Past Forward

Activating The Henry Ford Archive of Innovation

 dorit

Strange sounds will soon float through the air at The Henry Ford. Ghostly, warbling, hypnotic sounds. Reverberations that might be described as pure science fiction—as seeming “out-of-this-world.” These provocative sounds will rise out of an instrument called the theremin, developed in 1920 by Russian and Soviet inventor Léon Theremin. Famously, it is one of the only instruments that is played without physically touching it, and is considered to be the world’s first practical, mass-produced, and portable electronic instrument. These instruments offer a deep range of sonic possibility; learning to play one is a stirring experience.

At Maker Faire Detroit, July 30-31, 2016, Dorit Chrysler will provide several theremin workshops with KidCoolThereminSchool, a workshop program “dedicated to inspire and nurture creative learning and expression through innovative music education, art and science.” On Saturday, youth workshops (ages 4-13) will be held on a first come-first served basis at 11am and 1pm, followed by an adult workshop (ages 14 and above) at 4pm. On Sunday, youth workshops will be held at 1pm, followed by an adult workshop at 4pm. Maker Faire attendees are encouraged to arrive early to guarantee a place in the workshop, as each session is limited to ten participants. Additional guests are welcome to observe the workshop and test a theremin afterwards. Workshops typically run 45mins to 1hour, and will be held in the upper mezzanine area in the Heroes of the Sky exhibit.

Dorit Chrysler is rarity in the realm of musical performance: she is one of the few theremin players in the world who is considered to be a virtuoso of the instrument. She has accompanied an impressive list of bands including The Strokes, and Blonde Redhead, Swans, Cluster, ADULT., Dinosaur Jr., and Mercury Rev. Additionally, as part of her visit to Maker Faire, Dorit will give a performance each day at 3:15pm in The Henry Ford’s Drive-In Theatre, followed by a short Q&A session.

Kristen Gallerneaux, our Curator of Communications and Information Technology, had the opportunity to speak with Dorit Chysler about theremins, her music career, and the importance of collaboration. 

 
Can you explain, using a few key words or phrases—as fanciful as you want them to be—how the theremin sounds?
The granddaughter of the Lev Termen, the theremin's inventor once told me, you have to play the theremin with your soul - to me the sound at its best translates your slightest physical motions into a haunting & delicate soundscape, like weaving winds, tickled butterflies or howls to the moon, and yes, a theremin can sound exquisitely lyrical, but—at its worst, it can also sound like stepping on a cats tail.

 
How did your introduction to and love of the theremin as an instrument begin? What was your creative background before committing to the theremin?
Having studied musicology in Vienna, I had been an active composer and also played guitar and sang in a rock band - when encountering the theremin at a friend’s house, I was instantly touched by its unusual interface, dynamic potential, the quixotic efforts necessary in controlling its pitch -why had the theremin not been more popular? It clearly deserved more attention.

 
How can the presence of a theremin influence the structure of a song?
A theremin is surprisingly versatile - it can be applied in solo voicing (just like violin or guitar) or looping monophonic voices atop of each other, which creates a very unique weaving effect or dynamically in swoops and other gestural movements generated through its unique interface of motion translating into sound.

 
Are there any “quirks” to playing this instrument live?
Playing a theremin live can be a challenge, as circuitry, wind (outdoors) or Hearing Aid ‘Loop’ T-coil Technology in concert halls, just to name a few, can interfere with the instrument. In addition, if you don't hear yourself well onstage, it is impossible to play in tune—so if playing with other instruments, such as an orchestra  or a band with drummers, it is a challenge that can only be mastered with your own mixer and an in ear mic. Needless to say, all of this does not contribute in making the theremin a more popular instrument, the technical challenge playing live is real but can be mastered.

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While commercial theremins are available via Moog Music, Inc., the theremin you sometimes play in your live shows doesn’t look like a commercial model. Is there a story behind who built it? Any special skills that creator may have had to work hard to learn in order to make the instrument a reality?

I own several different theremin models and sometimes play a Hobbs Theremin, created by Charlie Hobbs. This prototypes has hand-wound coils and a very responsive volume antenna which permits very dynamic playing. 

 
What is the strangest setting in which you have played the theremin?
Many diverse settings seem to offer themselves to a thereminist. Some of my favorite ones have been: playing in front of Nikola Tesla's ashes, resting inside a gold ball sitting on a red velvet pillow at the Tesla Museum in Belgrade, or inside an ancient stone castle ruin, atop a mountain in Sweden, or on a wobbly boat off Venice during sunset and with creaming ducks, at the Carnival in Brazil on a busy street filled with dancing people, and finally, a market place in a small town in Serbia, when an orthodox priest held his cross against the theremin to protect his people from "the work of the devil." 

theremin-workshop-dorit

Could you talk a little about the importance of collaboration, and perhaps talk about a project that you are especially fond of where collaboration had a key role?

