It’s been a little over a week since the Battery Powered Orchestra Workshop (BPOW!!!) occurred in Portland. Today we look back at the workshops, which were in many ways the central components of weekend.
During the Saturday morning session, I attended a workshop on electronic textiles hosted by Cat Poole of Cacophonous Creations. The skill was to learn how to use conductive thread to embed both light and controls into clothing for future performances. But for the workshop, the task was to simply sew an LED and its associated circuit onto a dinosaur patch:
Of course, we at CatSynth approve of Cacophonous Creations’ chat noir logo! As for the task itself, the biggest challenges related to general sewing and laying out elements to properly fit (at least for someone with little sewing experience beyond repairing buttons). But I got through the threading of the circuit. It would be great to incorporate something like this into costuming for future performances.
In the afternoon, I attended a session presented by Steve Harmon of Synthrotek. It centered around DIY electronics and the ubiquitous 555 integrated circuit. But that then merely building an Atari Punk Console with a 555, we stepped it up with Synthrotek’s 4093 NAND Synthesizer.
The 4093 includes three square waves, based on a dual 556 integrated circuit. I was quite intent to complete it and be able to use it for my performance that evening. The soldering of the components went quite smoothly – it helps to both see other people soldering and to have access to a good iron. It was a quite a rewarding moment when the synth was complete and making sound.
My only disappointment was the pots not quite fitting and ending up a bit lopsided. But it worked great in the performance and will certainly be used again in the future. The additional confidence on soldering will also be valuable for future projects.
Additional workshops in the afternoon included an introduction and demonstration of modular synthesizers by Jeph Nor. He demystified modular for a general audience by presenting the fundaments (oscillators, filters, amplifiers) and adding additional elements.
[Image from the BPOW Facebook page.]
Attending all the workshops on Saturday would have been impossible, especially if one wanted to complete the associated tasks. In particular, I was also interested in the Raspberry Pi which was presented by Edward Sharp.
Sunday’s workshop sessions opened with a demonstration of “squishy circuits”. It turns out that homemade play-doh is quite a good conductor of electricity, and can be used to quickly prototype circuit ideas. It also serves as a very accessible medium for introducing principles of electronics to children.
We also got to see other non-traditional conductive media including ink and paint that can be used to integrate electronics into artwork without the use of wires.
Then everyone scattered for an electronics scavenger hunt to find electronic toys and various media to use in projects during the afternoon. The participants reconvened later in the day and got to work.
Our host Travis Feldman of Molecule Synth hacked the interior of an Atari console with both audio and video modifications, attaching it to a Moog pedal.
Other creations included a circuit-bent toy keytar and a tactile surface used to control audio and video on a laptop.
Overall, the workshops at BPOW were a rewarding experience. In addition to new inspiration and a few new skills, I liked seeing the wide variety of interests and disciplines that others brought to creative DIY electronics for music, video and performance art. If the event does recur next year, it will be interesting to see how technologies and the skills of participants have further evolved.
In addition to the workshops, BPOW also featured performances in the evening. We will look at those in a subsequent article.