All posts by mikeuna

Gritty 8-bit synth/sampler Kickstarter

by Mike Una.

I just pledged to support this 8-bit synth/sampler project on Kickstarter. The sounds are really interesting texturally and it feels like the Atari Synthcart or MidiNES, but in a much smaller and portable package. Check the video and some sound samples below.

I especially like the sample function- that’s some righteous SK-1esque gritty sample action right there. The grain on that is super detailed and totally nails the LoFi aesthetic.

The project has 7 days left and it’s got a little ways to go, so if you’re feeling it, please hit the pledge and get yourself a PCB or a full kit with laser-cut enclosure. If you’re feeling generous, the dude will even do a custom laser-cut design on your case. w3rd.

Kickstarter page is here.

deMIDulator Attack_Release Demo Samples #2 by Derek Enos

Beeping it

by Michael Una.

It’s been a little bit since I posted here, and the reason is that I’ve been working on a big project. I thought I’d share my progress and hopefully inspire a few readers to take on a similar project.

At Bent Festival 2008 in Minneapolis I got a chance to check out Loud Objects and their noise toys.

This noise toy got me thinking. I had been building my own instruments for a while and I had tried selling a few of my bent devices, but every one was different and required a ton of labor. Every time you bend a new instrument there’s a huge learning curve, and then you end up making a lot of creative choices based on what you find.

What I wanted to do was figure out something to build and sell that would be repeatable, not too tough to build, and still fun to play with. A while back I had built a little device for my nephew’s birthday and he frickin’ loved it, so I figured I’d start there. This is what the first couple of Beep-its looked like:

I sold the first 25 pretty quickly and I had fun building them and sending them off into the world. But, there were problems. I ran out of the petri dishes I had used as the cases. The cases tended to crack. The insides were sometimes big messes of hot glue. So I worked on a redesign:

That worked great for a while, but soon enough I had built 250 of these by hand. I started looking for ways to save time- Alex from GetLofi made me some custom circuit boards. I started hiring my sister-in-law to drill the cases and some local benders to build the circuit boards for me. But I was still not satisfied with the quality and there were some design flaws. For instance, there was no separate battery compartment- you had to disassemble the case with an X-acto to replace the battery.

This past summer I attended the Maker Faire in Detroit and got to talk with Mitch Altman of TV-B-Gone and Trip Glasses fame. He gave me some good advice about manufacturing and later referred me to his overseas manufacturer. That started a long process of prototype creation, materials selection, and pricing that resulted in this:

I took a bit of a personal risk to have a bunch of these manufactured, but I’m extremely happy with how they turned out. Here’s a little video demo I shot this past weekend:

More info is at

So now that’s where I’m at. It’s been a good couple of years to this point, and I still feel like I’m just getting started. And I’ve essentially exchanged one set of problems for another- my old problem was that I spent all my time building these things and I never had time to work on anything else. Now, my problem is that I spent all my money on these things and now I have to sell them to get my money back. But, now I have time and I have a product I feel very happy about. So I feel like I made out okay in the deal. Time will tell whether or not it was good decision financially, but I’m keeping my fingers crossed.

What have you been working on? Anyone thinking of making kits or a finished product?

LoFi Video from Chicago Buck

by Mike Una.


Buck is a circuit bender and multi-media artist in Chicago. He is also regular presence at Roth Mobot’s weekly Electronic Symposium meetups at Lizard’s Liquid Lounge and has recently been making some really interesting instruments and video work.

At the 2010  Experimental Garage Sale Buck won the raffle for an circuit bent Speak and Read aka Incantor that Reed Ghazala graciously created for the event. There after Buck was inspired to create this video, combining Incantor sounds with creepy found video of a woman who makes bad decisions and encourages you to do the same.


I also really like this video, which uses camera phone footage of a wrecking ball combined with burbly synths work to bang out some industrial grooves. This is the kind of LoFi experience we can really get behind.

555 Noisemaker Workshop at the Hack Factory

Back on May 1, the ol’ Talking Computron (Alex) and I drove up to Minneapolis to run a workshop at the Hack Factory for their Handmade Music event. A few ideas were thrown around, but ultimately we settled on creating some touch-sensitive noisemakers built onto wooden boards, using steel nails as the touch points. Alex crafted an example to show and worked out the circuitry, and assembled all the materials as well.

The circuit we used was a basic 555-based oscillator, using touch points to bridge in a couple of capacitors for different pitch ranges. Each participant got one of the Getlofi 555 timer kit, plus some extra capacitors, roofing nails for the touch points, and a piece of wood to nail it to.

Alex handled the lecturing while I circulated the room and made sure that no parts were soldered in backwards.

The finished pieces were pretty fun, since each person could freestyle the pattern of nails and components onto their board.

All the attendees showed up ready to solder, and everyone helped each other out. Even though some were beginners at the whole “melt the metal and attach a component” thing, every person walked away with their own finished device.

Here’s a short video documenting some of the finished pieces:


The full set of pictures is here. if you, or someone you know is in one of the photos, please tag them and “friend” me.

Handmade music Minneapolis also has a blog with more photos here.

Big thanks to The Hack Factory for hosting, and to Pat Arneson for coordinating everything! It was a lot of fun, and I hope to get up there to do another workshop sometime soon.

-Michael Una

P.S. I have a new website and store up, please stop by and say hi:

Fan Modulation for Photocells

by Mike Una.

