Handmade Electronics

by James Schidlowsky

Dabbling in DIY/handmade electronics since 2010, never having studied the field formally, not knowing entirely what I'm doing. Breadboarding things, making sounds... this page is a little gallery of the boxes I've made, most of which produce sound.

Original inspirations & impetuses: Science Fair 75-in-1 Electronic Project Kit, Annette Peacock, Nicolas Collins' Handmade Electronic Music book.

Ongoing inspiration: electro-music.com DIY Hardware and Software forums (where I'm known as “RingMad”), Stela Zofrene.

I don't make boxes to sell.

Click on a photo to see a larger version.

See also my Electronics Page 2 for more photos of DIY handmade electronic sound (and other) boxes and the construction thereof, including breadboard prototypes, layout stuff, wiring...


Bag Balm Box

The Bag Balm Box is "for bunches, caked bags, cuts, sore teats, chapping and inflammation". Bag Balm is a salve developed over 111 years ago to soothe irritation on cows' udders after milking but also used by humans for dry, chapped skin. I loved the container artwork, so after finally finishing the contents (which took several years), I decided to put in a little sound-making circuit, which is a slightly tweaked version of the Space4069 schematic by Synaesthesia on electro-music.com. It uses CMOS 4069 to generate waveforms which feed a 4046 VCO.

Two potentiometers on the left control the oscillator rates, two 3-position switches on each side to control the wave shapes of each (sawtooth, triangle, reverse sawtooth), plus frequency and volume controls. On the back, the on/off switch, the range switch (high, low), and the output jack. Through the eye of the cow, a white LED indicates that the power is on (9V battery).

I was thinking of somehow making some knobs that looked like cow udders, but got lazy because I have many other projects on the pile. Completed April 2017.

Here is the Bag Balm Box demo video.


Dual VCO

The Dual VCO is a simple box with two independent VCOs (Voltage Controlled Oscillators) in it. They can generate square, triangle, sawtooth and reverse sawtooth waveforms in 12 different frequency ranges. Each oscillator also has a volume and a glide (portamento) control. Both VCOs can have a separate output channels, or be mixed into a single one.

Both VCOs use the same CV input, but each can adjust the level it receives. For standalone use, it can be switched to use an on-board potentiometer to set the CV level instead of the external input.

The box is painted metallic green (the photo doesn't do it justice), and the "on" indicator LED is a purple triangle. Completed April 2016.


Octa Consequencer

The Octa Consequencer is an 8-step analog sequencer that outputs a control voltage (CV). It's got the usual step on/off and one can set the CV value for each step. The clock speed can be adjusted and there is a hold button. It has a built-in triangle/square VCO with a separate glide control and output. Other outputs are raw CV, CV with adjustable glide (portamento) and gate/trigger. The gate has 2 flavors, either ANDed with the clock thus appearing at every step or remaining on whenever a step is on. Trigger output is the same thing but a short pulse.

This was originally inspired by Dr. Offset's 16 step Up/Down sequencer, and then the details of the schematic filled in from other designs like like the Baby 10, MFOS. Instead of the CD4029, I used the similar CD4516 CMOS presettable counter with a CD4051. Thus one can control the direction, as well as reset the counter to a specified binary value. The clock, direction, preset load and preset value can all be set by external gate signals for extra madness.

For the direction, an "antenna" mode can be selected. This basically makes the up/down pin on the counter chip floating, and it behaves erratically/randomly and responds sometimes to moving one's hands near the box.

The square windows for the LEDs were made by hand using a nibbler tool, and then behind, isolator boxes with colored gels.

Completed February 2016.

Here is the Octa Consequencer demo video.



M.E.O.W. could stand for "Melliloquent Effable Oscillator Weirdness". This box features two oscillators made with P.U.T.'s (Programmable Unijunction Transistors) which give an interesting timbre reminiscent of a cat's meow. They are also light-controlled, and then go through a light-controlled filter. The range switch changes the capacitors for the oscillators, to help deal with different ambient light conditions.

This is based on the "Schrödinger II" circuit by "analog_backlash", with changes suggested by PHOBoS, found in the electro-music forum here.

