Our Pop-up concluded with a performance-installation. Images, schematics and artwork were hung on the wall, speakers and light bulbs hung from the ceiling. Attendees/audience intermingled with performers and objects throughout the space. Cameo and ‘spot’ performance shappened within the collective install.

An alternative publication, listening_making_cards, in the form of short statements and reflections were written individually and communally on postcards. These statements exist as a physical artefact and scanned digital format.


Thanks to the Haymarket Shopping Centre, Leicester. Dann Downes acknowledges support from the University of New Brunswick, Canada.

For a detailed discussion on our work see Pop-up for Collaborative-making (Richards and Patel 2020) published in the NIME 2020 proceedings.

Photo Harry Smith

Radical Nails

The Radical Nails is a Hardware Mash-up and a Speculative Sound Circuit that mashes-up the Dirty Electronics’ Bed of Nails and the Simple & Radical.

Radical Nails: Photo Amit Patel

The Bed of Nails explores freeform and prototypic methods of construction for electronic circuits and is built from a range of materials: wood, nails, wire, and electronic components. The Bed of Nails is based on op amp feedback, open ‘clip art’ circuitry, and touch control. The instrument produces a range of pitched and non-pitched (noise-based) sounds. The method of construction represents a pedagogic tool for the reading of electronics schematics and the building of circuits. The instrument has been a stalwart of Dirty Electronics’ workshops since 2013. See Music for DIY Electronics.

Bed of Nails

Simple & Radical (snr for short) is a DIY noise circuit using the Radical Chip, a swappable microprocessor for the Mute Synth 4.0 by Max Wainwright and Dirty Electronics. The Radical Chip originally came with a limited edition A2 risograph printed poster/booklet on Microcomputer Music: a music made from mini microprocessors and raw electronics that is always in-flux, noisy and may be overwritten. Wavetable, direct digital synthesis (DDS) with the PIC12F1822/1840.

Radical Nails schematic and code (Radical Chip)

Pic: PIC12F1822/1840
PICkit 3 – programmer
Code written and compiled in:
xc8-v1.41 (compiler)

Against Stripboard?

By John Richards

Stripboard is a prototyping board used in electronics with strips of copper foil running in one direction on one side of the board and holes arranged in a grid spaced 0.1 inch apart. It is often referred to as Veroboard after the company that manufactured it. The board is designed to be used with through-hole components. The copper strips make handy busses where multiple signals can be connected. Signals are routed by cutting, breaking the copper strips and by adding jumper wires (wires that connect one strip to another).

Stripboard (bottom)

Now, I’m not really against stripboard. As a DIYer, stripboard is one of the main ways in which a one-off, custom circuit can be constructed. But what about the ‘aesthetics’ of stripboard? By aesthetics, I mean the way we work with stripboard and how stripboard dictates how a circuit is physically created. Stripboard does yield some advantages to the novel circuit designer: relatively cheap, a well-documented method for circuit construction, standardised hole spacings for components, and lightweight. Yet the strips and resulting grid-like nature of the board essentially ‘quantize’ handwork: straight lines, perpendiculars, right angles, grids. As well as this, stripboard calls for working in two layers: top (jumpers); bottom (copper strips). This brings a level of abstraction to connections. We are no longer dealing with point-to-point connections that are clearly visible to the eye, but with connections that go ‘underground’, to the bottom copper-striped layer. Added to this, we also move from, let’s say, horizontal signal paths of the bottom copper-stripped layer, to vertical signal paths of top layer components and jumper wires. Of course, a jumper wire can jump across strips or to other connecting points on the board, but the very nature of stripboard is to formulise connections in a grid. Left, right, top, bottom, vertical, horizonal – ‘reading’ and thinking in multi-dimensions.

One of the generic themes of the Pop-up was to explore natural forces versus industrial processes, and, in particular, reference to John Ruskin. So how does this relate to working with stripboard? In our quest to find ‘DIYness’, handwork was celebrated. As David Pye points out in The Nature and Art of Workmanship there’s no such thing as good material “… only worked material has quality, and pieces of worked material are made to show their quality by men [woman].” Whilst potter Bernard Leach advocated a holistic approach to craftmanship where the heart, head and hand are used in balance. We looked to wire-wrapping techniques, direct soldering to legs of components, as found in such construction methods as dead-bugging and point-to-point construction. These techniques provided an alternative to the formulaic nature of electronic circuits built using stripboard or other prototyping boards. Freeform wire construction arguably accentuates handwork, being more expressive perhaps than stripboard. We are talking here primarily about visual aesthetics, but as implied earlier, making things and how things are made also relates to a sense of DIYness. And wire-wrapping gives a circuit greater potential to adopt sculptural properties.

