The Fort Processor is a touch and light controlled synthesiser and audio effect circuit designed by Isn’tses for Fort Process festival 2018. The event is held at Newhaven Fort on the Sussex coast, and Isn’tses have based the design and artwork of the instrument on the layout of the site, with inspiration from the surrounding landscape and ocean.
We have made a demo of the Fort Processor demonstrating how it works as a standalone synth and with an instrument connected to the input.
We currently have the full ready built synth for purchase on the Fort Process Crowdfunder:
Please email us if you want to purchase the PCB on it's own at: firstname.lastname@example.org
Pictures of the PCB and artwork
To connect the Fort Processor's input and output sockets to other equipment (e.g. amplifier, mixer, instruments) we suggest a need a cable like this. Find it on Amazon.
We have ordered the PCBs for the Fort Processor synth! Initially we tried to use JLCPCB, one of the biggest PCB manufacturers, but getting them to cut the irregular shape we need turned out to be impossible without some redesign work (we would have had to manually panelize it ourselves). So we went with AllPCB instead, they accepted our files without issue and we will hopefully have the finished boards very soon.
Interesting video about the PCB-making process, if you can get past the presenter's irritating style.
Never before has a list gradually updating itself seemed so exciting.
Isn'tses noise synth circuit for Fort Process now has a name - "The Fort Processor" - and can be pre-ordered, as a full kit or just the PCB, on the festival's crowdfunding page: https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/fort-process-2018#/
We are playing around with a few ideas on touch pad shapes/patterns/mutations. Drawing by Lisa McKendrick
An asymmetriad forming.
Work on the circuit continues! An unexciting but important problem to be overcome in any electronic designs is that different chips and components require different voltage supplies if they are to function properly and not explode. We want to be able to power the finished synth from 9v (eg battery or a standard guitar FX pedal power supply) and also 12v for modular synth compatibility. However the AM radio part of the circuit can't handle more than 6v and some other parts we are working with need 5v. So we need to somehow divide the voltage. There are a few methods of doing so. One which appealed to me because it's a counterintuitive hack using very few components is to misuse an LM386 amplifier IC as a voltage divider (an idea I found on this forum thread). You can just connect the +9v and ground pins to your power source, don't put any input signal to the amplifier and it sends out half the voltage! But though it's small and easy, it's not all that accurate and can only chop the input voltage in half rather than give you exactly 5v, so in the end we decided it's better to do it properly with a real voltage regulator. These only require the addition of 2 capacitors to get them working, simpler to use than I expected. For testing we tried the NCP7805 as pictured above, but that is overkill for our power requirements and would take too much space on the board, so we switched to the similar but smaller 78L05. Below you can see it putting out 5.04v, definitely close enough for our purposes. We have been using this to power our test circuits.
In other news, we have the radio part of the circuit working very well now, amplified/distorted using a CD4049 Hex Inverter (another classic creative misuse of an IC, as popularised in Nicolas Collins book Handmade Electronic Music). It picks up both noise and discernible radio signals in an interestingly chaotic way and is highly playable by touching the circuit or even waving hands over it.
For our general research into radio-electronics-as-noise-instruments, and low-voltage tube amplifier + distortion circuits, radio expert Mike Kana very kindly sent us a wealth of rare and interesting vintage components which will be very useful for future Isn'tses circuits! Thanks Mike!
This is the recent. What's happening? it's getting there. There was some problem solving that happened, this can take some problem solving. Lisa can think better when writing things down so we had a dialogue by writing. We developed some really nice sounds which are here:
Here are some fellow builders of electronics who we've been greatly inspired by:
Martin Howse, who designed the Micro-blackdeath and the Dark Interpreter which we have used extensively in Isn'tses and Cementimental performances. Great sounding and highly original instruments with esoteric and alchemical concepts behind them.
We've been doing a lot of research towards the design of our synth for Fort Process and some interesting responses to our debut blog post. We have a little glitch with the comment system but it does work so please do give us any thoughts (shows as 0 comments but click on that which has comments). We were honoured to get some input from father of circuitbending Q. Reed Ghazala who suggests possibilities of water-controlled synthesis:
Our friend Hannah helpfully suggested that we look at Thomas Henry's 'Mega Percussive Synthesizer'. The theory page about this synth has a wealth of useful ideas including the following:
This is very relevant to our concepts for the circuit since we will be using an AM radio chip as a noise source and intend to evoke sounds inspired by the Fort including gunshots and the ocean.
Radio was very important during the world wars when Newhaven Fort was an active military site so we have been looking for inspiration at wartime radios. The rugged and often improvised DIY construction of these devices is reminiscent of the aesthetic of our own noise instruments. Below is a collage of interesting things we found on radio devices and some of our video hardware imagery.
After looking at arial views of Newhaven Fort and this tunnel video I was interested in the shards of light cast in the dark tunnel and have done some rough sketches of artwork for the PCB. We are limited with the amount of colours so may end up with textured patterns, see below.
- Drawings by Lisa McKendrick
We've modified the diagram to show our idea for having touch control pads and a diagram of the chip we are wanting to use:
We are designing a synth in the form of Newhaven Fort as part of Fort Process, a sound art and installation event on 22 September 2018. This mysterious place with it's tunnels and history of two world wars has inspired some curiosity in us. The birds eye view of the site prompted ideas for a synth which we will be documenting in this blog. Below is our initial diagram which gives an idea of the shape.
The synth will have a radio receiver chip (schematic above). We've tried this chip out on the breadboard (see below). Notice how the black component (variable resistor) resembles the gun emplacement !
I'm particularly interested in the relationship to the coast, it's function for guarding the land and it now being a dysfunctional site but a historical place to visit and a space for art. Below is a picture of the coast next to the site. We are designing artwork for the synth and will work with this concept for our drawings.