Originally this was supposed to be a more elaborate box, with lead & drone oscillators, CV input and an LFO to control the filter, but I decided it wasn't worth the trouble, since the sounds would still be pretty limited and thus I probably wouldn't use it much. The metallic green turned out darker than the spray can indicated, and doesn't quite come out in the photo. The "on" LED is purple.

Completed December 2014.

Here is the Mini-M.E.O.W. demo video.



A simple but pretty cool little stereo drone circuit built into a garage-sale find. The circuit is the XOR Stereo Droner by the amazing PHOBoS. I made two minor changes: 1. added a photo resistor in series with one of the oscillators, and 2. removed a switch, making the "vactrol" permanent. Since the box is quite snug, I had to put the potentiometers quite close together, so I needed small-diameter knobs. I didn't have any to hand so I made some with cardboard and hot glue. There's a funny thing that happens when one turns it off... it keeps running for quite a while. Oh, and it has flashing, glowing eyes!

Completed October 2014.

Here is the PharaohDrone demo video.


Pulse Witch 23

This box is based on a "pulse width oscillator" circuit by Ryk M., wherein the 4 basic parameters can be adjusted manually or automatically (the latter via LFO or external CV). The idea is that it can be played performatively, or used as a standalone installation. The range section is a bit more complicated: 8 different capacitors can be selected manually via the 3-bit switches, or pseudo-randomly, at a rate that can be controlled manually or automatically.

The cool feature of course is the infinity mirror. The LEDs therein echo the state or value of the various sections, e.g. oscillator rate, feedback level and range choice. The meters show the internal voltage level ultimately controlling the speed of the oscillators.

For Burroughs and the "23 enigma" watchers... the heart of the circuit uses a CMOS 4023 chip, the range on the meters go from 2 to 23 (in prime numbers and VdGG units).

Completed November 2013.

Here is the Pulse Witch 23 demo video.


Sweet32 Automator A.K.A. Sweet32 Control Box Control Box

This box automates the Sweet32 Speaker Interrupter-Switcher Installation Thing Control Box (see below) so that it can really be a standalone installation that changes its parameters over time. This includes a 2-channel triangle wave oscillator, with either random tones, or slowly rising and falling tones. It can generate 256 different tones, which are represented by the sideways LED displays. The box also generates CV and gate signals to control the rate of the interrupters and switcher.

Completed May 2013.

See the Sweet32 Speaker Interrupter-Switcher Installation Thing page for more details.


RED (Antennatron Noise Box)

Another silly little battery-operated noise box, made during a break from the big Sweet32 project. An accidental realization that putting an antenna on the VCO input of a not-quite-properly hooked up 4046 produced noise, so I decided to run with the idea and have three such circuits interact. The antennae pick up general random stuff, as well as proximity to living bodies. Completed March 2013.

Here is a quick RED noise box demo video.


Sweet32 Speaker Interrupter-Switcher Installation Thing

(Ceci n'est pas la haute-fidelité)

After a few years of collecting speakers from stuff found in the trash, I finally got them off the floor and onto the wall. There are 47 speakers per panel, but only 16 per panel are wired up to the control box. The box takes a 2 channel input and randomly selects which of the speakers the sound is directed to (for each panel). The rate can be controlled by the knob, or via an external CV. There is also the optional interruption control on a per-channel basis... this cuts the sound going to a panel according to the rate set via the knob (or external CV). Alas, the box and the speakers are not very clean-sounding, so it is definitely lo-fi

Completed December 2012. A bit later, implemented a gate input to replace the on/off switch for the interrupter section.

See the Sweet32 Speaker Interrupter-Switcher Installation Thing page for more details.

No video could really demonstrate what this installation sounds like. Click on the image to see the overall setup.


Tea Candle Sound Box

A bit of a silly little box, made quickly to restore my sanity somewhat after spending an enormous amount of time and energy on the Sweet32 Speaker Interrupter-Switcher Installation Thing, which failed massively when I first turned it on. So, before getting down to serious debugging, I built this. Via the electro-music forum, I learned that the flickering LEDs in dollar-store electronic tea candles produce sound. So I chose 3 of them that sounded good together, and all the circuit does is mix the outputs through diodes and drive a speaker. Completed December 2012.

