A Maze of Wires & Waveforms

Self-contained interactive electronic musical sculpture

The first time my electronics took part in a performance was when they were sewn into painting paintings by the artist Phaythe, as part of a concert of music by Invention Ensemble. For the ArtMaze at Glasgow Green in May of 1998, I combined five circuits in a transparent splashproof plastic box. Audience interaction was provided via three pushbuttons, which, in various combinations, selected one or more of the circuits for varying amounts of time. The result was a chaotic and unpredictable jumble of electronic music and sound; a maze of wires & waveforms.

Electronics was my route into music. When I was a teenager I was always experimenting with bleepers & buzzers made from salvaged TV components; I got as far as building an analog synthesiser, and eventually became more interested in the music than in the technical side.

One time, when I was still at school, I had a mad idea to connect a whole bunch of circuits together totally back-to-front and upside-down, just to see what happened. Astonishingly, when I turned it on it not only worked, but made the most extraordinary sounds; it would whoop, burble, wail, stop for a while, and then off it would go again. It worked for a week and then suddenly died, never to make another sound. I took it apart in an effort to work out what I had done, but I could never get it working again, or build another one like it.

Every once in the while I am tempted to get the soldering iron out and have another go. To get fairly deep about it, it ties in with my interest in algorithmically-generated music; is it possible to formalise aspects of my compositional practice sufficiently rigorously that they can be mechanised? (The sensible way to do this is with a computer and a programming language such as LISP or HMSL; a lot of work has been done in this area by people much smarter than me.) Getting my fingers scalded whilst trying to hack together a couple of transistors is satisfyingly cheap & low tech.