Bill Thompson > Circuit Bent Bricolage Modular Pedal Board Synth, er, or something like that

In March and April of 2008 I ( was awarded a CPD grant by the Scottish Arts Council to undertake a residency at STEIM in Amsterdam.
The project involved developing and building an instrument that combined a number of circuit bent devices, custom built modules, DIY synths, high end rack effects, and an fx-pedal or two into a modular case.

The idea for the project was actually inspired by Keith Rowe who laughed when he saw me roll in a 20 kg yellow beast of a suitcase carrying all my gear (he managed to fit his in a small silver attache case). Somehow he was able to cover his table in an equivalent amount of devices for about 1/5th of the weight and size. So my challenge was to develop a single modular case that would some how house enough gear for me to perform with, while still providing me with the performance options I had become accostomed to. I also wanted to push the development of certain ideas I had been working on with various electronic devices.
During the residency, I worked closely with Kees van Zelst, who’s keen advice, tireless enthusiasm, and no-nonesense approach made my somewhat overly ambitious idea feasible in the time I had allowed.
Here’s a snapshots of all the gear I was attempting to combine
and what I was trying to fit it in to:
I had obviously overestimated and perhaps Kees’s best advice was to keep the indeterminacy machine (the bent keyboard) as its own instrument and to focus on a set of 5 or 6 smaller units to fit in the case.
After much experimentation, I ended up building and installing two circuit bent Major Morgans (something I’d been working on for a while), a newly designed circuit bent effects unit based on a toy megaphone, and a Weird Sound Generator built during the residency. I also included a cusomized 4ms Triwave Picogenerator, an Alesis Philter effects unit, and Behringer eq pedal. And finally, I especially purchased as the ‘heart’ of the new unit, a lovely Harvestman Malgorithm effects unit
with Doefer support units to provide power and line level inputs. All this eventually was to be housed in the aluminum case designed originally to hold a dj turntable.
After killing a few prototypes, I finally had all the units ready for installation. I needed to add structural support to the case though as it wasn’t built to hold this type of gear. I also had to somehow even out the height of the units so that the playing surface was even.
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Originally I tried using cut pieces of foam but it was looking a little too Charlie Brown (I’ve never claimed to be much of a craftsman) so I switched to an old trick using dvd cases that were glued and taped together to make different hieght platforms for each unit to rest on.
Each unit was then affixed to the case using velcro strips, so that they can be switched out with other units in the future, and reordered as needed.
Everything basically works now with two exceptions, which is what leaves this project open at the moment. My psu for the much loved Malgorithm blew a capacitor on the power supply board, so I’ve had to ship that down south to get fixed. If I wasn’t so exhuasted I probably would have wept over that one. It’s due back in a week (so says I two weeks later.)
And in order to truly make this a modular instrument, I need to build a matrix mixer to connect all the units together. Here is the interface I designed:
It actually is feasible, but just not within the time I had available at STEIM. But on later consideration, I felt that it would have made the unit too fixed and I wanted to keep it as open as possible. So I decided an open ended matrix mixer was the best approach. I ordered the the parts from the States and they’ve just arrived, so soon I’ll be building the final component which will be a 7 by 7 matrix mixer with 49 dials, and 14 input/outputs, with Light Resististors to modulate the pots for use in installations.
And then it’ll be time to go on tour.
Here’s another image or two…but more can be found here on my site:
The Major Morgan Units:
The Megaphone FX Unit ‘Scar’:
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The Wierd Sound Generator:
The Malgorithm Box and Unit:
And The Final Product:

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