I strongly believe in collaboration—its challenges and the new and unforeseen places it may take you. My biggest challenge this year has been playing with the San Francisco Symphony orchestra, to be surrounded by a sea of acoustic instruments sounded incredible and was a great sonic inspiration. We all had to trust each other and some of the traditional classical musicians of the ensemble eyed the electric theremin with great suspicion!  Also I enjoyed playing with Cluster, stone cold improvising together onstage, or with a loud rock ensemble, filling the main stage at Roskilde festival with Trentemoeller, looking at a sea of thousands of people. This Fall I am committed to projects in collaboration with a project in Detroit with the band ADULT., a French band called Infecticide (they remind me of a political French version of Devo), a children’s theremin orchestra, and a theremin musical production for Broadway. Stylistically a theremin can fit in nowhere or anywhere, which opens many doors of collaboration

 
Can you tell us a little bit about how KidCoolTheremin school began? What other sorts of venues have you travelled this program to?
KidCoolThereminSchool began very organically, when children and adults were so eager to try the theremin themselves after concerts. I developed a curriculum and started classes at Pioneerworks, a center for art and science in Red Hook, NY. We were supported by Moog Music in Asheville, NC, where I had been teaching students over the course of six months.  KidCoolThereminSchool has been going global ever since, we have had sold out classes in Sweden, Switzerland, Detroit's MOCAD, Houston, NYC, Moogfest, Vienna, and Copenhagen. This fall, KidCoolThereminSchool will go to Paris and Berlin as well as free classes in Manhattan as part of the "Dame Electric" festival in NY, Sept. 13-18th.

theremin-school

Why is it important for young people and new adult audiences to have the chance to try a theremin?
Ever since its inception, the theremin as a musical instrument has been underestimated—it merely hasn’t found its true sound as of yet. In this age of technology, a theremin's unique interface of motion to sound, seems contemporary and accessible. Amidst a sea of information, the very physical and innovative approach to different playing techniques can allow each player to find their own voice of expression, learning to listen and experiment,  to train motorics and musical skills in a playful and creative way.

 
What can people expect to learn at the KidCool workshops at Maker Faire?
Due to time restrictions, we will offer introductory classes on the theremin. We will go through the basics of sound generation—and ensemble playing is sometimes all it takes for someone to get inspired in wanting to dive further into the sonic world of the theremin.

 
Is there anything you are particularly excited to see at the museum?
Yes, the collection apparently holds two RCA theremins. They are currently not on display but we (the NY Theremin Society, which I cofounded) would very much like to help examine and determine what it would take to operate these instruments one day, and to even play them in concert at the museum in the future. For a long time now I wanted to see the permanent collection of The Henry Ford!



The Theremin, Model AR-1264, Made and Marketed by the Radio Corporation of America (RCA) from 1929-1935.

theremins, Maker Faire Detroit

At Maker Faire Detroit 2016, Drew Blanke—more formally known as “Dr. Blankenstein”—will arrive, trailing a rolling suitcase full of broken toys and noise-making creations along behind him. Over the weekend of July 30-31, 2016, Blanke will hold workshops to teach people how to “up-cycle electronics into one-of-a-kind 21st century art.” He asks that guests interested in participating in the workshop bring along broken electronics from home—to “open them, inspect them, and learn from them.” He will also have a few of his own creations available for hands-on demonstrations.

This will be Dr. Blankenstein’s first appearance at Maker Faire Detroit, but he is no stranger when it comes to providing engaging circuit-bending workshops. Kristen Gallerneaux, curator at The Henry Ford, first encountered Blanke at Moogfest 2014, where she saw him demonstrate a musical calculator programmed to play a song by the band Kraftwerk. What else could the song have been, but Pocket Calculator? For fans of synthesized music, his homage was a crowd-pleaser. Blanke has also appeared at World Maker Faire in Queens, NY, and returned to Moogfest 2016 to provide a series of all-ages hands-on workshops.

On Sunday, July 31st, at 2:45pm, Dr. Blankenstein will give a talk in the museum’s Drive-In Theatre called “Circuit Bending & the Art of Electronic Discovery: Open It, Inspect It, LEARN IT!”

Our Curator of Communications and Information Technology, Kristen Gallerneaux, caught up with Dr. Blankenstein for an interview.  

