Victorian Synth (by Adam Kaczynski)
My favorite concert venue recently started hosting some homemade electronics workshops run by a noise/electronic musician. They created contact mics in the last workshop, but today they were making Victorian synthesizers. I couldn’t go, but I did do a little reading and figured out how to make my own. The original premise behind John Bowers’ Victorian synth was to create something that would have many of the same abilities as a modern synthesizer, but only using Victorian age technology. The simplest version requires only a speaker, a battery smaller than 9V, and some conducting materials.
I’m not particularly familiar with the technology from the Victorian age. I’m also not up on how speakers work exactly (I do know that there are electromagnets involved), so I’m going to have to take the original creator’s word when he says that the voltage control will have to be electro-mechanical rather than electronic. The key then is to use the speaker’s own movement as part of the input, completing the circuit or breaking it to apply a voltage across the speaker at a (hopefully) controllable frequency. I tried to show at least some variation in the pitch in the video by changing how hard I pushed back against the speaker, but it’s definitely not easy. It was fun, though, and really simple to build. And it’s such a weird application, I have to wonder how students might react to working with it (and how plausible it might be to build an electronics course around noise music).
For anyone that’s interested, the creator’s page for his Victorian Synthesizer is here (http://www.jmbowers.net/works/victorian.html). His setup is a bit more complicated, and sounds at least slightly more pleasing.