Haaaaave You Met Ally?

24 Oct

…no, of course you haven’t met Ally. Because that’d be me.

Awkward third person introductions aside, I’m proud to introduce myself as _maker’s new intern for all things media related (and probably some other cool stuff, too). I’ll be the one annoying you fine folk at workshops with a camera, as well as posting all sorts of neat information on this blog.

So, a bit about me. I’m a second year journalism student, and also a musician. I’m a bassist turned guitarist, which is working out pretty well for me, I must admit. I love effects pedals – anything that can increase the variety of noises I can produce is fine by me!

guitar set up
This is pretty much my current set-up. (I’ll be taking out the Zvex Fuzz Factory and replacing it with an Ibanez Tube Screamer, though.)

I’m coming into _maker with a vague knowledge of the inner workings of the humble effects pedal, and I’m very excited to learn how to make my own, as well as modifying ones that I already have.

Me and Thom were talking about a few new ideas for the blog and for the kind of things that _maker will be doing both online and offline over the coming months, and I for one am very excited to get started and to get informing people of exactly what’ll be happening. But more on that later…

I hope my ramblings and posts are somewhat entertaining, and I really hope to meet some of you at upcoming workshops and events!

- Ally

Mathlete’s Showcase & 3×3 Passive Matrix Mixer

2 Jun

Maker.ie were recently invited to showcase at the Irish MATHlete’s Showcase at the CHQ building in Dublin’s City Centre. It was a fantastic day where we got to meet some really bright and interesting young people, and show off what we teach.


Thom Preparing for the Mathletes!

Thom Preparing for the Mathletes!


The Mathletes had sat a competitive exam in the morning so I decided to create a fun interactive audio exhibit for them to play with, explore, and maybe blow off a little steam. For this I decided to build a 3×3 matrix mixer which would allow for a lot of hands-on audio experimenting by the students.


Matrix Mixer at the Mathletes Showcase

Matrix Mixer at the Mathletes Showcase


The 3×3 passive matrix mixer is different from a normal mixer in that each input is connected to each output. This connectivity allows for a number of feedback paths which can instantly and intuitively create rich textures and complex rhythms.


3x3 Passive Matrix Mixer Schematic

3×3 Passive Matrix Mixer Schematic


I decided to use our Light Controlled Synthesiser (a simple, light-reactive, hands-on device that anyone can play) as the starting point for generating a sound, then pass it through our Low-Pass Resonant Active Filter which fed into the matrix mixer at input 1.  A delay pedal was connected between output 2 and input 2. A loop station with a guitar and fuzz pedal at its input, was connected to input 3. Output 1 connected to an amplifier so the results of all the processing, mashing and mixing could be heard.


Synth>Filter>Matrix Mixer >Delay+Loop Station+Guitar+Fuzz Pedal>Amp

Synth>Filter>Matrix Mixer >Delay+Loop Station+Guitar+Fuzz Pedal>Amp


To build the matrix mixer there were a lot of connections to be made so I decided to use small strips of veroboard rather than have lots of wires soldered together. This makes for a neater build that is easier to troubleshoot.


3x3 Matrix Mixer Internals

3×3 Matrix Mixer Internals


The three small bits of veroboard in the middle of the board are connected to the wiper of the potentiometers (via a summing resistor) and carry the input signals. The bit of veroboard at the top is used as the circuit’s common ground point.


The matrix mixer is a really fun piece of kit which I’m glad to have finally got round building. Combined with time-based effects it can turn even the most basic signal source (like the Light Controlled Synth) into pulsing, richly textured soundscapes.


Now, some of that beautiful maths:

given a pitch with frequency f, the pitch one half step above has frequency 21/12 f

Given a pitch with frequency f, the pitch one half step above has frequency 21/12 f


Figure 1 - Top: The twelve pitches of the equally tempered chromatic scale arranged on a circle.   - Center: The vertices of the inscribed polygon represent the pitches of the diatonic scale (Tone-Tone-Semitone-Tone-Tone-Tone-Semitone).  The diatonic arrangement is the most evenly spaced distribution of seven vertices in a twelve-sided figure.  Note the symmetry inherent in the Dorian mode, which begins and ends on pitch 2 (D).  - Bottom: Diametric reflection of the odd numbered pitches results in the circle of fifths. [1]

