Tuesday, 16 October 2018

The Bletchley Park 'Bombe' progress

The Cells are starting to be assembled. There's a lot of work to do here. I am wondering about the wisdom of my original intent to make 32 cells. I'll see how I get on with 16 and more importantly what it will sounds like.
The laminated letter dials are only temporary and will be replaced by laser cut and engraved acrylic discs. I'm finding it a bit of a challenge using a laser cutter, but where has this wonderful machine been all my life.

I retired from teaching just as these machines started to appear in schools. I would have found it a lot more useful in a classroom context than the 3d printer which I did have.

2nd November 2018

Change of plan. I've decided to change the sound mechanism from a lamellophone to a glockenspiel. I found the lamellophone difficult to tune and to make the mechanism actuate. The glockenspiel is easier to tune using mathematical formulae and sounds closer to the metallic mechanical sound of the original bombe. It is also easier to construct and produces a more pleasing sound. Note the second resonating pipe.

Thursday, 6 September 2018

The Bletchley Park 'Bombe'

I've recently visited the Bletchley park museum where I saw the 'Bombe' an Electro magnetic device used to decode German messages during World War two.
By Antoine Taveneaux - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=20247599
Seeing the discs spinning round gave me idea of making  of making a electro mechanic music synthesizer.  I quite liked the visual effect of the brightly coloured discs at the front,

By TedColes - Own work, CC0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=14902369
and of course the  red cables making connections between the cells at the back.
By Antoine Taveneaux - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=20247604
The back of the bombe even looks like an early synth. So all I have to do is make a number of cells generating a sound mechanically which in turn I could connect to other cells and mechanical rhythm units using Piezo contact pickups.

I'm planning it to be a lamellophone. Here I'm drawing inspiration from the Hohner Guitaret in the way its metal reeds/ tines were arrange according to circle of fifths.

Here's my first prototype cell put together quickly. I've still got to decide on the best material for the metal reed/ tine. Here I've used drain cleaner spring steel, I'm going to try piano wire. If I can't get a good sound I may go for a string disc solution similar to the intonarumoris I've made.

 I've also got to decide on the best position for the piezo pickup as it can amplify a range of sounds the cell is making. The final version will use a speed controller. I think a bank of 16 or more of these cells are going to sound very interesting.

Here's the first batch of cells in production. Only another 20 to go. I'm also looking to now use a magnetic coil similar to a guitar pickup. My initial experiments are promising but the coil picks up electric 'noise' from the motor so I need to work out how to add shielding.

Monday, 16 July 2018

Intonanumori musings. The Scoppiatori Exploder/ Burster

This is the well known image of Russolo and his assistant Piatti. It's the instrument Piatti is playing that I'm interested in making next.

The instrument Russolo is playing looks like the typical intonarumori design with a string attached to a drum membrane and he is turning a handle which will activate a disc against the string with the lever on top moving a bridge to alter the pitch as I've shown earlier in my blog. However Piatti's intonarumori is very different. He is pushing down a lever with his right hand resting on top. He could be pressing a button to activate the sound.

I had thought this was a bass instrument but, the size of it's resonator is small and were it to have a string it would be very short, so the space above must be there for some mechanical reason?

Russolo was very secretive about the mechanism inside his intonaumori. On the one occasion the press in London were allowed to look inside they reported bellows,wooden discs and brass plates, could these be used here?

Any mechanism designed should try to replicate the sounds Russolo described his machines as producing. For example a version of the Burster (Scoppiatori ).produced 'noises like the bursting of objects that break and shatter'.

I think the lever could be lifting up on strings a number of metal plates like a Venetian blind to crash it down on to a suitable resonating material. The machine being raised on legs to further help the resonating sound. This would explain the reason for an upright structure to help a gravitational effect.

The Scoppiatori Exploder was an instrument Russolo deemed not suitable for a reduced orchestra, could this be an Exploder/ Burster?