Here is a quick Tea Candle Noise box demo video.


Quad Spacial Percussionizer

Customized version of the Spacial Percussionizer (see below) for my sound-maker friend Alexandre St-Onge. He wanted a grey box with 4-channel output instead of 2, as well as all the trigger and spatializing oscillators voltage controlled. The power switch and output jacks are on the back side. CMOS NAND gate “percussion”/noises generator with 4052 spatializers (with 4 positions per pair of channels). Completed July 2012.


The Spacial Percussionizer

CMOS NAND gate “percussion”/noises generator with 4052 spatializer (with 4 positions... hard left, hard right, sortof left, sortof right). Based on a couple of circuits by “Inventor”:
1. Percussion Karplus-Strong Inspired,
2. A Lunetta Spatializer.

Completed (finally) in March 2012. Photo by Linus Ouellet.

Here is the Spacial Percussionizer demo video.

And here are some Spacial Percussionizer sounds from it and a new prototype version (as of Jan. 2015).


The Triowaverator

Triowaverator = Triple wave generator = 3 sine/triangle wave generators (XR8038 IC) with frequency, level and skew control. Skew sortof makes a triangle into a sawtooth. The bolts are for attaching optional external variable resistors e.g. photoresistors, which is what I used to make the “3 Candles, 3 Sines” video.

Completed February 2012. Photo by Linus Ouellet.


The Spooly J.

The Spooly J is a CMOS-based unpredictable sound-making device based on Bubzy's “Spooly Master” circuit as described here: www.electro-music.com/forum/viewtopic.php?t=48600. The bolt matrix allows one to connect 4 tap points to different pins of the 4040 divider chip, giving rise to many different combinations of sounds. Completed September 2011.

Here is the Spooly J. demo video (on youtube).


The Vidiffektor

The Vidiffektor is the odd box here, since unlike all the others, it mangles a video signal, rather than makes audio. Basically, it slices up a composite video signal fed into the box, and adds several divisions of the signal back into it. Two of these boxes were made, the other as a gift to my experimental filmmaker friend Christine Lucy Latimer. Completed July 2011.

Here is the circuit schematic and discussion on electro-music.com. A few people have built it and it is confirmed that it works for both NTSC and PAL.

When the circuit was still on the breadboard, I made this Vidiffektor demo video (on youtube).

Here are more abstract videos using the Vidiffektor, including some by the aforementioned Christine: www.vimeo.com/tag:vidiffektor.


The Tritone Dioder

The Tritone Dioder is simply three squarewave oscillators mixed together via diodes. Also, the duty cycle of each wave can be changed. Completed October 2010. Later, the potentiometers (which were cheap junk) were replaced (and with larger knobs, which changed the aesthetic -- which was pretty botched to begin with).

Here is the Tritone Dioder demo video (on youtube). Note that it involves two phaser pedals and another very simple box I made called the Lopsided 2-Channel Auto-Panner.


The Quadratic Cascading Intersidereal Noisificator

The Quadratic Cascading Intersidereal Noisificator (or Le Bruitificateur intersidéral quadratique en cascade in french) was based on a circuit in the above-mentioned Nicolas Collins book. It is based on a cascading series of 4 oscillators made using a 4093 NAND gate CMOS chip, wherein the first oscillator is gated by a 555 oscillator, which itself can be affected with another 555 (called the Saccadeur -- which can sort of be translated from french as stutterer or jerker). Completed August 2010.

Here is the The Noisificator demo video (on youtube).

The only time I sold a box... it is now owned by my sound artist/noisemaker friend Magali Babin after making a few changes she requested (trig in jack replaced by volume control, RCA out jack replaced by 1/4" jack -- these do not appear in the photo).


MORE photos of DIY handmade electronic sound (and other) boxes and the construction thereof, including breadboard prototypes, layout stuff, wiring: Electronics page 2.


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