Top: The twelve pitches of the equally tempered chromatic scale arranged on a circle.  Center: The vertices of the inscribed polygon represent the pitches of the diatonic scale (Tone-Tone-Semitone-Tone-Tone-Tone-Semitone). The diatonic arrangement is the most evenly spaced distribution of seven vertices in a twelve-sided figure. Note the symmetry inherent in the Dorian mode, which begins and ends on pitch 2 (D). Bottom: Diametric reflection of the odd numbered pitches results in the circle of fifths. [1]

- Thom Conaty







Modifying a Russian EX Big Muff π with a Switching Power Input Socket

19 May

I was  recently asked by a friend to modify their old-school Russian Electro-Harmonix Big Muff π, with a standard 2.1mm, switching, DC power input socket (often known as a ”Boss style” power jack), for use with a 9v battery. It was a fairly straight forward job, but I thought I would do a short blog post about it, as knowing how to add a DC input socket is super useful for a whole range of projects. These DC sockets let you switch automatically between battery and adaptor use, while conserving the battery when the adaptor, is plugged in.

Before we go through the mod, let me say something about safety

This project and modification are designed only to be used with the standard 2.1mm ”Boss Style” switching DC input socket that takes a 9v, centre negative DC power adaptor. 

Power from the mains AC power supply (the electricity from the plug in the wall) WILL, AND WANTS, TO KILL YOU.  Never mess with anything that plugs into a wall socket unless you are 100% confident with the power adaptor, that you know what you are doing, and the circuit you are working on.  Absolutely NEVER mess with a device WHEN IT’S PLUGGED INTO the wall.  Please be careful, and always put your and others’ safety first.


Now… let’s take a look at the layout of the 2.1mm DC input socket:

Pinout for the 2.1mm DC power socket showing the lug numbering.

Pinout for the 2.1mm switching DC power (”Boss Style”) input socket, showing the lug numbering.

Top view of the 2.1mm DC power socket showing pinout

Top view photo of the 2.1mm switching DC power (”Boss Style) input socket, showing pinout

Side view of the 2.1mm DC power socket showing pinout

Side view photo of the 2.1mm switching DC power (”Boss Style) input socket, showing pinout


Lug 1 – Ground (All ground connections)

Lug 2 – Power (From battery)

Lug 3 – Power (To board)


BE VERY CAREFUL- Check, double check, and triple check  your soldering and the pinout of the socket before connecting a power adaptor, or you risk frying your board. 

When running on battery, lugs 2 & 3 are connected. When a power adaptor jack is plugged in, the connection between the lugs is broken, saving the battery, and power is only drawn from the adaptor via lug 3.


So here is how the mod went:

1. I opened up the Russian Big Muff:

Russian Pots!

Russian Pots!


2. I drilled a 12mm hole for the DC socket. The metal is steel and quite tough but I managed to get through it:

Fresh hole for the socket

Fresh hole for the socket


3. The old 9v battery snap was broken so I’m gonna use a new one:

Old battery snap not looking very healthy.

Old battery snap not looking very healthy.


4. I inserted the DC Socket:

DC Socket in place.

DC Socket in place.


5. I then soldered the black wire from the new battery snap and the black wire from the old battery snap (that was still connected to the board) to lug 1 on the socket:

N.B. if there wasn’t already a wire soldered to the board (from the old battery snap), I would have had to add one from lug 1 to a ground point on the board).

Using the old wire coming from the board meant I didn't have to touch the board (always a good thing!)

Using the old wire coming from the board meant I didn’t have to touch the board (always a good thing!)


6. Then I soldered the red wire from the new battery snap to lug 2 on the socket:

The red wire from the new battery snap.

The red wire from the new battery snap.


7. The red wire from the old battery snap was still connected to the board so I soldered it directly to lug 3 on the socket (I also added a small piece of insulating mounting tape to prevent the lugs accidentally touching the board):

This red wire in lug 3 will take power from the adaptor to the board

This red wire in lug 3 will take power from the adaptor to the board.


8. Finally I remounted the board, and added a fresh battery:




The enclosure has been screwed back together and a fresh battery added.

The enclosure has been screwed back together and a fresh battery added.


9. And here she is working away:

It's alive!

It’s alive!


- Thom Conaty


Hidden Sounds

13 Jan

Hidden Sounds Review

Sometimes when people are trying to create music using a physical medium such as circuit bending it can be hard to get inspiration, not only with what sounds to create but with what hardware to create them with. With that in mind, a show like Basic FM’s Hidden Sounds is a veritable goldmine of ideas and inspiration.