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How did your love of synthesized music begin? Are there any historic innovators that you would say are direct inspirations on what you do, and how you think about sound design?

I am not sure the exact moment when I began to love synthesizers, but I can tell you it most certainly started in the early 1980s. It wasn’t as much a love for the instrument at first as it was the wonderful sounds they were able to make.  I think of music from films such as Tron, Close Encounters of the Third Kind & Breakin’, sound effects and theme songs from TV shows such as Nightrider, CHiPs and Star Trek, and 1980s music such as Kraftwerk, New Wave and early Rap all left a huge impact on me.  I can’t leave out Michael Jackson and breakdance music either, I was a mini Breakdancer at the time thanks to Mom & Michael Jackson.  Older dancers called me Kid Fresh (LOL).  All of these elements created a need to know more about how these sounds were created.  I knew there was something different about them versus say a guitar, flute or drums etc. Even at the young age of 5, I knew I wanted to know more.

As for inspirational innovators that I have been influenced by in my later years, I would have to point to Bob Moog and Herb Deutsch.  The work I do and the work they did (although similar in nature) is much different in style, but I connect deeply with the passion and creativity that was alive between the two of them.  It’s almost like the Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak of the synthesizer world, both such amazing and inspiring American dream stories. It’s almost impossible to not be inspired by them. 

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Dr. Blankenstein is pictured here demonstrating one of his creations to Herbert Deutsch, co-inventor of the Moog synthesizer.

You have called yourself a “circuit manipulator / designer, artist, and professional Maker”—how do these things work together and influence one another?

That’s a fantastic question! I am a big preacher of the concept of “if you want to know more about it, then jump right into it and try it out”.  In my experience it’s more difficult to learn from a chalkboard than by exploring / reading and practicing a new interest you are excited by.  I am excited by technology and the power it gives me to express myself.  As time has gone on since the early 80s, it has only gotten easier and easier to get involved with whatever evolving technology excited me at the time.  Especially now with the Internet and all the fantastic resources available to learn from (YouTube, Instructables, kits and How-To websites, etc.), plus the constantly dropping prices on great development gear such as 3D printers and Arduino /RaspberryPi, it’s never been easier to learn about something new and get involved.  I kind of saw this happening early on in the game, say about 1995 or so. This allowed me to really explore many different aspects of technology and art. More importantly it gave me the time needed to make it all fit together nicely as it does now.  I started in graphic arts / web design and electronic music performance / production.  I later would sell big name instruments for a couple of major retailers.  I owned a marketing company which allowed me to hone in on even more technical skills such as video editing, text writing and promotion.  In the end, every single part of that comes into play with my work in Dr. Blankenstein. To me, it’s proof that if you don’t know exactly what road will take you where you are going, any and every road you pick will take you there.  You just need to be passionate about what you are doing.

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A view of Dr. Blankenstein’s workbench

Can you tell us a bit about your journey to learning the electronics end of things—things you learned that help you make/manipulate/creatively “break” the things that you do? Did you learn this formally at a school, or on your own by way of tinkering?

Well, it really started around 1986 or so when my father started doing HeathKits again. HeathKit was a company that started in the late 1940s and went out of business in the early 90s.  Their basic idea was, “Why buy something at top dollar, when you can build it yourself for less?” It was a great way to learn about electronics and save some money on a gadget you wanted, but didn’t want to pay a lot for (some of their more popular / famous kits were the “HERO” robot used by Mr. Wizard and reportedly built by Steve Jobs in the early 1970s, a VHS Video Tape Recorder, or a color TV). My father was building the kits again (he was building a programmable analog musical doorbell kit), and he had built them as a child himself.  Of course, I wanted in on the fun as well.  My father would let me solder a resistor or two into place and explain the color coding system to me. He later would buy me an A.M. (not F.M, only A.M.) radio kit for me to complete myself, which I did (minus a few errors fixed by my father).

That was when my love for wanting to know what was inside machines grew, almost as much love for what the machine did itself was needing to know how it worked.  At this point, I remember opening up many of my childhood toys to “see how they worked”.  I was not always able to put them back together, but I ALWAYS managed to learn something in the process.  This is a very important point to be made, one that I try to drive home in all of my workshops.  It’s important if we as humans want to stay creative to make sure to look inside a machine and learn how it works.  It connects you even deeper to all the hard work that went into making that device possible, develops a newfound respect for the world around you, and in the best case scenario (for what I do)… gets you excited to learn more about how things work and how to make something / or modify it yourself!

