The elegant patterns of a circuit board, as photographed by / (CC-BY)

Last week, what was intended to be a day of posts wound up being several days of updates on events centered around music technology and DIY creation. Here’s a birds-eye view of what we covered, some of the events you can catch in person, and some of what these events reveal.

It’s worthwhile just putting these posts in one spot so you can easily mark your calendar – and you can see, even in this small slice, the amount and breadth of activity happening now.

At STEIM in Amsterdam, I’ll be talking about the state of DIY and open source technology for musicians and artists, and what that means for creative people — both the potential and some of the challenges. So I’d be curious to hear your thoughts before I begin waxing poetic. Readers here aren’t shy, so let us know your concerns in comments.

Now, here’s your guide and calendar to DIY. Tell us what we’ve missed. I’m hoping to devote a permanent spot on Noisepages to an events calendar; anyone with slick WordPress/BuddyPress-based solutions, give us a shout.

The best new inventions.

Don’t miss web-savvy hacks and creations from the music hackday, including an all-JavaScript clone of a popular Nintendo handheld music tool, online Web tools that make musician’s lives easier, and fantastic combinations of Android phones, web listening tools, online data, and physical objects. Meanwhile, if you want to start your own project but don’t know where to begin, Austin is a hotbed of new DIY kits.

February 17. Amsterdam, NL. (event)

Handmade Music kicks off in Amsterdam at the STEIM research center. The action starts at 8p. I’m making a stop there on my way to Stockholm, and hope to provide documentation next week for the rest of the world. Details.

February 19. Toronto, Canada. (event)

Handmade Music hits Toronto.

What they teach us: Why is it a “great time to make electronic music?” Toronto’s organizers point to the fact that makers are spoiler for choice of platform, with monome and Arduino on the hardware side, and ever-more-mature Max/MSP and Pure Data on the software side.

February 28. Austin, Texas USA. (event)

Austin shares all their latest musical inventions, plus resources for those wanting to work on making noises with the Arduino.

What they teach us: beginners can get in on these events, with the aid of newbie-friendly workshops and easygoing, noise-making parties. Oh yeah, and the advanced folks can create terrific, usable music hardware.

March 8. Brooklyn, NY USA.

Handmade Music starts a new series at Galapagos Art Space, between the Brooklyn and Manhattan Bridges. Details.

February 14, April 3, May 28. Porto, Portugal + worldwide. (call for works)

Digitopia seeks the best Max+Pd patches, dream ideas for musical inventions, and miniature music. I’ll be there in June 2010.

What they teach us: the twist here is making an open source hardware controller the prize, and sharing the how-to with the world. Plus, all the competition entries are required to be open source, meaning the competition itself generates tools for the community.

March 1 deadline; March 12 event. San Francisco + Worldwide.

One-button Game Objects challenges designers to make self-contained sonic and visual interactive art — all using just one button. If you can ship it to San Francisco, we can show it. And in March, we’ll be looking at other ways that just one button can make a musical interface. Call for works info.

  • dennis

    do you know of any DIY music groups going on in the LA area?

  • http://www.createdigitalmusic.com Peter Kirn

    Hi Dennis,

    LA-land is one of the other places I'd love to see what get started; seems like a perfect fit. If anyone has a venue in mind (Machine Project, for instance), I'd be happy to support y'all.

  • http://glacialcommunications.com Sam Harmon

    We haven't started formal activities yet, but I'm in the process of trying to get an event going in Cleveland. I've created a Facebook group for it here.

  • http://www.tcmaker.org Paul Sobczak

    A few of us over in Minneapolis were thinking about putting on an event like you "handmade" events and we wanted to see if you had any thoughts, tips, or input in doing something like that, we also invite your involvement.

  • http://www.createdigitalmusic.com Peter Kirn

    Minneapolis, LA, Cleveland – yes, bring it on.

    So, questions for everyone: if we could do a "Handmade Music Starter Kit" to make this easier for you, what should we put in it?