Russolo describes there being a 'variety of Bursters', there was a low and medium version of one type. These might have been the typical intonarumori with lever and crank to produce the sound of  motor car engine, but the other type of which there were two, produced 'noises like the bursting of objects that break and shatter'. These could be the machines which are described as being different from each other and the preceding two in Russolo's list of constructed machines!

Replicas of these large upright standing intonarumoris were made for the performance of "Music For 16 Futurist Noise Intoners" in New York 2009. These machines were made under the supervision of Lucca Chessa. I do wonder if they are correct. The levers on these machines are at rest down at an angle and a You Tube video of Mike Patton playing a machines show him pulling the lever  up to affect the noise. In contrast the machines in Russolo's workshop show the levers at rest being horizontal and Piatti is pushing down the lever of the intonarumori he is playing.

Thursday, 31 May 2018

Milton Keynes Gallery improvised music night (Scratch night)

My Ronzatori had it's first performance at one of Milton Keynes art galleries Improvised music nights (Scratch Nights). Here's a video of Sound artist Johnny Hill playing my machine, accompanied on guitar by Jakub M.

I was very pleased with the variety of sounds it could achieve over the course of being played for nearly two hours.

The Theremin Vox web site has some sound clips of intonarumori. Here you can identify those sounds made by a rubbing or plucking disc, the string being hit and the drum membrane being struck.

Wednesday, 23 May 2018

The Ronzatori Intonarumori adding the mechanisms

It was my intention to try and replicate the Ronzatori as truthfully to the photograph as I could but this has proved to be difficult.

I believe my mechanisms still remain true to the sound of the intonarumori but are more practical and easier for me to execute. Also the addition of extra mechanisms and motor speed controllers allows me more control and variations during a performance.
As you can see I've used small geared motors instead of the bell hammer buzzer mechanism used originally. I did try to use a buzzer but found the mechanism jammed as the string was tightened and pulled the drum membrane towards the hammer/ lever. A rotating 'nunchaku' type mechanism seem to work just as effectively to beat against the membrane.

A further mystery was the 'gurgler' mechanism Russolo describes. The mechanism in the original photograph looks like a weighted vertical metal rod which is dangled and presumably hit against the string. I found this difficult to replicate. It seemed easier to have this metal rod hit the string horizontally using gravity and it effected by a sudden drop cam.

Of course once you start playing around with mechanisms which effect the strings other ideas come to mind. These other possibilities must have occurred to Russolo and his assistant Ugo Piatti whilst making the intonarumori so such alternate mechanisms could have been used in the many other machines. Here I've added a further nunchaku and a lever/bow which strokes the string.

Finally all these mechanisms are further controlled by these small motor speed controllers. I appreciate Russolo would not have been able to do this using micro controllers.
The Ronzatori fully wired up. Note the card board safety shield. It was pointed out to me that as the instrument is often played with the top open in order to see the working mechanisms, so there could be a health and safety issue with bits flying off.

I hadn't thought of potential H&S issues but here I'm reminded of performances of  Max Eastley, Steve Beresford, Paul Burwell, and David Toop's Whirled Music. Where the performers had to protect both themselves and the audience from the instruments which they 'whirled'.

Wednesday, 21 February 2018

Amplifying the intonarumori

As I intend to have my intonarumoris played with Saxophones, Drums, Electric Guitars and other sound making devices, I need to add amplification. While my larger intonarumori can just about hold its own in the noise making, the smaller intonarumoris need help, especially to bring out some of the quieter subtle tones.

Oh course I could just use a microphone on a stand to go through the PA, but by building the amplification into the intonarumori will give the user more control as to the sound.

My guide book for doing this is the excellent ' Handmade Electronic Music. The art of hardware hacking' by Nicolas Collins.

This book is wonderful manual of ideas. The second edition includes a DVD of 13 video tutorials. 'Its like me doing a workshop in your town' and 87 video clips and 20 audio tracks by over a 100 hackers, benders, musicians, artists and inventors from around the world'. Truly inspiring stuff. It's left me with a lot of ideas to further develop once I've finished my intonarumoris.

