Thanks to Chloé in the Noise Gear comments for letting me know about the Cracklebox - a pocket-sized analog synth which is controlled by the conductivity of your fingers. It was designed in Amsterdam in the late '60s. About 4,000 of them were sold in the mid '70s, and this batch were re-issued in 2004. Obviously it sounds [800k mp3] pretty much bonkers, but it looks very cool and you can buy one for €50, or build one yourself. Just don't get too into it, or you might end up like composer Mark Applebaum, who earlier this month performed "5:3", a piece for 8 cracklebox players and 2 amplified dice rollers at Stanford University (details).
Michel writes from Amsterdam about his wonderful looking custom made wooden MIDI controller, which he calls The Hands. He's the guy who invented the Cracklebox (more) noise synth, and he's been building Hands since 1984 - they're a range of switches and sensors which he originally used to trigger three DX7s. The pic above is the latest version. He's never documented his work before, so keep checking back at this page if you want to know more.
The other morning, I got a Cracklebox through the post from Steim (thanks, Michel). It's a very nice thing, and I thought I should share it, so I recorded this sample pack for the Freesound Project. If you can make anything musical from the samples, then a) you're an awful lot cleverer than me, and b) I'd love to hear it.
A pleasant evening at Music Thing towers, spent fixing up and sampling this ancient Fisher Price record player from my parent's attic. The Swiss-made music box mechanism was rusted solid and the tiny clockwork motor doesn't really give enough juice to push the records round at the right speed, but a generous application of 3-in-1 got the music box part working well enough to sample a few notes. This Fisher Price Sample Pack at Freesound is just random notes, motor noise and winding sounds, but it works well enough mapped out across the MPC... Previously on Freesound: Spring Reverb and Cracklebox samples.
Steim is the Amsterdam-based electronic music lab best known around here for inventing the Cracklebox. They've done a great deal more - lots of work on experimental interfaces, touch, gesture etc. And now, Steim is in trouble: "Things are not well at STEIM. We are in the danger of losing our structural funding from the government, based on a review from the advisor board which called us 'closed and only appealing to a niche audience'. The outlook isn't exactly bleak, but at the moment our future is unclear."
If you're part of the 'niche audience' for Steim (i.e. you enjoy doing interesting musical things with electricity) then please click here and spend two minutes filling out an email form to write a letter to the Dutch government. Thanks! (Image via Mikest)
Every few weeks, I get an email from someone saying "You should post something about Bhajis Loops. It's amazing!" It's a studio-in-a-box which runs on Palm handhelds. I've written about it a couple of times . So, finally inspired by this thread full of more happy users, I emailed Olivier, who told me (roughly) "Get a Tungsten T3. They've got a clever memory thing, they're cheap, and they're cool". So I did. Mine came with a Wifi card for £85, some go for £60. The software is $27, and you can buy 1gb SD cards for £10 on the 'bay.
What does it do? Loads samples and lets you sequence them. Each sample is like an oscillator - you can use a single wave or long sound, loop it, and run it through the filter/effects. You can sample directly from the built-in microphone. You can draw the waveforms from scratch. Most things can be automated. You can download free sample packs - the Fairlight CMI library, old tracker sounds, vintage synths and drum machines, or just dump your own samples onto the SD card. I've made this sample pack with Mellotron, Cracklebox and DSI Evolver samples.
Why do people think it's so cool? Olivier is a genius of interface design. The software is intuitive, logical and really quick to use. Drawing X0X drum patterns right onto the screen is great. Because it's quick and dirty and fairly lo-fi (like an MPC60 is lo-fi) it's fun, and I found myself avoiding micro-polishing hell. There's a very active user community always coming up with new hacks and tricks - three weeks ago, jngpng worked out how to do Ableton-style timestretching (roughly).
What's bad? Entering tiny little notes with a tiny little pointer on a bus rattling through South London is a bit fiddly. It's quite tempting to make really bad hardcore records.
What does it sound like? There are tonnes of user songs to download here.
Synch is a music/arts festival in Athens on July 6-8. Along the way, they're producing "A series of bags and accessories inspired by electronic music's most acclaimed gear." First up is this MPC2000 bag, but I guess the possibilities are endless... A Cracklebox wallet, a EMS Synthi record bag, a Moog Modular rucksack for backpackers? No price or availability on this yet, it looks like a special order from the designer. (Thanks, Cory)
Nuuj writes with exciting news of what happens when MT stories collide: Here is a gallery of photos from a gig in Rochester, apparently showing a Cracklebox being played by some worms. No sound samples, unfortunately.