Archive for Electronic

Musical Tesla Coils

Posted in Instruments with tags , , , , , on December 5, 2009 by lindahurd

Last year at Maker Faire in Austin after seeing some intense battlebot action, I got to witness huge tesla coils playing music.  It made me think about how cool it would be if a band incorporated Tesla coils into a live show.  So after some googling, i found this:

It’s hard to see exactly what’s going on in that video, but here you can see that this guy is wearing chainmail and standing in between the tesla coils:

I think my favorite Tesla coil song is the Dr. Who theme.


Anamanaguchi: Awesome 8-bit Music

Posted in Musicians with tags , , , , on November 28, 2009 by lindahurd

You’ve probably (hopefully) heard 8-bit music, or chiptunes, even you aren’t aware of what it’s called.

From Wikipedia:

8-bit refers to a style of electronic music inspired (and performed) by the sound of old computer consoles from the 8 bit era of video games. This music will often reflect sounds from technology that is seen as primitive or “outdated” such as the Game Boy and home made synthesizers.”


I recently read an interview on from the band Anamanaguchi.  Anamanaguchi makes ridiculously awesome chiptune music from a hacked NES.



Vijith: How do you do write these sequences?

Pete: It’s a [DOS] program called Nerdtracker 2 that apparently writes music in the language that the NES can understand. It’s a really home-brewed program. It was made in 1998 by a bunch of Swedish dudes, and it never got out of beta, and it’s prone to crashing, and it has all these terrible bugs in it, half the features don’t work.

And the decision to mix it with guitars?

Pete: I started messing around with it and sending songs back and forth with a friend of mine, and in the beginning, the music I wrote kind of sounded “videogamey,” but as I continued writing, my actual musical influence kind of started to get in there. And at that point, it made a lot of sense to put it as an instrument in a full live band setting, with guitars and drums and that sort of thing. Right before going to NYU, literally NYU move-in day, I released the Power Supply EP through 8bitpeoples, which I had recorded totally by myself at my house except for one track which we recorded with James. All I had was a shitty mic and a shitty guitar and a shitty amp and just recorded what I knew, without any kind of formal training.


Do you write using a guitar or a Nintendo?

Pete: It’s a mixture of both. Certain songs, I’ll get the idea as a melody in my head. The music is pretty melodic, so it’s pretty transferable from instrument to instrument. Anything I write on guitar I can put on the Nintendo, and anything I write on the Nintendo I can usually play on guitar – unless it’s way too fast, which it usually is.

Recently, I’ve been getting more into making sounds on the Nintendo that can’t be reproduced by instruments, doing stuff that only the sound chip can do. But more or less I like to create a skeleton of the song on the NES. Ary, on the Game Boy, makes some absolutely ridiculous stuff that’s really fucking weird, like, really just straight-up the weirdest music I’ve ever heard. And the way he does it is not so much thinking musically, but technically. When I came into the 8-bit world, I was definitely the opposite. Any time there’s electronic music, you have people who are thinking technically, and usually that’s music that I’m not very interested in, because it’s kind of cold, usually. I came into the 8 bit world with a very musical background, being in bands growing up and stuff, as opposed to a programming background. But recently I’ve been getting really into making strange sounds on the Nintendo that, like, “Whoa, I didn’t know you could do that with that sound chip.” At the same time, I’m mixing that with that simple pop sensibility.

What I usually like to do is to harmonize everything. Why not? You have two square channels. What else are they going to do but harmonize each other?”

Another interview with Anamanaguchi from Geektro:

The Bliptronic 5000: An Affordable Version of the Tenori-On

Posted in Instruments with tags , , on November 27, 2009 by lindahurd

I wrote about the Tenori-On a few weeks ago.  After watching several demonstration videos and how Paul De Jong used his magical-awesome music skills to make beautiful music with it, I was in love.  However, the Tenori-On is well over $1000.  Yikes.

I just read about the Bliptronic 5000 on  It’s basically a cheaper version ($50) of the Tenori-On that you can buy on  The interface is really similar to the Tenori-On, but it has fewer “modes” and the sound quality is not as good.  But hey, maybe that’s the type of sound that you’re going for.

