On december 2007, I started to research in STEIM the possibilities to build a midi-ratchet, to eventually make a project with Electronic Hammer. During summer 2008 I put myself the task to build the ratchet from zero for both hardwood & hardware (using an arduino BT) and necessary programing.
With the wonderful cratfmanship of Sean Little (firstname.lastname@example.org) the woodwork of a sturdy but yet elegant ratchet came to life. For playing purposes I redesigned the instrument: A second handle was added, (see picture 1a) so that the percusionist can create leverage with both hands, and therefore be able to play controlled rhythms rather than only swirling the thing around. I had 4 of them made.
Next was the turn of the hardware. Because of the rotating nature of the ratchet, the logical way to go was to make a wireless connection to avoid cable entanglement. The arduino BT came out to be the best option, even though thanks the bluetooth the circuit is a bit pricey (90 euros).
With the kind help and wit of Bas Gebbing and some shabby internet tutorials, we were able to make it work using ON/OFF switches as well as a piezo contact mic. The aim was to detect each hit of the ratchet, and I ended up using both sensors: Two ON/OFF swtiches were located, one on each side of the ratchet to detect the direction of the rotation. They are triggered ON at the maximum bend of the flange and OFF upon release. These are also triggerable with just a slight wrist motion without getting the full hit to the ratchet’s cogwheel, giving the player an extra by holding the switch ON for a longer time, and thus keeping a sample or process sounding. I use the piezo as a ‘knock sensor’ and kept it cos it has more of an instant detection-trigger span. Also more effective when it comes to quick rotation. To make the piezo bulletproof, thanks to Jurgen’s expertise, Bison Epoxy Metal Adhesive was used to do the trick. To avoid ‘soft-triggers’ by the piezo from being too sensitive I found a trick so it would react only on hard ‘knocks’. It worked better to use a piece of foam or rubber under the piezo to absorb some of vibrations, than to do so using a treshold on the patch.
I had two of these midi-ratchets ready by the time Electronic Hammer arrived at Steim. On a later stage I will have 3 of them since they are a trio. One thing they were excited about the project was for the two laptop players to have a way to interact with percussion wizard Diego Espinosa, ‘outside’ from the computer. Usually they use some orthodox controllers, but in this case with the ratchet they have a simple controller integrated into a percusion instrument. In the end that is the underlying aim/importance of this project: finding out ways of extending the use of electronics outside of a pure laptop situation. That’s also been the core of steim for so many years. As computer velocity grows I find it’s more and more essential to make a bridge from the full highspeed-abstraction that sound undergoes while processed thru the computers back into reality. By making some kind of visual connection between what we listen and what we see. Or as Byung Jun remarked, when he saw the ratchets in action, adding a poetic touch – the nice thing is that visually they can have different assosiations, it can look like someone’s flying a kite, or like a fisherman on a boat.
I find particularly fascinating the paradox of a very ancient and primitive but yet effective instrument being mixed together with modern technology.
Back to the our Lab. I asked Diego to bring a small collection of instruments in the direction of a washboards, giros and dented instruments that would combine with the ratchet’s rather limited sounding world. As well as some metalic instruments for contrast.
Basically we were trying out 4 different approaches that came about, and which are possible to see in the videos:
1) Triggering sounds directly from each hit of the ratchet.
One very nice feature of the EH is that each they work with different programmes and aproaches to electronics. Henry Vega uses super collider and Juan Parra is more driven into Max/msp. This difference also enriches the possibililites with which the ratchet’s mechanism works. With Henry the sounds are more pristine oriented and with Juan more on the diabolique side, which makes a quite an interesting velvet combo.
2) Triggering filter changes, that affect an incoming sound.
In this case the input from washboards and giros worked best since they produce a ‘white-ish’ tipe of sound which worked great with the filtering we were using. During this experimentation, it was also fine to discover the result using the ratchet’s own sound. This becomes a sort of trunkated form of feedback. The ratchet’s own sound being transformed by it’s own mechanism.
3) Using the ratchet’s own sound as input for further processing.
This actually refers of simply using the ratchet as a pure percussion instrument without the triggering any data thru the bluetooth, but rather manipulating the sound with the standard EH techniques. It’s good to step out from the triggering mode and have the standard manner as a correlating point.
4) Detecting the speed of the ratchet by the number of hits in a predetermined interval.
This in such a way that quick rotation gestures would trigger different things than the slow rotation. Playing with the only form of dynamic in the ratchet: speed. Evidently this is the most tricky part to get working smoothly. So that still needs some patching.
That ends up this 2nd session at STEIM. Next step is writing the piece for EH. and build that 3rd ratchet. Any comments dont hesitate to contact me at email@example.com