  • http://dmlandrum.noisepages.com/ Darren Landrum

    I'm trying to nail down a venue and time for the first Handmade Music Detroit, except it might actually be Handmade Music Sort-of Detroit, since my first option for a venue is actually in Rochester Hills (about 20-30 minutes outside of the city proper). I'll know more tomorrow or Friday.

    I went through the email you sent out, and one thing that comes straight to mind would be some standard graphics and fonts to make posters and fliers with. Also nice would be if there could be a web site for each particular event, some central URL people could go to learn more about that specific event that we could put on said posters and fliers.

    Beyond that, ideas for projects for people to do would be great. I'm also imagining some people being able to perform a short set of music at each event using homemade musical devices and instruments.

  • DJ Broken Record

    I just wanted to say that when I'm looking at my CDM RSS feed I always skip over posts that say "DIY Community" or something of that nature. To me, "DIY Community" posts on this site usually means "college graduate engineers in New York with lots of money doing things that I could never comprehend, and creating small-run homebrew products that I could never afford, and making music that is never very interesting." (I understand that the music itself may not be the point, as much as the work that went into making it and the DIY ethics used to make these new instruments.) Thus, "DIY" actually becomes exactly the opposite of that to us simpletons, it becomes the least accessible form of digital instruments, with $60 mass-produced midi controllers being the most accessible.

    I am a loyal reader to this site and I love it. I only say this to encourage you to maybe try to find a way to write about these things differently, or covering DIY projects that are more universally accessible (such as DIY mods of popular mass produced products, which is my personal area of interest).

    I'm not saying that every post falls under the ridiculous characterization I just talked about, I was just trying to make a point. This is one of my favorite sites, keep up the good work and thanks!

  • Mudo

    If there is any person DIY interested in Spain/Barcelona feel free to contact me.

    ;)

  • aidan

    @broken thoughts: your generalisations are completely wrong-headed and unfounded.

    the type of diy projects covered here are usually cheap and don't require much knowledge/experience to get going with them. In fact i'd say newcomers are actively encouraged. as one example take the arduinome. an open source monome that can be made for half the price of an original monome.

    One of the best aspects of this blog is peter's continued espousal of everything "creative" when it comes to making electronic music. unfortunately for you this this includes a hell of a lot more than ableton and and <>.

    while you don't need much expertise to get going, you do however; need to put a modicum of effort into such projects.

    perhaps something you'd prefer not to bother with…

  • http://www.createdigitalmusic.com Peter Kirn

    @DJ Broken Record: Well, if it isn't clear that you can do a project that fits those criteria, I have more work to do (although if you skip over the post, there may be little I can do!)

    But yes, it's very possible to make a project that:

    a) is accessible to newcomers

    b) costs around $60, like the mass-manufactured product you mention

    c) is useful to music-making

    If nothing else, I personally find I'm a better electronic musician the more experience I've had with how sound is produced.

    The problem with "mods" of mainstream products is that most of them really can't be easily opened and changed.

  • Joseph

    I have to echo DJ Broken Record here. I used to be an avid reader of the site, but "DIY" now involves such a temporal, financial, and educational investment that it's now become WOPDI (Watch-Other-People-Do-It) for me and likely a lot of others.

    Maybe my memory is flawed, but it seems like it was only a couple years ago that showcases of really cool development prospects and handicraft was incorporated along with such things as simple Live tricks, free and easy ways to get started creating, or links to free sound libraries. Is this the state of things in general? Has the gap widened this much?

    I work nearly seven days a week and spend many evenings volunteering. I barely have time to eat and sleep, much less make my laundry machine run off of a pd patch.

  • Joseph

    @aidan

    I would expect that DJ Broken Record would consider your example of an Arduinome as something that doesn't require much knowledge/experience as something that speaks to their point.

    Don't get me wrong: I love watching the videos posted here and am really intrigued by the concepts. They are just very far outside of my reality.

  • http://www.createdigitalmusic.com Peter Kirn

    Temporal investment: well, production is generally time-consuming, I find. Sometimes that investment pays off

    Financial investment: no, sorry, I have to disagree. You can pick up an Arduino, for instance, for about $30 pre-assembled, and in the space of an hour hook up a few controls, then in fifteen minutes of programming hook those up to Ableton Live.