I’m a grassroots engineer, street taught… some would call me a hacker. It’s possible to be all of the above and more (it’s actually likely in many cases)! I am not saying that Engineering isn’t a wonderful thing to go to school for, and to follow as a career… it is and you should!  I’m saying, you can be a Doctor, a Plumber or a Pizza maker and still be a fantastic Engineer.  The most important part is the will / need to learn and the wonder to experiment and explore the world around and how it works. 

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A view of Dr. Blankenstein’s workbench.

Can you tell us about how you go about being a Maker in your day-to-day life? Do you have a workshop at home, or do you use any kind of organized Maker spaces?

I do have a shop in my Queens, New York apartment.  It’s a tight space, but it’s rather amazing what can be done from it.  One half is my computer workstation, and the other half is made up of two Maker workbenches.  One bench I use mostly for circuitry which has my main soldering iron / rotary tool setup / oscilloscope / drill press etc.  The other bench I use more for assembling my final products. So here you will find a lot of screw drivers, wrenches, extra screws / nuts and bolts etc.  I try to keep the two areas separated so that my final pieces don’t accidentally get damaged by production tools (hot soldering irons, spinning drills) or metal scraps etc.  I don’t use any organized Maker Spaces at this time, I wish there were more in my area. In New York, a lot of them seem to be in the Brooklyn area.  Maybe I should start one for Queens! 

Collaboration is a key attribute within the Maker community. Do you have a network of friends who are also involved in circuit bending or making sound-based work? Are there any online resources where someone might find such a community?

I wish I was working with more people than I am at the moment, because I do agree with you 100%. Collaboration is key to the Maker movement / community.  That being said, it’s something easier said than done.  As you get older, and you get more involved in your own work, it sometimes gets more difficult to find the time between your everyday work / life to make the connections one should be making when working on a lot different kinds of projects.  I hate to sound like my parents here, but this is why SCHOOL is amazing and SO important. I can say to the younger Makers out there, as an adult… you will never have a better opportunity to connect and collaborate with great like minds than you will in middle / high school and college. So do what your parents say and take full advantage of it, you will thank us for it later. I do work with some other Makers out there from time to time, one of whom is Tim Sway… the amazing woodworker / instrument maker. We have collaborated on a few projects to date you can find out there if you search the web. There are a few other people I have been talking to lately that I hope to be working with in the near future as well.  Lastly, that is why Maker Faire is such an amazing concept.  All of us who work on our projects day after day, week after week, month after month, can finally come out in the daylight, meet follow Makers and show off ( and check out other people’s work) our hard work and collaborate.

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Dr. Blankenstein’s “GoogaMooga”—his submission to the “Circuit Bending Challenge” at Moogfest 2012.

Can you talk about an especially challenging project, where the outcome was totally worth all of the effort you put in to it? Have you had any amazing accidental discoveries or spectacular failures?

It’s hard to talk about challenging projects and massive learning experiences without talking about the GoogaMooga (a 30min video of me building it can be found on my YouTube channel), my submission for the Moogfest 2012 “Circuit Bending Challenge” hacking contest.  I had just gotten back into circuitry full time as was determined to be picked as part of the Top 3 to go to Asheville and compete.  Did I have the skill level need to do so? Well, that was an entirely different story all together.

The idea was to use three 10 second voice recorders used to say Happy Holidays to Grandma and Grandpa in a custom greeting cards and turn them into an epic (contest winning) sampler / synthesizer.  No problem, right!?! ;)  Well I knew what I wanted to do, but the hard part was figuring out how to make it all work together.  First I tried to etch a custom PCB mixer I planned on running all 3 sample units through. That was a total failure, a waste of sensitive time (the contest deadline was in days) and money.  Plus, I had no idea how to run three separate 4.5volt samplers off one 9V power supply. The concept of a voltage divider chip / components hadn’t been revealed to me yet.  So, I wound up running each of the mini voice sampler units off their own power supplies.  Which pretty much meant loading the piece with NINE AA batteries and a 9V power supply to run the pile of LED lights I added and an FX section.  Sounds crazy right?  Later I would find out, even though I did just about everything completely wrong... I followed rule #1 in engineering, MAKE IT WORK!  First and foremost, it must work… it may not look amazing on the inside, but make it work. In case you are wondering what rule #2 is, it’s always try to learn something new from your mistakes… I most certainly did as well. Guess what? I was picked to be part of the Top 3 of the contest and a relationship that still exists to this day was forged between Moogfest and myself.  There isn’t much in life that will be easy or work perfectly when you first start doing it, just remember that everyone goes through it… and keep pushing through to your goals.

