Gizmometry – Circuit training with Austin’s DIY noisemakers

The door to Salvage Vanguard Theater opens, and out spills a whirl of glitches.

Bloooooop. Criiiick. Whoooommp. Whirrrrrrrrr.

Inside, a TV flashing pinks and yellows and greens beckons on one table; across the room, a cracked Leap Frog toy has been rewired to emit demonic sounds. On the ground, boxes filled with old video games and keyboards and relics of another era (the hood ornament from a Buick, a cell phone the size of my forearm) are up for grabs. “We’re sort of on vacation,” smiles Dann Green, standing in front of his modular synth, into which swappers are plugging and unplugging cables and turning knobs, producing a warped hiss and rattle of low-end bass.

This is Handmade Music Austin’s summer swap meet, a laid-back, low-key Sunday affair, but no less noisy than the classes it’s been holding here. Today, you’re encouraged to bring in whatever mutant you’ve created, swap parts, or ask questions. Look around, and you’ll see no laptops or iPads or fancy new gadgets; vintage or analog is ideal. Something you made is even better. On another table sits the bible for this gathering: The Art of Electronics by Paul Horowitz and Winfield Hill. The last edition came out in the late 1980s.

The first Handmade Music Austin event at Salvage Vanguard Theater in October 2009, part of Church of the Friendly Ghost’s monthly programming, made a similar drone, generated by folks hunched over projects. Lone Star cans decorated tables, juxtaposed against looks of intense concentration from those soldering circuit boards, some for the first time. The turnout was impressive, and the classes have been consistently full since then.

For a generation who came of age at a time when technology was still clunky and strange (IBM, Texas Instruments, etc.), the desire to take things apart as adults should be considered a healthy impulse. There’s a certain escapism in circuit building. I’d started using the term “gizmometry” to describe the science of it and all the avenues included, since I was a newbie and hoping it wasn’t in the dictionary yet.

The four locals who make up the Handmade Music crew each have their own endeavors in gizmometry: Eric Archer’s his own assembly line, churning out a dizzying number of one-time projects, like the electric gong and brainwave-controlled drum helmet; Dann Green runs 4ms Pedals, which sells hand-built electronics and personalized pedals; John-Mike Reed, aka Dr. Bleep, and his Bleep Labs birthed robotic noisemakers like the Thingamagoop; and Nathan Wooster is Wooster Audio.

Continued at The Austin Chronicle.

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