Broadcasting twice a month, every second Thursday at 7.00pm as well as repeats every Sunday at 4.00pm, Hidden Sounds features ambient/experimental circuit bending music from a variety of artists; from known exponents of the genre to new artists looking for a platform to showcase their work to a wider audience.

The show is relatively new and as such it would be best to keep in mind that as each episode goes by the host of Hidden Sounds grows into the role, with his occasional interjections and artist introductions becoming more and more polished and natural as time goes by.

So whether you’re looking for inspiration, a new platform to showcase some of your circuit bending electronica or just want something off the beaten track to listen to of a Thursday evening, Hidden Sounds really is an invaluable tool for artists and a truly enjoyable hour of music for casual listeners to boot.

Old episodes of Hidden Sounds are located at http://www.mixcloud.com/TheHiddenSounds and Basic FM have a free app available for download in both the Google Play Store and the Apple App Store should you wish to check the show out for yourselves.

Happy listening!


Nicolas Collins Interview

11 Jan

A while back we at Maker.ie sat down with Nicolas Collins the man who quite literally wrote the book on sound manipulation with regards to electronic music. Collins’ 2006 book Handmade Electronic Music: The Art of Hardware Hacking has proved to be extremely popular with hobbyists, electronica music enthusiasts and sound artists themselves alike. As well as this, Mr Collins has proven through this book that not only is he very knowledgeable in his field (and with good reason given his list of accomplishments, which include a myriad of contemporary compositions and the fact that in many ways he is a pioneer of this particular music genre) but also that he can convey his ideas and designs in such a manner as not to be daunting or confusing to those who may have a more base level of understanding of electronic circuitry or indeed music theory/sound manipulation in general.

In this interview we discuss with Mr Collins the pros and cons of software vs. hardware, how and why he started to tinker and toy with circuitry, who influenced him throughout his career and what he thinks lies ahead with the hacker scene in the future.
We hope you enjoy watching this interview as much as we enjoyed sitting down and talking to the man in person.

Shangaan Electro Review

22 Oct

Last Thursday I had an opportunity that is rarely found these days; to see a gig in a genre of music I had never before experienced. For those of you who aren’t aware Shangaan Electro are a South African dance group who have taken elements from local traditional music and mixed it with various elements of contemporary dance music, with frankly marvellous results.

The first thing I noticed after the group took the stage was the genuine party atmosphere present in the Sugar Club (which is so often the go to venue for fringe or bizarre evenings such as the one which had just gotten underway) and  it was clear the sizeable crowd were all here to dance the night away. As for the group itself Shangaan Electro were comprised of DJ Nozinja Mthethwa aka “Dog” and a two female, two male vocal/dance ensemble.

As the music began it became evident that South African dance music was a very different proposition to what we are used to in Europe, various drumbeats and different percussion instruments took the place of the more instrumental hook based offerings that we are familiar with, and while these were still present to varying degrees they were much more understated and definitely took a back seat to the booming sound of constant drums. This music is frantic and charged and it is almost impossible not to be swept away by its sheer energy; this is hardly surprising when you consider that the concert started with a song containing roughly 180 beats per minute!  Considering that most dance typically contains between 120-140bpm it’s not hard to see why the urge to move is so infectious.

Dog tells us regularly throughout the show that we will finish at 189bpm and gradually cranks up the speed, with the crowd alternately chanting “189” and “Shangaan Electro” when prompted to by the charismatic DJ. As for the rest of the group they are in an almost constant state of movement; alternating between singing, freestyle dancing, synchronized dancing and whistle-blowing. All members have whistles and while I’m sure on some level it has something to do with helping them keep track of what dance moves to do next it added to the overall sound immensely.

We are hitting around the 185bpm mark when the group asks for three ladies to join them onstage to “see if they can shake it” and it doesn’t take long for the three volunteers to step forward. Each is paired with one of the group and they are taken through a quick crash course on how to move like a member of Shangaan. The results are almost instantaneous, unfortunately the same cannot be said for the male participants when the experiment was repeated a few minutes later but again such was the festival/party feeling present in the air that it made no difference; the crowd and group were feeding off each other and having a fantastic time while doing so.

After this experiment in audience participation we are finally ready to reach the 189bpm mark, the group are moving even faster and more energetically than ever before despite the length of time onstage. The crowds’ chants become even more frequent and practically everyone in the building is dancing right in front of the stage. The finale of the show involves Dog, who had been hidden away behind his turntables moving to front and centre of the stage to show off his moves which produces a fantastic reaction from the crowd.