What is the benefit of making your own instruments, rather than exclusively playing commercially-purchased instruments? Are there any “quirks” to playing these types of things in front of an audience?

As for benefits, I suppose that depends on the artist who is using the instrument. I would guess the same can be said about “quirks” when performing with them.  It really depends on the artist using it, how they are using it and what their final vision for their sound is.  Meaning, an instrument can be built perfectly… in a way that it performs perfectly next to a commercially purchased instrument, but some would say, “Where’s the fun in that?” Some people look for pieces that are one-of-a-kind or unpredictable on purpose, it really depends on how the piece was built, and who is using it in what way.  Playing a circuit bent piece live on the spot in front of a crowd, versus sampling cool sounds from it and using it in a computer written composition will get MUCH DIFFERENT results from the same exact instrument.  I think someone who realizes that, will get the most out of a boutique instrument or something they built themselves. 

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Dr. Blankenstein is pictured above giving one of his custom guitar pedals to musician Adam “Ad-Rock” Horovitz of the Beastie Boys.

Do you think it is important for young people and new adult audiences to know about the “guts” of what powers everyday technology? What can we learn by taking things apart?

I think it’s beyond important. I’m a big believer that modern culture has people in the mode of “get the newest model” without really thinking about if their current model still does the trick for them.  It seems to be a harmless habit to be in, but I don’t believe it’s harmless at all.  Besides creating an amazing amount of exponentially growing yearly e-waste and wasting money… maybe even worse is that it makes us solely consumers.  We need to be makers, innovators and thinkers… like the men and women whose devices / creations fill the halls of the Henry Ford Museum.  Each one of them wanted to make it better than the last one, and with good reason… not just because they HAD TO have the newest model.

When we think about how things work, when we look inside and see what we can learn / recycle or reuse from it… or if nothing else take a look inside at all the hard work that goes into creating these devices.  We gain respect for the item, we are amazed by it, we learn more from it… we are less impressed by the company who made it and if it’s the newest model and we are more impressed by what it does. We are impressed by what it does, and that we (the human race) have been able to make it happen in the last 80 years or so! We are amazing, we build amazing things!

What can people expect to learn at your Maker Faire workshop?

I love to show people how simple it is to get involved in circuitry! I like explaining to folks that with the knowledge of just a few easy to follow electronic principles, Circuit Bending very low cost battery powered electronics is actually rather easy, educational and rewarding (changing resistance to modify pitch, swapping out speakers for audio outputs, adding colorful LEDS, changing power sources etc.).

Most people have stuff laying around their house that would be thrown / given away that can easily be modified into one-of-a-kind Circuit Bent creations.  The best part is, you have no choice but to get better and better at it and learn more about electronics as you go along.  So, I hope to show folks some good examples of what that looks like when you are done with it, what it sounds like, and how they can get started to do the same thing at home (on a very small project budget). 

Is there anything you are particularly excited to see at the museum? 

There are so many things I am excited to see at the museum, in fact the entire concept of a museum like The Henry Ford excites me beyond belief.  Talk about a museum that a Maker like me can really enjoy!  Not that I don’t love my native fine art, science centers, or natural history museums here in New York, but a museum dedicated to invention, ingenuity and inspiration… that’s a place I can spend an entire week at.  I will actually be staying a few days after the Maker Faire to make sure I don’t miss anything great.  From what I see online, it’s just not possible to see the entire campus in 2 days (most certainly when the Maker Faire is going on).

What I am MOST EXCITED to see? It’s hard to have to pick, but I would have to say the communications and information technology artifacts in the museum. I just HAVE TO see the original Apple 1 computer and of course my friend Herb Deutsch’s original Moog Synthesizer prototype!  I get goose bumps just typing that sentence. I’m excited to come see you Michigan—see you at the Detroit Maker Faire 2016!

Maker Faire Detroit 2016

Ideas in Action

July 11, 2016 Think THF
ideas in action

This feature originally ran in the June-December 2016 edition of The Henry Ford Magazine.

The Henry Ford Magazine

Spotlight on The Henry Ford's Innovation Nation: Season 2, Episode 10

Forgo the needle and thread — all you need to make clothes from scratch is a computer and an idea.

In fashion, “printed” usually refers to patterned fabric. But when it comes to one company, it actually describes the way clothing is made. 