During Day 1 and the initial meeting for the Pop-up, I started thinking about a previous workshop and how working with stripboard had been difficult and possible alternatives for building a circuit based on the Radical Chip (a swappable chip for the Mute 4.0 Synth). The Dirty Electronics Bed of Nails built by Emmy Woksepp at a workshop in Sweden back in 2014 also came to mind and how the wire routings and connections took on a distinctive windy form.

Dirty Electronics, Bed of Nails – Emmy Woksepp

These ‘natural’ curves and bends of Woksepp’s construction also prompted a conversation around idea of natural forces versus industrial processes. I drew on some local geography where open fields are intersected by a river, canal, railway and road. The map of the area shows the meandering river Sence juxtaposed against the man-made, ‘straight-line’ of the canal, railway and A6 road. The discussion continued to revolve around the use of materials and the idea ‘resistance’.

Meandering river Sence, railway line, canal and road (A6) – Wistow, Leicestershire

The result of our labour was the Radical Nails that adopted wire-wrapping techniques and point-to-point construction methods. See blog for images, recordings and further discussion.

Camping in Canada

During Day 1 and the planning of the Pop-up, participants put forward responses to the brief. Dann Downes (Ambiguous Devices) reflects on his interest in DIY electroacoustic instruments. He contemplates an ugly construction project based on a bone-anchored hearing aid exploring, encouraging and conducting feedback rather than trying to eliminate it from the device.

Sam Warren focuses on the Haymarket Shopping Centre, opened in 1973 and one of the earliest commercial shopping centres in the UK. In the last ten years, the Haymarket has been surpassed by other shopping centres in Leicester, such as the Highcross (Shires). This has led to a number of empty shops in the Haymarket. With this in mind, Warren wants to explore through sound the death of the High Street shop and the culture of zero-hour contracts. He draws on the quote in Charlie Chaplin’s film Modern Times “Don’t stop for lunch be ahead of your competitor.” Warren considers how this humorous but ironic film quote is dystopian in nature and is shockingly too close for comfort in the UK at this time.

Amit Patel proposes the idea of the Studio Bench as a way of making circuits and music in a holistic fashion. He also wants to expand on the idea of recontexualising hardware and DIY electronics as a hardware mash-up or remix. He suggests the idea of mashing-up the Radical Chip with the Bed of Nails, building the Simple n Radical circuit using freeform wire construction. John Richards also discusses how this connects to, what he considers, Speculative Sound Circuits, where two contrasting circuits or methods of construction can be speculatively combined. There is further discussion on how this relates, or not, to the idea of DIYness, crafting and hacking (see Against Stripboard? post).

Patel also puts forward the idea of a portable studio as part of his Studio Bench. The studio would be used to share his rumbles and ramblings on social media, specifically Instagram. He speaks out, stating his research, in this instance, will not sit behind a paywall. Patel’s intention in the Pop-up is to make an “unapologetic racket” through performance and recordings.

Harry Smith (Fermata Ark) comes to the gathering free from a pre-conceived plan. After partaking in the discussion, he decides to focus on the variety of ideas put forward by the other performers/makers from the position of a documentary/field recording artist with the statement “Philosophy is not a theory but an activity” – Wittgenstein (Muse V), guiding his areas of focus. Smith’s initial plan is to visually and sonically capture the groups experiments, sounds, and discussion, resulting in some form of a documentary film. Whilst Katie-Jane Howard is also interested in documentation. She looks to record the performance-installation in the Haymarket on old Portastudio 4-tracks.

Sol Andersson proposes continue her research into feedback, resonant objects and guerrilla-like set-ups and performance. Matt Rogerson considers the work of cultural theorist Paul Virilio, speed and power, the information superhighway, and the contrasting Slow Movement. Attacking an amplified acoustic instrument with a drill, drill attack, is proposed as a performance action. Mike Ryan thinks about wind in relation to a DIY electronic instrument, and Ben Middle seeks to connect the Pop-up to his research into sound installation in urban settings.

For planning the Pop-up, the analogy of camping in Canada was used. Partly inspired by Dann Downes from New Brunswick, and partly by the off art-grid nature of the Shopping Centre. Essentially, we were to be self-sufficient and there would be no going back ‘home’ to get things.

Camping in Canada – shopping list

One significant decision that took place during the planning of the Pop-up was not to use a standard PA to amplify our makes in the Shopping Centre. We wanted the amplification and sound systems to be bespoke; or, more accurately, electronic instrument, amplification and physical space as a unified, self-supporting system. The sound system/systems would be built from speaker drivers, vibration speakers, old radio and cassette players, and amp circuits. We intended speakers to be attached to the floor and walls, held in the hand, and hung them from the ceiling.

