When I went down this modular synth hole about a year ago, I distinctly remember thinking to myself that while I’m okay with the modular nature of modular synths, I’m not okay wit the Do It Yourself aspect of electronics and I had no interest at all in any of that. i didn’t care what was a resistor, I didn’t plan to learn to solder, and it didn’t bother me that I didn’t understand the difference between hertz and amps and volts and ohms.
Now, if you know me, you know that these kinds of thoughts can be accurately put in the “famous last words” category. For the last several months I’ve been planning all kinds of soldering and circuit mayhem, starting with a build-it-yourself control-voltage joystick kit that I bought, that needs a minimal amount of soldering, but lots of planning to go into a metal box correctly (picture of the kit here). I also have a few books now that describe various interesting handmade musical instrument projects. And (oh yeah) several years ago, I had the kids collect all their funny electronic musical toys and we’ve had them sitting in a box here at my studio, waiting to be bent (including a complete set of Speak & Spell, Speak & Math, and a Speak & Reads).
So this last Sunday, I dragged the childrens up to New York City to Culturefix, a small bar/studio/gallery on Clinton Street, just below Houston. Create Digital Music was throwing a little Handmade Music fest there, and they were having a workshop where one can learn to build a very simple, seven-component theremin-type device. Since I’ve had these books and the soldering gear for several months, I’d yet turned it on and still wasn’t sure what to do when I did. So I signed up and took the kids.

Handmade Music: Phototheremin workshop
Handmade Music: Phototheremin workshop
Handmade Music: Phototheremin chorus performs

Here’s a not-great little movie of the theremin chorus, after we built the things.

It was a real nice time. Peter and Cole made space for us, everyone was friendly, and Wilson and Elliot were interested. We built two kits, one of which had its transistors reversed and needed some desoldering (so I learned to do that too!). But in the end, we got two working teensy theremins (sounds and video to come soon).

tiny little handmade theremins

And, of course, I think this is just the coolest thing. Now I’m thinking of all kinds of crap I want to make, and when a friend of mine asked me how he might put some push-button sound sources in some space-ship sculptures he’s putting together, I immediately decided that this will be something worth figuring out. It won’t be too hard to build small circuits with buttons and potentiometers that make spacey sounds, will it?