Bay Area-based startup Electroloom is using 3-D printing to create seamless garments that are soft as butter. Its innovative electrospinning process ultimately makes it possible for anyone with some CAD ability to design and produce fabric items on demand. Dubbed field-guided fabrication, it entails making a mold, placing it in the Electroloom machine and watching as 3-D printer nozzles layer microscopic fibers up around it. Still in its infancy, the technology has so far been used to make simple garments such as beanies, tank tops and skirts.

electroloom

After the Electroloom appeared on The Henry Ford's Innovation Nation earlier this year, The Henry Ford Magazine caught up with co-founder and CEO Aaron Rowley to talk more about the technology and the possibilities yet to unfold.

THF Magazine: How did the idea for Electroloom come about? 
Rowley: I’ve been working in the technology industry, as have my co-founders, and we saw an obvious lacking in terms of 3-D-printing capability — it couldn’t make soft goods and material things like clothing, towels, shoes — anything that’s soft and flexible. We wanted to expand 3-D printing to produce those items. We knew that it would be extremely valuable, so we set out on this hypothetical task. We just started prototyping and designing, and that’s where the original genesis came from. 

THF Magazine: How has your company evolved?
Rowley: When we first started working, we were in a garage and in our apartments working on the kitchen floor. Then, we began to work out of a technology shop and maker’s space, a community of people that supports a facility that has equipment, classes and training. We also participated in accelerated programs, which catapulted us to the next level. While the origins of this project were truly conceptual, when we were successfully getting fabrics and soft material, that’s what propelled us into building these larger, more robust machines.  

THF Magazine: How does the Electroloom work?
Rowley: The simplest way to describe it is that we convert liquids into textiles. Basically, we use electricity to pull on the liquid, and the liquid, as it’s being pulled on, then hardens into a fiber and as you pull that across a gap — let’s say inside of a machine — that liquid converts into a fiber as it dries. The final product is completely seamless.

THF Magazine: So what does the fabric feel like?
Rowley: The fibers that we work with are actually single fibers, really tiny micro- or even nanoscale fibers. They’re very, very small, which makes the material very soft. The fabric has been described as a hybrid between cotton and suede. The texture on the surface is soft like suede, but it’s got the look and dimensions of cotton and polyester with comparable thickness. 

THF Magazine: What’s next for the Electroloom?
Rowley: We are in the middle of fundraising right now. We also received a grant from the National Science Foundation specifically for projects pursuing advanced technology and nanotechnology. We are exploring some private investments, too. The goal is to expand the team to refine the technology and, later this year or early next year, have an actual set of machines “out in the wild” as well as our own clothing brand. 

THF Magazine: How do you see this technology being applied?
Rowley: We’ve been approached by several clothing brands interested in working with the technology and product design teams who want to work with this method. A few stores are even interested in having the tools in-store to engage with customers. We’re flushing this out to determine what’s most doable in the near future. We’ll be settling on something soon and making some cool announcements. 

THF Magazine: Do you really see people using Electroloom to make clothing in their own homes?
Rowley: I try to discern between near-term realistic stuff and what’s our bigger vision. Having people make things in their homes is far off, but the goal is to, over the years, refine this technology so if somebody did want to have this in their home to print fibrous products — from kitchen towels to socks and underwear — to supplement actually going out and purchasing these items in stores, we would love for that to happen and for people to be able to add customization, colors and shapes.

Did You Know?
It takes between eight and 14 hours to encapsulate a mold with printed fibers in the Electroloom.

How it Works



electroloom-how-it-works

See the full episode of The Henry Ford's Innovation Nation here.

Clothing technology, The Henry Ford's Innovation Nation, The Henry Ford Magazine

huey

The Vietnam War is remembered as “the Helicopter War” for good reason. The Huey helicopter played a pivotal role serving the U.S. Armed Forces in combat as well as bringing thousands of soldiers and civilians alike back to safety. The helicopter’s prominent rotor “chop” and striking visual as it flew in groups across the sky, became iconic symbols of a challenging period in our nation’s history; symbols that continue to evoke powerful feelings today.

The Henry Ford is proud to host a special display on the front lawn of Henry Ford Museum: Take Me Home Huey is mixed-media sculpture created from the remains of an historic U.S. Army Huey helicopter that was shot down in 1969 during a medical rescue in Vietnam.

Artist Steve Maloney conceived of the piece to draw attention to the sacrifices made by veterans of the U.S. Armed Forces, and the 50th anniversary of the start of the Vietnam War. Maloney partnered with Light Horse Legacy (LHL), a Peoria, Arizona-based nonprofit and USA Vietnam War Commemorative Partner focused on Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. LHL acquired the Huey helicopter – #174 – from an Arizona boneyard, re-skinned and restored it, and delivered it to the Maloney to transform into art for healing.

Learn more about Take Me Home Huey here.

