Scrapyard Challenge


At the urging of one of my more artistic friends, I went downtown to Columbia College to participate in a free one-day program where we take discarded junk (electronic and otherwise) and turn it into electronic musical instruments — all without knowing anything about electronics at the outset.

With about 20 minutes of basic instruction on the high-level concept of completing a circuit, and switching feedback on and off by closing and opening the idea of a switch, we were let loose to tear apart junk with screwdrivers and hacksaws, and then given wire strippers, speaker cable, soldering iron and hot glue guns to make something happen.

After about two hours of just ripping stuff apart, inspiration came upon me and I put together a five-key keyboard out of an old computer keyboard and a stainless steel coffee mug. I was done with my instrument early, so I built drawing robots out of battery packs, tiny 5v motors with a counterbalance, dixie cups and magic markers.

Everyone was able to produce something musical — but I was the only one who could play a song (“Smoke on the Water” — and yes, the thumbkey was programmed to add cowbell).

End result: I don’t know much more about electronics than i did when I got there, but it’s way more accessible to me now than it ever was out of a textbook. I’m running to Radio Shack this week to buy tiny motors to build draw-bots with Logan, and I’m researching online circuit boards to interface with my midi software that’s on my Mac.

This was the most awesome learning experience I’ve participated in in quite a long time.

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