Shangaan Electro are a bit of a difficult proposition if truth be told; I simply cannot imagine that there would be too many instances where I would choose to stick on one of their records in my free time. In that way they are a bit like The Flaming Lips, meaning that their live show is simply so entertaining that it more than makes up for any shortcomings that the group may have present or reservations you yourself may have on the genre of music they play. For that reason I would strongly suggest that if the opportunity ever arises again that you get yourself to a show, the athleticism, feel good factor and music on display when combined will make it more than worth your while.

Hard Working Class Heroes Weekend Review

19 Oct

This month saw the Hard Working Class Heroes annual celebration of Irish music return all across the city and as usual it did not disappoint. Taking place in a variety of venues, some well versed in housing independent artists, HWCH once again proved that this country is home to a large number of talented and diverse musicians.

The weekend kicked off for us at The Workman’s Club where, despite the horrific weather outside, a good crowd had gathered to witness the various bands ply their trade. Stand outs of the night included Princess a four-piece band with, among others, progressive rock and indie sensibilities, but these guys are anything but a simple rehash of old ideas. This band is loud, but in the best possible way, with catchy multi-layered songs all held together by the constant and varying beats being laid down by the immensely talented drummer. Be sure to keep an eye out for their new single which should be released in the near future as well as the already available EP Black Cat.

Next up was Cave Ghosts, another four piece band but this time one with a more vocally led sound. Singer Jen Connell has a hauntingly beautiful voice and uses it to great effect; juxtaposing it against lively and instantly likeable 1960’s pop influenced efforts. Honestly HWCH was already a success in our eyes for having included this band in the line up, they really are an act that everyone should catch if given the chance, and considering the fact that the song No one loves you like I do which the group debuted during the show has been rattling through our brains ever since we heard it, it’s safe to say this group has the potential to go from strength to strength.

Next up was Meeting House Square to see the much vaunted Ana Gog; a band making some serious waves at the moment and it doesn’t take long to see why. The vocals possess warmth and sincerity rarely heard nowadays where overly produced music abounds, not to mention that the musicianship on display when they take the stage is top class. Ana Gog list influences such as Radiohead and Bjork and they could broadly be described as an alternative offering; to do so however would be a great disservice, as they cannot be pigeonholed into one specific genre or category. Ana Gog regularly play all around Dublin and indeed the country and have recently announced a two week tour of India so be sure to try and see them before they set off.

Saturday was a tricky proposition as we had to cover several venues for the purposes of this review; first up was Bad Bob’s, a venue that has had more name changes than Prince but one which still serves up a decent atmosphere for a live show to see Let’s Set Sail. This group originally started out as a three piece but over time have expanded to five members and feature a male/female vocal partnership that works beautifully. Unfortunately technical issues cut the set short but what we did manage to see was suitably impressive to make us want to catch another show in the near future.

Afterwards we hotfooted over to Meeting House Square yet again, a thankfully short journey considering the typically Irish mid-October weather, to catch Sweet Jane a band that has been around for quite a while now and one we’ve seen many times in various locations over the years, this however did in no way dampen our enthusiasm as these lads can seriously play. Made up of four brothers from clan Paxton and an “adopted brother” Sweet Jane or Buffalo Sunn as they are now known are a big, old school guitar band and it comes as no surprise that they have been a regular on the Irish festival scene or that their music has been featured on home grown TV shows such as RTE’s Raw. We hope that the name change does not hinder this band and hopefully their November single release of Seven Seas continues the success that the group have enjoyed in recent times.

Last up on our tour of HWCH was Spies a five-piece indie offering that have been riding high since their single Distant Shoreline’s hit earlier in the year. Spies have a sound reminiscent of The National due to the singer Michael Broderick’s almost baritone voice, but yet again this comparison is only for the sake of giving you a rough idea of what to expect and in no way a full representation of what this group brings to the stage. Be sure to look out for latest single November Sun which has just been released.

Despite our best efforts we were unable to see but a fraction of the music on display, something we hope to rectify next time around, but if the acts we caught were any indication standards were extremely high all throughout the weekend. As usual Hard Working Class Heroes showcased some of the very best young, independent artists that this country has to offer and helps prove once again that Ireland has a thriving and exciting music scene hidden all around us, and we should all remember to try and encourage Irish music year round rather than just big annual events such as HWCH as unless these bands have a livelihood year round these events will eventually disappear from our calendars.


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