Greg Harris is Senior Manager of Events & Program Production at The Henry Ford.

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DESIGNERS DISILLUSIONED WITH FAST FASHION LOOK TO CREATE A GRASSROOTS GARMENT INDUSTRY ONE CITY AND ONE HANDMADE SHIRT AT A TIME


Laura Lee Laroux is full of confidence, even though some peers say she shouldn’t be. 

Laroux, 36, moved to Bozeman, Montana, with seven sewing machines and 12 rolls of fabric in a U-Haul earlier this year, intent on making the rugged town at the northern foot of the Gallatin Range the new headquarters of her clothing line. She calls it RevivALL because she upcycles old materials into new garments, such as ruffled dresses fashioned from men’s shirts and hip bags revived from leather scraps bought from a recreational vehicle manufacturer. 

Laroux had been overly busy and underearning in her previous home of Eugene, Oregon, running a clothing boutique, co-producing a local fashion week and, in the snatches of remaining time, working on developing RevivALL. But then, like so many bold Americans, from the pioneers to Kerouac on down, she concluded that her destiny, her chance to leave the old muddle behind and pursue her dream full time, lay elsewhere. “I just got some kind of rumbling inside me that said I have to leave Eugene,” said Laroux.

But Bozeman, population 37,000, isn’t New York or Los Angeles, teeming with seamstresses, fashion buyers and media. Why does she think she can make it there?

The same could be asked of legions of other upstart fashion designers setting up shop in locales such as Lawrence, Kansas; Nashville; and Detroit, none fashion capitals likely to be featured on Project Runway.

Something is afoot.

The odds of upstarts breaking profitably into the $2.5 trillion international fashion business remain long, but American entrepreneurs like Laroux have been newly emboldened to try by a confluence of cultural and economic forces. These include an appetite among some activist consumers to opt out of the fast-fashion system; Web stores like Etsy that connect small makers to buyers everywhere; low costs in postindustrial American cities; the decline of New York’s garment district; and fledgling pockets of support for apparel startups by government and not-for-profit groups. The result of all this has been the growth — sometimes halting, occasionally stunted, but often encouraging — of grassroots garment industries across the American landscape. 

“Not all designers have to come to New York,” said Lisa Arbetter, editor of the influential fashion magazine StyleWatch, which has a per-issue circulation of 825,000. “Every line doesn’t have to be sold in Saks.” 

A LITTLE IS ENOUGH

It might seem counterintuitive, but the fact that 97 percent of the clothing sold in the United States is now made overseas, up from 50 percent in 1990 and 10 percent in the 1960s, has created opportunity for American makers. While Zara, H&M, Gap and Fast Retailing, the parent of Uniqlo, have annual sales of more than $74 billion combined, some of the fashion-forward want to wear clothes that a million other people aren’t also slithering into.

What’s especially sweet about the kind of apparel businesses those like Laroux are starting is that a little success can be enough. Their ambition is not to become the next Betsey Johnson or Yves St. Laurent, but merely to gain the satisfaction of earning enough money selling dresses made from shower curtains, cruelty-free handbags or bespoke belt buckles to quit their boring day jobs. 

“I’m close to making a living on my own stuff,” said Leslie Kuluva, who has seen sales of her line of LFK T-shirts printed in Lawrence, Kansas, rise every year since 2006. Kuluva says when she started, “I used to print them on my living room table and lay them out on the couch to dry, and cats would be walking all over them.”

Now, the “stuff” she creates in her professional print shop on East 8th Street in the college town includes men’s ties she buys at thrift stores and upcycles by printing clever designs on them, along with baby onesies and adult shirts she buys wholesale and unprinted from American Apparel, adds LFK logos to and sells at a profit of roughly $10 a garment. The line is carried at downtown shops such as Wonder Fair and Ten Thousand Villages eager to support local makers. 

MORE THAN A HOBBY
Of course, having one artist or even a dozen eke out a living printing shirts one by one is not on its own enough to jump-start the economy of a town or change fashion as we know it. The challenges in taking a step up from that by launching a relatively small national apparel brand are formidable, as would-be entrepreneur Lisa Flannery learned over the past few years. A veteran of two decades of toil in various roles at big brands in the Manhattan fashion business, Flannery attempted to start her own surfwear line. 

