I heartily recommend Nicolas Collins' (1) new book Handmade Electronic Music: The Art of Hardware Hacking (Routledge 2006). This is a nice introduction to one of the paths in music experiments, one that began with independent and subversive tinkering with the remainders of the military-industrial-scientific world and has continued to be lively with the added jetsam of the digital era. Whether building useful little amps, mics, and oscillators, or laying hands on the entrails of discarded radios, this handbook is a nice way into a world where intuition and trial-and-era can play a greater role than those theory lessons you've probably long forgotten from high school Physics lab or machine shop anyways. The author's prose is sometimes a bit vivid for my tastes, managing to sustain a higher one-liner-per-paragraph-ratio than either Abby Hoffmann or Tom Robbins, but maybe that's a good thing, because the subject is one that you can probably take in best in small doses. My son (who'll turn 13 in two weeks) and I have already worked our way through a few chapters, and it sure beats the Boy Scout Manual for cool and noisy things to do at home, while matching the Boy Scout Manual point-for-point on the quality of the safety guidelines. Merit badge well deserved Mr. Collins!
(1) Let me get a possible conflict of interest out of the way: Mr. Collins and I were both students of Alvin Lucier. He studied with Lucier at a time, a few years before mine, when both he and Lucier shared an interest in applying electronics to their music, while by the time I got to Wesleyan, the post-analog, not-quite-yet-ready-for-prime-time-digital era meant -- for me -- that figuring out what to ask voices and instruments to do seemed more urgent. I entered grad school retired from both soldering (never solder on a pool table) and programming (nothing worse than entering Buchla hex code into a cassette recorder), and have basically avoided doing both ever since, although a certain summer project(2) looks likely to change that.
(2) More about that later.
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