Hannes Pasqualini is an illustrator, comic artist, and musician/noisemaker in Italy. He bought one my my Beep-its a few months back and wrote me today to describe the modifications he’s made to it. Inspired by Gijs Gieskes’ Fan Synth, Hannes added a speed-controlled fan in front of the light sensor to modulate the pitch.

I love that he made this new thing and just bolted it onto the front of his Beep-it- it’s very functional and clever. He had to move the Beep-it button to the front of his new case, and it looks seamless:

Here’s a video of the new device in action:


Gijs Gieskes’ original Fan Synth is pretty crazy in it’s own right- he’s got several versions, some with two fans and LED tentacles:

Video here:


Looks like he’s running everything off an ATMEGA chip- those little guys are becoming super popular for quickly working up a functional idea. Has anyone else used a fan or other mechanical moving parts to induce modulation? Drop us a link in the comments.

Tapetronic gets funky

by Mike Una

For real guys, check out the work of Alexis Malbert, aka Tapetronic. Just look at his website- you can’t deny the power. This gentleman has destroyed more tape decks than you have ever considered buying at the thrift store. View these videos, and feel the rise of your own urge to create tape-mangling monstrosities:


You may note the use of a rotary phone as a rhythmic gate- that’s a technique that Tim Kaiser gets a lot of use out of. It very nicely mimics the motion of scratching on a turntable, even if the sound isn’t the same. Here’s a nice high-energy live performance withs ome of these devices:


Also, you need to check out this animated music video. It’s off the hook:


Based on the Tapetronic myspace page, he’s got a good number of shows coming up in France. Any French benders reading this GetLoFi? Give us a shout-out in the comments.

(found via Today and Tomorrow)

Pete from Casper Electronics video

The folks at Scion A/V did a nice video featuring Pete Edwards from Casper Electronics. Check out Pete’s studio- that’s some serious gear he’s packing. This is a great visual walk through of how to bend one of those voice-changing megaphones. Also its worth noting that Pete did some posts on Make:Blog as CasperElectronics and they are all very informative.

Circuit Bending the Bliptronic 5000


I finally got a chance to bend my Bliptronic 5000, and while I was sad that there was no active synthesis, I’m pretty satisfied with the results.

First, I replaced the internal crystal with a Getlofi Precision Oscillator kit.  That was easy, and it’s very responsive.  I ended up adding a 25k resistor to limit the upper range of the precision oscillator, because the Bliptronic was prone to crashing during any attempt to “speed up” the sample rate.  Sampling down was fine though, and the downward range is quite huge.

I also found a spot on the audio IC that creates a rich harmonic drone.  I should note here that this bend should be done through resistance- I used a 500k pot and found that the audio would distort and cut out when resistance approaches zero.

Additionally, I used a HighlyLiquid MD24 kit to send 5v pulses to the Bliptronic’s Sync In jack, which let me send a MIDI note from Ableton Live to start the Bliptronic’s sequence at the start of each measure.  This allows the Bliptronic to sync with my other devices with relatively good timing. 

By Michael Una

Event this Saturday 10/10, Chicago

flier.JPGby Michael Una.

Circuit Bending dynamic duo Roth Mobot and myself will be exhibiting our recent works and playing some music this Saturday as part of art collective Deadline Projects show Hands On. All the work in the show is meant for the audience to touch and play with. This event will take place at:


ONE NIGHT ONLY– 10/10/09, 6:00PM – 11:00PM FREE

From the press release: Don’t be afraid to touch and interact with the artwork in Hands On, presented by Chicago-based collective, Deadline Projects. Breaking down boundaries between art and audience in this one-night exhibition, local artists unveil new work specifically created to be touched, handled, and manipulated by the audience. Hands On is part of Chicago Artists Month 2009, the fourteenth annual celebration of Chicago’s vibrant visual art community. In October, more than 200 exhibitions of emerging and established artists, openings, demonstrations, tours, open studios and neighborhood art walks take place at galleries, cultural centers and arts buildings throughout the city. Chicago Artists Month is organized by the Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs and is made possible through support provided by Bank of America. For more information, visit:

Participating artists include: Arielle Bielak, nikki hollander, Damien James, Blake Parish Lewis, Roth Mobot, Vivien Park, Sarah Perez, Holly Sabin, Marc Salha, Shawn Stucky, Michael Una, and Russ White.

I’ll also mention here that I’m one of the featured artists selected by the City of Chicago, as evidenced by my smiling face in the picture below.

featured artists

Vactrol and LFO Arrangements

by Michael Una.

This is the first of an occasional series explaining particular solutions for circuit bending and synthesis.  Here’s a little series of tricks I commonly use.  First, consider the vactrol. You can buy vactrols in a variety of manufactured forms, but you can also make your own quite easily.  It’s basically an LED coupled to an photoresistor.  As the brightness of the LED increases, resistance decreases in an inverse relationship.vactrol

Next, try pulsing the LED on and off using a 555 timer– the resistance rises and falls rhythmically. If you use that photoresistor to control the pitch clock resistor of a circuit-bent toy, I think you’ll open the door to an interesting palette of sounds.

vactrol pulse

At the Experimental Garage Sale I sold a toy guitar with this type of modification:[youtube][/youtube]

Next step:  try adding a large-value capacitor in parallel with the LED, which will cause the LED to fade out over time instead of quickly switching off.  This shapes the output into more of a ramp/sawtooth type waveform, which will cause the resistance to slide slowly downwards as the wave slopes off.

cap sawtooth

Anyone have their own variations for this type of circuit?  Drop some knowledge in the comments.  Also- big ups to Alex Inglizian for telling me about the capacitor fade a little while back.