    Educational investment: Right, but it sounds as though the critique here is that I'm not providing the education, which is something I'd like to do.

    If you'd like to see tips for specific platforms, nominees?

  • http://www.createdigitalmusic.com Peter Kirn

    @Joseph: the Arduinome is not a the best starter project. It presumes some experience with soldering and an investment in parts. There are other alternatives.

    Musicians used to make a lot of their own little parts because it saves time. For instance, you can spend about $10 in parts and in an hour put together a piezo mic, then spend a happy evening recording sounds and doing sound design. I've wound up losing more time to disposable commercial products that didn't work the way I expected.

  • http://www.createdigitalmusic.com Peter Kirn

    By the way, I don't begrudge this feedback — quite the contrary!

    I had talked to STEIM about addressing the role of DIY tech and open source software (which are actually two different topics, but with some connections to draw).

    It's clear to me from various conversations – not just this one – that there's a disconnect in understanding what these things are about.

    It just seems like a fixable problem. If it were a matter of these projects being only relevant to people with lots of extra time and money, that'd be one thing; the disconnect would just be that I was out of touch or something.

    But it sounds to me just like we have to better communicate what's available and make it easier to get started, because these are actually projects that are ideal for folks with limited time, money, and even skill. (I definitely fit those three categories, believe me.)

    Fortunately, communicating is my job, so I'll take this as a challenge.

  • aidan

    Disinterestedness is a totally different entity to inability.

    building an arduinome is it no more advanced than knowing your way around ableton. but unless you actually study what is required, you'll get no further than you would with ableton without putting any work into it.

    the links and groups that peter has pointed to above point the way for a tantalizing sea change in the way that society interacts with technology.

    there is room (or at least there should be) in this blog for those who want to be involved in the technology they use and those that want to download a new sample pack.

  • aidan

    @peter, you're right about the arduinome not being a starter project i guess. it was the first thing that came into my head…

    still, not far off!

  • Joseph

    @Peter Kirn: Thank you for the response and the conversation. I agree that the main issue must be the disconnect, if certain people (e.g., DJ Broken Record and myself) are saying one thing from our experience and others are insisting that those experiences aren't grounded in what's available. I feel like I follow this stuff a lot more carefully than the average layperson, and I have ultimately been left feeling totally intimidated and alienated by something that is supposed to be as welcoming as an Arduino.

    As part of my volunteership, I teach digital video to teens in juvenile detention facilities. Half the time, they won't touch the camera because they are afraid they'll break it, or they are afraid to press play because the big red button, as inocuous as it is for those of us who are acculturated to specific techologies, is scary. I've found that what works best in terms of breaking that barrier is immediately going the hands-on, practical (i.e., hand-holding) route. I put cameras and lights and microphones in front of them and tell them what to do with them. Once they realize there's nothing to be afraid of, I'm able to explain what does what and introduce them to some of the vocabulary and basic theory that will allow them to experiment. Before they start, they know exactly what they are attempting to produce. And at the end of it, they actually have a finished product (a news broadcast) that they find interesting and useful.

    I feel like a lot of "getting started" projects don't go far enough to hold one's interest. If I did the equivalent of the "make an LED blink" or "turn a servo motor" at the center where I volunteer, I would lose everybody due to boredom. But if I similarly pushed them to make a short arthouse film based on a lot of advanced (though really interesting) theory, I'd similarly lose a majority of them as a result of the denseness. I feel like if people in your position could conceive of some "just right" projects and applications and put those front and center, it would be a huge help gettng people interested in the basic building blocks and going from there.

    @aidan: Some people get excited by an open sandbox. Others just feel confused and intimidated because they don't know how deep the rabbit hole goes. The attitude that if one hasn't figured something out then they just weren't interested enough seems like an elitist, exceptionalist attitude that great sites like these and the DIY "community" seem intent to break down.

