We are very happy to announce that you can now buy the fort processor as a complete DIY kit from Thonk:
Coming up at Hackoustic will be a special presentation of our Fort Processor. We will talk about the design process and the building of the synth, problems we encountered, troubleshooting and the final product. This will include a demonstration of the synth and the opportunity to try it out.
The Fort Processor is an experimental noise synthesiser and audio effect circuit designed by harsh fun noise duo ISN’TSES (Tim Drage & Lisa McKendrick) for Fort Process sound art festival 2018. This event takes place in the tunnels and bunkers of Newhaven Fort on the Sussex coast, and the electronics and artwork of the synth are based on the layout of the site, with inspiration from the surrounding landscape and ocean.
Green PCB version:
Black PCB version:
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: email@example.com
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.
Diagram showing the functions of the ICs and the controls:
Here is a video about process of making a PCB, interesting 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. These shapes were developed by taking asemic drawings I had made and seeing how they worked with the artwork. They are like mutations or organic forms.
Drawings by Lisa McKendrick
Here is a screen shot of KiCad and shows the connections between the chips and other parts of the circuit. An asymmetriad is forming.
We had to abandon the radio chip. The interference and noise that was being generated by the chip was not the "right kind" of noise. However the other sounds we were getting from the synth were better than expected, and we decided to use an audio input instead, making it possible to use an external radio via the input. This also opened up the possibility of connecting a range of devices though the audio input. While our initial idea was to have a synth that was a radio, we decided that it was best left for another project, and it was nevertheless instrumental in helping us to achieve the result we ended up with. The development process was eye opening and we have a much better idea on how certain elements work and do not work in this setting. Also influencing this decision was that the components required would mean that the space would start to get cramped on such a small PCB. We decided that it is okay to give up on the part of the circuit that initially inspired the idea. Problem solving can end up going around in circles and we had to eliminate the part that was not working, so that we could move forward. One of the advantages of having a deadline to work towards is that there is no option to let things drag on forever. So what we now have is four CMOS chips: 4040, 4093, 4066, 4049. We have a very interesting circuit that will take a signal and cut up or process the sound with oscillation, delay, pitch shifting and speed control. A Fort Processor emerged!
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 which took a lot of development and we had to change our initial ideas for the synth. We documented some of this by having writing conversations. We developed some really nice sounds which are here:
Writing conversation where we decided that there was too much interference while using the echo chip. We also discovered that when using the radio chip that the human body can act as an aerial.
The drawings have been developed further here with more complex patterns exploring both currents (electrical) and currents (tidal). Drawings by Lisa McKendrick.
Here is an experiement to see how the touch pads might work. The metal stripboard on the left is our touchpad for now.
We researched some of the ways that body contact can affect pitch.
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 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 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.