MATRIXSYNTH: Printed Circuit Birds by Kelly Heaton

Friday, April 22, 2022

Printed Circuit Birds by Kelly Heaton

Printed Circuit Bird (Bluejay), 2022 from Kelly Heaton on Vimeo.

My "printed circuit birds" are self-contained sound generators. The electronics are � analog: no audio recordings or software are involved. By “analog” I mean that the sound is dynamically produced by the bird’s body (aka the circuit), like a vintage synthesizer. In this video, I adjust knobs to change resistance in the circuit, thereby altering the song quality. You can think of this like adjusting neurons in a bird’s brain to alter the impulse by which it vocalizes. I am passionate about building circuits because they demonstrate the life-like qualities of electronic hardware, which is often over-looked in favor of software. I’m not sure why we abandoned analog hardware along the road to technological advancement— digital is great for what it does, but it’s not the full spectrum of creative electronics. It would require a vast amount of hardware to build a digital computer capable to execute code for birdsong like this.

Survey of my electronic songbirds from Kelly Heaton on Vimeo.

A three minute overview of some electronic songbirds I made in the past two years.

Survey of my electronic songbirds from Kelly Heaton on Vimeo.

Circuit Bird (AP 1/1) from Kelly Heaton on Vimeo.

"Circuit Bird" is a mixed media piece made with traditional printmaking techniques, laser cutting, and electrical engineering. The electronics, which are entirely analog (meaning, there is no computer, software, or audio recording involved) generate bird-like sounds that can be adjusted using knobs on the front panel of the work. Each knob controls the frequency of a single oscillator, which is a circuit element that vibrates when exposed to electricity. There are six oscillators in the entire piece, each with two knobs. The reason for the two knobs is that I have built a type of circuit called an "astable multivibrator," in which oscillation is produced by two transistors that are connected together with a combination of capacitors and resistors. The easiest way to visualize this dynamic is to think of a tennis match wherein electrons are bounced back and forth between two players in a rhythmic volley. Each transistor, aka "tennis player," hits the electronic "tennis ball" with a force that returns it to the opposite transistor (like Pong). This back and forth bouncing of electrons creates a sinusoidal waveform of rising and falling electricity: hence, creating an oscillation.

A single oscillation is not particularly interesting to see or hear; it creates a continuous pulse, such as a blinking light or beeping sound. However, things get interesting when you combine oscillators to create patterns. In my practice of creative electrical engineering, I have discovered that five or six interconnected oscillators are sufficient to produce an electronic pattern or "grammar" reminiscent of birdsong. "Circuit Bird" demonstrates the expressive potential of analog oscillators to mimic life-like behaviors. I discuss this insight in greater detail in this presentation from Fall of 2020:

Documentation of "Circuit Bird," 2021 (artist's proof 1/1). The art is made with electronic hardware, printed circuit boards, foiled chipboard, and screen-printed silk that has been laminated on a wooden frame. Dimensions are 35" tall, 23.5" wide, and 1.5" deep

Tour of the analog electronic soundscape in my studio (January, 2021) from Kelly Heaton on Vimeo.

Works shown include: Big Pretty Bird (2019), Bluebird (2020), Pretty Bird ver.CC (2019), Parrots (2020), Birds at my Feeder (2020), Electrolier / September Night (2018), Moth Electrolier (2019), and The Great Conjunction (2021). All of the lights and sounds are dynamically generated by analog electronic hardware of my own design.

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