  • aidan

    joseph,

    If my posts came off as snobby i'm sorry. with regard to your "just right" project, why not try the Wierd Sound Generator: (http://www.musicfromouterspace.com/analogsynth/YOUR_FIRST_SYNTH/YOUR_FIRST_SYNTH.html)

    or the thingamagoop (http://bleeplabs.com/thingamagoop2/) that peter has talked about in a number of posts on CDM.

    Any one of Eric Archer's kits (http://ericarcher.net/products/) are perfect for a beginner. Peter has also covered these many times on CDM.

    dip your toe dude!

  • Joseph

    @aidan: Thank you. Looking closely, I feel like the Thingamagoop is the most "just right" of the three you listed. The site design is really good, too. It's clean and highlights everything you'll be able to do with it in a fairly inviting manner. It also lets you know that people are working on expanding its abilities and that it could potentially be integrated with software as well, which is reassuring to people who don't want to feel like they are spending money on something that they can't implement within an existing software and controller-based setup.

    I am contrasting that with the site of the Weird Sound Generator, which is poorly designed and written for anybody but people who are pre-literate in DIY electronics.

    I must have missed the February 4th post because it was titled "DIY Community: Austin a Hotbed of Inventive Hardware You Can Build and Use," and my brain is conditioned to gloss over such a title due to the issues enumerated above. Peter, I wonder if it would be worth creating a "for beginners" tag or something similar.

  • Joseph

    Apologies, the above should state "poorly designed and not written for."

  • Nathan Wooster

    I agree that DIY can be a money and time sink. That is what is great about events like Handmade Music Austin – all tools and parts are provided, and the instructors make sure you have something that works in 2 or 3 hours.

    I got started building PAIA kits (http://www.paia.com/). They are classic, economical, and useful. As far as I can tell they haven't changed their prices much in 12 years.

    Audio DIY goes way beyond electronics too. There are all sorts of ways of mounting microphones, soundproofing rooms, treating instruments, etc… which you can do yourself.

  • aidan

    i agree with the WSG site being awful to look at. the project itself is a really good introduction to analog oscillators, filters, etc.

    i do agree that he actually obfuscates what's going on with the baby talk though!

  • aidan

    also, if you had a group of like minded friends that share interests in music tech it can be a really rewarding experience to work on a project as a group. i recently built an arduinome with 4 friends (we built 5). i had previous electronics experience but little or no clue about the software side of things. my friends were the opposite. i think we all benefited from each others knowledge. it was also damn good fun.

    i would recommend getting to a workshop if one comes up in your area. chances are you'll find some really nice people that are just like you – interested in trying something different with little or know previous experience.

  • Josh

    so disclaimer, its 5 am and i'm not going to be able to tie everything together here, but:

    i think that "willingness/interest to research" is one of the important parameters here.

    take the arduinome, for example. the monome community is great…but it's a horrrribly inefficient way to share information. it's my sense that it started as kind of a group research/collaboration, and the community's structure is good for that. but if you just want to show up to the site, and be told how to build an arduinome, that's not going to happen. the arduinome was my first arduino project, and i seriously spent about a year just poking around the monome forums every once in a while until i knew enough (and got over the fear) to start buying parts and building. it's not linear at all.

    the internet is new. we're still figuring out how to progress, share information, build meaningful communities. i have to ask, how many people does the monome just scare off? i think that, in hindsight, digging around the murky ocean of data on the monome was part of the fun. but part of me also thinks that we have to learn how to streamline the knowledge we've built up, so that more people can access it and we can continue to progress. there is so much potential for expressive new music, instruments, art. why the hell can't i do multitouch-led composition right now? or even 3d, standing up, dancing around my room? my kids will be able to.

    anyway, i'm rambling. but i do think willingness to research comes into play when you talk about (perceived!) time investment for a project. that's why there's this perception of "grad-level engineers" doing all the "DIY" work. i want to be one of those people some day (i am an undergrad engineer:} studying digital arts and experimental media in seattle), but not everyone does. experimental music technology should be multi-tiered, with multiple points of entry and multiple levels of commitment. right now, bringing more people into this is a really good thing. right now, so much of what we're doing is lost on the uninitiated, a kind of "clipping" … if i try and talk about building a project using an arduino to control lights and sound with friends, with my mom, with someone studying design, with ANYONE other than people who are doing the same thing, they are so overwhelmed by how "complicated" or "geeky" or "weird" or "indie" or just pretentious it is, that they don't see the narrative, aesthetic, poetic currency of what i'm doing. i hope this changes, because i believe that the changes in technology that are happening right now all adds up to new kinds of expression (and community) not possible before. so yeah. my 20 cents.