We planned a similar approach to lighting, with the intention to ‘wire’ the space to accommodate swinging and flickering lightbulbs.

There was also an attempt to cover different eventualities and creative outcomes. A box of blank postcards for writing, lino blocks and paper for printing, schematics, images and scores for exhibiting. All equipment and materials were gathered with the limit of everything fitting into a large taxi.

Scavenging for Lino Blocks – Printing Press

Pop-up for Collaborative Music-making

Dirty Electronics will set up a pop-up workshop-installation in the centre of Leicester. A shop in a shopping mall becomes the locus for a two-day rapid making and guerrilla research event. Musicians, artists, and academics coalesce to interrogate the dialectical opposition of natural force vs. industrial process as well as reflect on a number of predetermined muses. The event is part of Dirty Electronics’ on-going research into making music with wires and code, objects and materials, and collective making. Dirty Electronics will not be selling anything in the ‘shop’ but will invite passers-by to witness the workshop-installation. The event will conclude with absurd noise and group performance.

Muse I
2019 was the bicentenary of the birth of art critic, writer and philanthropist John Ruskin. Ruskin, despite being often viewed as controversial and divisive, had a huge influence on the Arts and Crafts movement. He advocated a ‘back to the land’ ethos and vehemently criticised the Industrial Revolution and its impact upon society. Ruskin spoke out against the division of labour, the breaking down of the manufacturing of goods/objects into concentrated, often repetitive task to increase production. Nor could he see beauty in machines and, in general, was alarmed by engines! He celebrated all things human: human labour, hand-work, craft and human error: “Fine art is that in which the hand, the head, and the heart of man[/woman] go together.” Ruskin saw the act of making and production as equal importance to the end result.

Muse II
“… it was the existence of key aircraft and missile manufactures … that provided the initial impetus for the modern electronics industry” (Scott and Drayse 1990).

In 1986, the London Stock Exchange began using computers for trading. Traders were no longer on the market floor doing deals face-to-face:

Algorithmic trading (AT) is a dramatic example of this far-reaching technological change. Many market participants now employ AT, commonly defined as the use of computer algorithms to automatically make certain trading decisions, submit orders, and manage those orders after submission.

Hendershott 2011

Most consumers are unaware of the toxic materials in the products they rely on for word processing, data management, and access to the internet, as well as for electronic games. In general, computer equipment is a complicated assembly of more than 1,000 materials, many of which are highly toxic, such as chlorinated and brominated substances, toxic gases, toxic metals, biologically active materials, acids, plastics and plastic additives.

Hawari and Hassan 2008

My microchip is made by Microchip Technology: “Sales for the fiscal year ending on March 31, 2019 were $5.35 billion” (Microchip Technology 2019).

Ergo … Can there be such a thing as ethical electronic music?

Muse III
Three films; three quotes:

Fritz Lang Metropolis – “The Mediator Between the Head and the Hands Must Be the Heart”.

Charlie Chaplin Modern Times – “Don’t stop for lunch be ahead of your competitor.”

Stanley Kubrick 2001: A Space Odyssey – “Just what do you think you’re doing, Dave?”

Muse IV
Ned Ludd Close, Anstey, Leicestershire

JR_Data:John Richards:EU_Interfaces:conference:talk:Ned_Ludd_x.jpg
Ned Ludd Close. Local hero/anti-hero from which the Luddites took their name

Muse V
Wittgenstein argued that: “Philosophy is not a theory but an activity.” Where might the activity of making collectively lead us?        


John Richards
Dirty Electronics. Listening through making, music of things

Dann Downes
Musician and researcher in communications and observing and experiencing DIY electronic music practice

Sol Andersson
The Act of Listening, Objects and Noise

Jaymie Benka-Davies

Katie-Jane Howard
Synergetic Methodology for Digital Musical Instrument Design, Experience-led design, Liveness

Ben Middle
Extended guitar and electronics, DIY bits & pieces, sometimes installations

Amit D Patel
Noise musician. Performs as Dushume – DIY Nomad and Hardware Mash-ups

Matt Rogerson
Sensory Overload: Noise, Mind, Emotion

Mick Ryan
All things electric + code

Harry Smith (Fermata Ark)
Noise/Electronic Music and Documentary. First Thought. Best Thought.

Sam Warren
Electronic music for contemporary dance and the creation of ‘environment’ as a holistic approach to sound and dance