The coolest feature of the Bliptronic that the Tenori-On lacks is a collaborative function.

According to

“An infinite number of Bliptronics can be attached together using the link ports and included cables. When one Bliptronic reaches the end of it’s pattern, the next Bliptronic is instantly triggered to start playing. This allows you to make longer songs where each person controls a section of the song. You can even set the tempo and instrument differently on each Bliptronic in the chain to achieve unconventional musical results.”


“You know the grid craze is in full steam once ThinkGeek offers a $50 clone. The Bliptronic 5000 is somewhere between the Tenori-On and monome. It certainly looks like the monome, with an 8-by-8 grid of light-up pads in a square form factor. But like the Tenori-On, it has built-in sounds and speaker, it’s made of aluminum, and it runs on batteries. The Bliptronic also simplifies its user interface. Its 8×8 pads are simply an eight-note octave with eight steps. There’s a play button, and knobs for tempo and tone selector. There’s also the ability to link up devices and play them together – bonus points for that, as aside from basic MIDI function, the Tenori-On as shipped by Yamaha failed to deliver some of the original collaborative features promised by designer Toshio Iwai’s original proposal.

The “old-skool” sounds are pretty lo-fi-sounding from what I can tell, but this unit does have a certain charm. If you’ve got a monome and a Tenori-On and a Launchpad in every room, you can amuse your friends by keeping one of these in the lavatory. And who knows, someone might pick this thing up and do something terrific with it. (I sure can’t argue with the price.)”

I know what I’m adding to my Christmas wish list this year.

Kraftwerk: Pioneers of Electronic Music

Posted in Musicians with tags , on November 23, 2009 by lindahurd

I hadn’t heard of the German band Kraftwerk until I read this Pitchfork interview with Ralf Hütter from Kraftwerk.  Kraftwerk is considered by many to be pioneers of German electronic music.  According to Wikipedia, “The signature Kraftwerk sound combines driving, repetitive rhythms with catchy melodies, mainly following a Western classical style of harmony with a minimalistic and strictly electronic instrumentation.”  Today, electronic music is relatively popular and common.  However, it was not so common 30 years ago.

Additionally, Kraftwerk uses many visual elements in their live shows.  “This included back-projected slides and films, increasingly synchronised with the music as the technology developed, the use of hand-held miniaturised instruments during the set, and, perhaps most famously, the use of replica mannequins of themselves to perform onstage during the song ‘The Robots’.”

Kraftwerk’s live show with mannequins

From the Pitchfork interview:

Pitchfork: How did the 3-D aspect of the show come about?

RH: Our music is always, as you know, very spacey– computer graphics, music, images, lyrics, and visual art we make ourselves, or that we make with artists. And it’s all synchronized. The premiere was at the Volkswagen factory when we played there in April. It went so well that we decided to do it again in the summer when we played for the Manchester Velodrome, where we had the British Olympic cycling team riding on the track and then later during the show, after our robot performance, we continued about five or six compositions with 3-D graphics and the audience put on the glasses. It was fantastic.


Pitchfork: Was there, when you were a young person and you were first seeing live music and performing live music, perhaps in the late 60s, was there anyone you saw that was an inspiration for this kind of multimedia show?

RH: No, nothing special. I think it was more like an awakening in the late 60s of the whole living situation– the German word is einfach musik. Everyday music, like– it’s more like discovering the tape recorder for us. Like, the world of sound: Everyday life has a sound, and that’s also why our studio is called Kling Klang studio because “kling” is the verb and “klang” is the noun for “sound.” So it means “sounding sound.” That’s really what Kraftwerk is about. Sound sources are all around us, and we work with anything, from pocket calculators to computers, from voices, human voices, from machines, from body sounds to fantasy to synthetic sounds to speech from human voice to speech synthesis from anything, if possible. We don’t want to limit ourselves to any specific sound like that was before when we were brought up in classical music. Then it had be strings, it had to be piano, blah blah blah. We wanted to go beyond, to find a new silence and from
there to progress to continue walking into the world of sound.

