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Mini Theremin and Analog Synth Kits

March 6, 2010 // Posted in Audio Hardware  |  2 Comments

As an Interactive Audio Designer, I explore world of sound in many different ways.  On Thursday afternoon I got a text message from my girlfriend saying that a package had arrived for me from Japan.  I had recently purchased two hobby kits.  A Gakken Mini Theremin and Gakken SX-150 Analog Synthesizer.  That night, before I went to bed I finished building both kits.


Mini Theremin and SX-150

A Theremin is a truly amazing musical instrument that is played without touching it.  It’s most commonly associated with old Sci-Fi movie sound effects and the “oooweeeeoooo” sound in the Beach Boys’ hit song, “Good Vibrations.”  When I was working on the Destroy All Humans video game franchise, we incorporated the sound of the theremin into the movement of the UFO.

According to Wikipedia,

The theremin was originally the product of Russian government-sponsored research into proximity sensors. The instrument was invented by a young Russian physicist named Lev Sergeivich Termen (known in the West as Léon Theremin) in October 1920[2] after the outbreak of the Russian civil war. After positive reviews at Moscow electronics conferences, Theremin demonstrated the device to Bolshevik leader Vladimir Lenin. Lenin was so impressed with the device that he began taking lessons in playing it,[3] commissioned six hundred of the instruments for distribution throughout the Soviet Union, and sent Theremin on a trip around the world to demonstrate the latest Soviet technology and the invention of electronic music. After a lengthy tour of Europe, during which time he demonstrated his invention to packed houses, Theremin found his way to the United States, where he patented his invention in 1928 (US1661058). Subsequently, Theremin granted commercial production rights to RCA.

Analog Synthesizers are also very cool.  While the theremin is a type of analog synthesizer, the SX-150 offers greater control over the effecting and processing of it’s noise source.  It includes a low-pass filter, resonance, attack, decay and both square and sawtooth noise generation.  An 1/8 inch external input and output are also built in although I had a bit of trouble with getting the input to function correctly as did a few others who built the same kit.

Both kits were very simple to build.  No soldering was required.  The directions were all in Japanese, but there were detailed illustrations that made it so that anyone familiar with following instructions from a Lego set could construct one of these.  Assembly required a very small phillips head screwdriver and 4 AA batteries each.

Both kits may be purchased from the Maker Shed.

Mini Theremin – $29.99 + S/H

SX-150 Analog Synthesizer Kit – $54.99

New Musical Loop Guide Section Added!

May 29, 2009 // Posted in Audio Hardware, Audio Software, General, Software (Tags: , , , , , ) |  No Comments

If you take a look at the Pages section of AdamSonic, you’ll see a new section entitled, “Guide to musical loops!.”  I created this for anyone interested in learning more about building a loop library.  Enjoy!

– Adam Smith-Kipnis

Sound Visualization Using the Elements: Part 3 – Liquid

May 26, 2009 // Posted in Audio Hardware, Culture, Visualization (Tags: , , , , , ) |  1 Comment

Ferrofluid (Magnetic Fluid)

I find ferrofluid to be fascinating.  Ferrofluid is a fluid which polarizes in the presence of a magnetic field.  This means that if you send a magnetic burst through it, you can create a visible ripple.  With steady magnetic fields, you could sculpt the liquid into any form imaginable!  As soon as the magnetic field is gone, the liquid loseWeight Exercises it’s form.

I’d imagine that it was the inspiration for Terminator 2.
“LiquidAudio was a course project for ECE362 at Purdue University. It takes in an audio signal from a standard stereo jack and outputs the average amplitude of 5 frequency bands in a pool of ferrofluid.

This video demonstrates the project to the music of “Wildcat” by Ratatat. ”

More Ferrofluid


This is an excellent demonstration of Faraday waves. Faraday waves are standing waves that appear on liquids encased in a vibrating container. As the frequency of vibration changes, so does the visible pattern on the surface of the water.

Non-Newtonian Fluid
Water and corn starch on a speaker. Non-Newtonian fluid behaves as a liquid until force is exerted on it, in which case it behaves like a solid. By placing non-newtonian fluid on a subwoofer, the rapidly oscillating pressure waves cause the fluid to splash very slowly.

If you filled a pool with non-newtonian fluid, you could run across it and swim in it!

Next element: Light projected Imagery

Sound Visualization using the elements: Part 2 Fire

April 3, 2009 // Posted in Audio Hardware, Culture, Visualization (Tags: , , , , , ) |  No Comments

This is the second article in a series about methods of visualizing sound outside of a television or computer screen.


Before television screens and computer monitors, fire was what our ancestors would stare at for hours on end. It was essential for survival.

Our natural fascination with fire and music were bound to be united. Some methods are more intricate than others.

Reuben’s Tube

In this first example, the subject gives a demonstration of a Reuben’s Tube. A Reubens Tube creates visible standing waves. The waves are made visible using fire. A standing wave is a wave that remains in a constant position. It can be the result of two waves, traveling in opposite directions, intersecting with each other. In this case, two speakers facing each other in a tube create the standing waves. When music is played, the fire visibly pulses. When pure tones are played, the lengths of the waveforms are made visible.


Here we see two flamethrowers mounted to a DJ booth, accentuating the climax of a musical crescendo. Who doesn’t love a big illuminating explosion when the kick drum hits?


In this example, a blowtorch is used to heat the air in a glass organ. While it’s more of a woodwind instrument, I added this because fire enables the moving gasses to become visible and it’s just plain cool.Next article, Part 3 – Water

Sound Visualization using the elements: Part 1 – Electricity

April 2, 2009 // Posted in Audio Hardware, Culture, Visualization (Tags: , , , , , ) |  1 Comment

This is the first article in a series about methods of visualizing sound outside of a television or computer screen. This series was inspired by a recent discussion with Aaron Higgins of Sound Trends that got me thinking about alternative methods of music visualization.


Electronic music has been around for nearly a hundred years. Historically, electricity has been used in conjunction with magnetism to record and reproduce sound waves.

Speakers are essentially magnetic coils, powered by electric signals. Microphones are the exact opposite. They are magnetic coils which generate electricity by being vibrated.

In this demonstration, no magnetism is used. Electrons bolting through the air at specific frequencies, recreate musical notes. In sequence, these lightning bolts are discernable as music. This is electronic music in it’s purest form.

“Say man, do you play any instruments?”
“Yeah, the tesla coil!”

In the second example, notice the neon light in the back of the room. Nikola Tesla believed that energy could be broadcast without the use of wires. This is a very good demonstration of that principle. Electricity, generated by the tesla coil is powerful enough to illuminate the nearby lightbulb.

Next article, Part 2 – Fire