We 💖 OutLoud Music: reflections on 2019’s “iHack” workshops

Sonitus ran a series of workshops during May/June 2019 for Outloud Music, a brilliant organisation in Ipswich that brings music tech education to people with mental health difficulties and other access needs. Considering our remit to engage hard-to-reach groups in sonic arts, it was a perfect match 🙂

We ran 12 ‘iHack’ sessions over 6 weeks with a different theme each week, all inspired by reading Nicholas Collins’ ‘Handmade Electronic Music’. Our aim was to use our skillset to reach beyond the usual boundaries of music tech and encourage participants to get creative with non-standard methods and tools for music-making – for example by ‘mis-using’ various bits of hardware, building our own instruments, and trying to get things that weren’t designed for music-making at all to try and … ummm … make some decent noise!

All of our sessions ultimately invite participants to sit back, close their eyes, listen to the world around them, and ask themselves the question: “… what even IS music, anyway?”

Circuit-bending toy keyboards.

So, what did we get up to?

Week 1: Using electric current to ‘twitch’ the piezoelectric crystals in speaker cones so the cones themselves make the noise. No audio signal necessary!

Week 2: Circuit bending toy piano keyboards to create unexpected results.

Week 3: Revealing hidden sounds using contact microphones.

Week 4: Data in sound: ‘listening’ to credit cards with a tapehead, playing graphic scores using the Phonopaper app, and creating spectagrams in Audition so we could see and hear our hidden handiwork.

Week 5: ‘Sliiiiiinky and Bass Drill’: sonic experimentation using a metal slinky to create a spring reverb and making sub-bass by repurposing an HDD hard drive from an old PC.

Week 6: FM Synthesis: the group customised their own battery-powered, portable FM synths by adding controls and cases, ready to take home!

Recording some twitching loudspeakers in action.

Is there an album in the pipeline?

Part of our practice is to record a selection of noises from each session with the aim of eventually creating a cohesive record that brings it all together. We have a large folder of recorded snippets with which to create a piece of music, perhaps even a selection of pieces that become an EP? Watch this space for that magic moment when time is available and inspiration strikes.

Above: During our final session together, we listened back as a group to the recordings. Members of the group then quick-fired some brilliant ideas for song titles, release titles and band names based on the sounds we heard. Lou was on hand to take a note!
Customising our own FM synths. This one is light-reactive so is housed in a clear-fronted box.

Opportunities and learnings

There’s a brilliant opportunity to create more synth-building activities that use light-reactive and gestural elements to help engage more people who have limited motor skills.

Thanks to CLIP for the lend of their fantastic shocking-pink keyboards for the cirucit bending session. It was really nice to pool existing resources and work collectively rather than having to invest in buying more plastic. Re-use, reduce, recycle!