Pitchfork: Kraftwerk exists as not just an art object, like in a museum, but there’s always an element of popular culture, where it’s received by large groups of people. This is opposed to some people, who experiment with sound and they might do a sound installation in a museum. But it seems like there’s always been a popular element to what Kraftwerk does.

RH: Yes. That developed for us, when we started in the late 60s in art galleries and student clubs, there might have been 50 people or whatever, and it just developed this way. Then in the early 70s and with Autobahn, suddenly the world was– it was possible for us to tour around the world. Well, in France, Italy, and America. And then from there on, it was for us like a vision of electronic music as a universal language. It became our reality.

Pitchfork: Something I’ve always found interesting about Kraftwerk is that even when your music is electronic music and it’s, as you say, immaterial. It sort of exists independent of physical formats. There’s always been a strong feeling for the body in your music, that there’s always a physical manifestation of it, whether it’s through dancing or inspiration in something like cycling. Is that, the interface between electronics and the human body, is that of particular interest to Kraftwerk?

RH: Yes, I think that’s best expressed in the words the “Man-Machine”. It’s this combination of human sounds and machine sounds, so as you probably know, electronic music has been very, very intellectualized in the 50s, 60s, or whatever, and I think we always felt strong elements ourselves of these machine rhythms, repetition and charm. Like the motor humming on Autobahn, radio waves playing in fantastic melodies in the air. All these ideas have been in our minds and we try to combine them into the different albums.


I really like this idea of “Man-Machine”: creating music by combining human and machine sounds.  This is the foundation of electronic music as we know it today.  Even though there was electronic music before Kraftwerk, they helped to popularize it and greatly influenced the genre.


And to top it off, the music video for “The Robots” by Kraftwer

Tenori-On LED Instrument

Posted in Instruments with tags , , , , on November 10, 2009 by lindahurd

The Tenori-On is a handheld, square-shaped instrument with LED buttons.  I love instruments that incorporate music visualizations.

According to the about page,

“The TENORI-ON is a unique 16 x 16 LED button matrix performance instrument with a stunning visual display. For DJs & producers it is a unique performance tool enabling them to perform using MIDI and load the TENORI-ON with samples to ‘jam / improvise’ within their set BPMs.”

Not only does it sound cool, but it looks pretty neat, too.

Watch a demo of it here:

The website includes videos of musicians using the Tenori-On, and includes a performance by Paul de Jong of The Books.  Now, the demo video of the Tenori-On is really cool and makes me want to play around with it.  But these videos of talented musicians putting this instrument to good use is really beautiful.  Even though it looks like a toy, it can still create amazing music.

The Reactable: A Tangible Way to Create Music

Posted in Instruments with tags , on November 10, 2009 by lindahurd

Technological advancements are always allowing for the creation of new, innovative ways to make music.  There are always new electronic mediums popping up through which we can make music.  Yesterday, I heard about the Reactable.  I’m not sure how new it is, or if I’m just behind on the times, but this device is pretty nifty.  Basically, it’s a glowing table that you put blocks on and twist around to play different loops.  My explanation is pretty primitive.

According to the Reactable website,

“The Reactable uses a so called tangible interface, where the musician controls the system by manipulating tangible objects. The instrument is based on a translucent and luminous round table, and by putting these pucks on the Reactable surface, by turning them and connecting them to each other, performers can combine different elements like synthesizers, effects, sample loops or control elements in order to create a unique and flexible composition.

As soon as any puck is placed on the surface, it is illuminated and starts to interact with the other neighboring pucks, according to their positions and proximity. These interactions are visible on the table surface which acts as a screen, giving instant feedback about what is currently going on in the Reactable turning music into something visible and tangible.

Additionally, performers can also change the behavior of the objects by touching and interacting with the table surface, and because the Reactable technology is “multi-touch”, there is not limit to the number of fingers that can be used simultaneously. As a matter of fact, the Reactable was specially designed so that it could also be used by several performers at the same time, thus opening up a whole new universe of pedagogical, entertaining and creative possibilities with its collaborative and multi-user capabilities.”

To get the full effect, you really have to watch a video.