  • http://www.createdigitalmusic.com Peter Kirn

    Well, there's a cyclic process to this:

    1. Early-phase development

    2. Refinement / iteration / testing

    3. Documentation (which also often needs refinement, iteration, and testing)

    Often, projects aren't getting far past step 1. It takes steps 2 and 3 to make things accessible. And some of that just takes time.

    I think some of this stuff is complicated, geeky, and weird, so if it's going to be all those things but also something usable, it just needs to cycle through more of the process. And I think at least some of these projects can get there, with help, and with better forums for documenting them than just forums. It means we have to value people who do a good job on documentation and not just people doing things that are "new," and it means we have to be patient. It's easy to acquire a compressed sense of time online, and because everyone has limited time to commit — whether they're students, faculty, working a day job, whatever — some of this stuff is just going to take a little longer.

    Out of curiosity, on the Arduinome, have you seen this?
    http://flipmu.com/work/arduinome/

    It *is* pretty well-documented, but I think a lot of people find the sketchier documentation first.

    As I said, though, I don't necessarily view Arduinome as a 101-level project. ;) But I'd love to see better documentation of both beginner and advanced projects alike. And I have to say, a lot of the best electronics books were written 20 and 30 years ago and never updated since. That's improving a little, but there's more to do. Just because we have access to more information online doesn't mean that it *is* better, only that it *could be* better – so we keep working on that.

  • http://www.createdigitalmusic.com Peter Kirn

    Postscript:

    Music is made up of the subtle perception of minute vibrations in air pressure.

    Music *is* pretty damned complicated, geeky, and weird, and always has been. It doesn't mean you can't find ways of making it accessible, but let's be clear about its natural state, whether your "technology" is a computer or a lyre.

  • http://bottomfeeder.ca/top Kassen

    A bit late to the party but I still wanted to address Broken Record's perspective on DIY being incomprehensible and expensive. Of course it's true that dealing with schematics, compilers and so on takes some experience. However that fails to take into account how hard it can be to shoe-horn our creative ideas into devices and programs designed by somebody else for their perspective on music and performance (which may not be yours). Buying off-the-shelf solutions is easiest, no doubt, and likely cheap, that's true too. However, that is only looking at the expenses and time *before* any music gets made. From there on devices and programs designed by the user for his own needs will likely be far more convenient and faster to use. It also fails to take into account that you likely aren't able to fix commercial products when they break or when support runs out when a OS gets updated. That's a real issue as the life-cycle of most commercial products is shorter than the decade it's supposed to take to achieve mastery over a new instrument. If you are in it for the long term the time and money DIY takes is a relatively minor expense, I feel.

  • Josh

    Yeah, I used Jordan's blog step-by-step to put my arduinome together and it was awesome. But did you see it last year as the 'Brick' blog, where you had to read through the dozens of comments below to sort out the ambiguities of the instructions? Haha. I totally agree with you. That last step of documentation is really important. Maybe you could do a "how to put together a really cool digital music blog" instructional blog someday?

  • http://www.createdigitalmusic.com Peter Kirn

    Well, I look at this as sort of the 'laboratory' phase. I think now that it's at that stage, we can probably help with the documentation on CDM. ;) I guess the first question is, which projects are most important? (Sounds like the Arduinome may rank up there…)

  • aidan

    heh. we had to resolder 192 leds on 3 of our arduinomes because we made presumptions about LED orientation based on (what we thought were) standard pcb silk screen conventions. we later found the correct info after the half way through an old 10 page thread.