know enough about it to be able to show others. By giving participants access to machine that are very simple to use, hopefully a lot of the head / heart aches I've experienced from wire snapping or whatever will be avoided.