Two low cost methods to amplify are by using Piezo disks and/or electret microphone elements. Piezos are the most simple to use as a contact microphone picking up mechanical vibration, so depending where it is positioned in or on the intonarumori it will pick up a variety of sounds such as the lever and slider. Which  may or may not be desirable. In contrast the electret microphone is more selective functioning as a conventional microphone.

Piezos of various sizes including one wired up about to be 'Plastic dipped'.

Cost wise Piezos can be bought on ebay for as little as 6p!!! you will need to add on the cost of cable and jack socket. Electret microphones can cost about 37p but here you will need to add a circuit with a capacitor, resistor, switch and a 9 volt battery to power but still the cost will be under a pound! So a little bit of circuitry making here whereas the piezos can be just attached or soldered to a jack or socket.

Electret microphone

Where would we be without Altoid tins
Electret wiring

Nicolas Collins' book gives some very good tips on how to strengthen the Piezos including using the amazing 'Plastic Dip'! Where has this product been all my life! I did buy a contact mic for £3.50 which fell to bit on first use, revealing a piezo inside a plastic case, soldered badly! Making your own is a far better and stronger option. By cheaply manufacturing a number of Piezos these can be positioned in different locations about the intonarumori. Which can act as a sound filter and vary the mechanical vibrations being picked up.

Altoid tin with magnetic strip to position on the intonarumori horn


Just a word about tools and equipment. This used to be  how I went about my soldering. I always found it hard work.
old school

Here's my new equipment. I feel very guilty about having used the above kit in my lessons for over 20 years. Sorry kids.
New kit.

I looked to buy the best possible equipment based on this guys recommendations.


Careful here his language is sometimes er...colourful.

Wednesday, 22 November 2017

The Ronzatori Intonarumori

I've started to build a Ronzatori Intonarumori. To help I can use the 'single extant photograph of the internal mechanism of any of the intonarumori -' Lucino Chessa¹.

However this photograph does need some interpretation.

Once we are told that there is the hammer mechanism from an electric buzzer against the drum skin and the main resonating string is tightened by means of the lever, it is easy to understand how the Ronzatori works, however there are other things happening in here which are less easy to interpret.

 Russolo may give some clues in a letter.

 The Buzzers [ronzatori] possess a timbre that is similar to the humming of
electric motors; they are sweet and harmonious, very rich in harmonic sounds and are adapted with a pedal. Another timbre exists in the same instrument – that of the gurglers [gorgogliatori]. One can switch at will between the buzzer and the gurgler, which has the exact timbre of the gurgling of water in gutters. By means of two electric buttons one can, for example, hold a note of the buzzer and provide rhythm with the gurgler (that is to say, with the same note they can be sounded either together or separately, but when they are together the two timbres have the same note). There are three of these, but two have the same range, for which reason I would advise you to only use I – that is to say, the high. You can use it without fear, because both timbres are pleasingly sweet. You can also achieve staccato effects with these (unlike the howlers). They are also very well suited for legato. They lend themselves less well to singing, possessing a richly harmonic timbre that renders the note less certain. But they are full of charm and mystery.

So there is a switch 'between the buzzer and the gurgler' or both can be used together.

Here's what I think might be happening in this photograph.

I think the photograph was taken without the far side of the box on and using a flash hence the black area. The photograph may also have been taken during the construction of the Ronzatori showing the the structural supports E and F being positioned.


A. Electric Buzzer hammer mechanism to drum against the drum skin.
B. 'Gurgler' mechanism dangling against the main resonating string?
C. Electric mechanism to 'effect' the 'Gurgler'?
D. Main resonating string.
E. Upright supporting structure for the 'Gurgler' and electric mechanism.
F. Further support for E.

So the main mystery here is that of the 'Gurgler'. I imagine it to be a weighted metal rod which may be textured to some how hit the main string. This may be pulled up and down by either a rotating cam or a similar hammer lever of a buzzer mechanism. Anyhow these questions may be answered by trying to recreate the Ronzatori.

Here's the start I've  made.