“You need serious capital for development and production; unlimited amounts of time for sourcing, designing and fitting,” Flannery shared in a long and deeply detailed gush during a short break from her current job as a technical design manager at a national clothing brand. “And a partner or really good friends and family to help you with the sales, marketing and PR, legalities and accounting, etc., because you need to handle design and production, which are really jobs for multiple people — if you can manage to handle that, then you confront massive minimums, which is why you need all of that capital — minimums on fabric, trims and the amount of units the factory will produce for you — most China factories want at least 3,000 units — otherwise you are making small lots locally at very high prices, which your potential customers scoff at because they are used to Forever 21/Zara/H&M prices. And then if you do manage to get some traction, you can bet someone is going to knock you off at a much lower price.”

Flannery ended up spending more than $10,000 and gave up when, after subsisting on four hours of sleep a night, her health started to fail. She’s not optimistic about the long-term prospects for Laroux and others. 

Such barriers to big dreams are why Karen Buscemi runs the Detroit Garment Group (DGG), a three-yearold nonprofit with an ambitious agenda. “We are trying to make Michigan the state for the cut-andsew industry,” said Buscemi, a former fashion magazine editor. 

Funded by donors including two automobile seating manufacturers, the DGG offers as one of its five major programs a fashion incubator. It takes up to 10 fashion entrepreneurs; installs them in offices in Detroit’s Tech Town building; gives monthly workshops on making business plans; provides access to high-end design equipment for free; assigns seven mentors across legal, sustainability, sales and other fields; and, at the end of a year, sets up a showroom where retailers come and hopefully buy clothes and start a wholesale relationship with the incubees. Those not admitted to the full program can sign on as an associate member for $100 a month to use the high-end printers, patterndigitizers and other machines to create a fashion collection.

DGG’s apprenticeship programs in pattern-making and sewing machine repair promise to help convert the unemployed into garment workers. (DGG’s certificate classes in industrial sewing are offered at a few schools, including Henry Ford College in Dearborn, which is not affiliated with The Henry Ford.) Meanwhile, DGG is working with a variety of state agencies to establish a full-blown garment district, taking advantage of the decline in New York, where the district, due to high costs and foreign outsourcing, is a shell of its old self. Los Angeles has already shown it can be done, becoming a new apparelmaking center.

The idea could very well work in Detroit, too, said StyleWatch editor Arbetter. “They are training people in a manufacturing skill that dovetails into the history of that town as a manufacturing center, and by doing that, they are creating businesses and creating jobs. It seems that particular city is ripe for this.” 

One key, Buscemi said, is starting small by helping young designers find stable footing. “They want to come out the door from college and be entrepreneurs,” she noted. “But unless you have had experience, how are you going to do that and turn it into a real business rather than a hobby you are doing on the side?”

A COMMUNITY WITHIN
Apparel brands can change a city. In Nashville in 2009, the jeans shop Imogene + Willie opened in a former gas station on 12th Avenue South. Its informal vibe, with cool folks lounging on couches next to stacks of blue jeans and thick belts — a few doors up from the famed guitar shop Corner Music — helped establish a neighborhood aesthetic.

As co-owner with her husband, Carrie Eddmenson explains in the brand’s online statement: “The way Matt and I operate has always involved a mix of uncertainty reinforced by intuition, call it a gut feeling.” 

The words could be a manifesto for Nashville, where guts, gut feelings and flights of inspiration have for a century oozed through the city’s honky-tonk veins, only recently spilling out into creative fields beyond music.

Although the jeans are made in Los Angeles, the store’s bustling neighborhood, now known by the hipster moniker “12 South,” is one of the emblems of Nashville’s ferocious resurgence. Chef Sean Brock credits the city’s apparel scene for his decision to open a Nashville outpost of his award-winning restaurant Husk. “I came back to visit friends,” Brock said, moments after slicing a local ham for thrilled patrons in the dining room last winter. “And there was just a buzz. People were coming from New York and LA to do things like make leather belts.”

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In Bozeman, Laroux has identified what there is of a garment industry and has taken steps to become a part of it. There are companies producing backpacks there, and Red Ants Pants, a brand that is like Carhartt for women, is headquartered in Bozeman. Even though not all of these companies produce apparel in Montana, their presence, Laroux figures, means there must be expert seamstresses, fabric cutters and other production people around, some of them likely willing to take second jobs for an ambitious, youngish designer. 

In her first 10 days in town, Laroux met with a woman who runs a coworking space and a screen-printing business, another who has a clothing boutique and another, Kate Lindsay, who founded Bozeman Flea, a market for artists and makers. Laroux’s goal is to start earning $50,000 annually, after expenses. Some of that income may come from selling patterns for her dresses for $10 each via websites such as Indiesew; some from showing at an upcoming fashion event in Helena, Montana, and at Bozeman Flea; some from opening a local shop with other designers; some from sales of sock garters on the e-commerce maker superstore Etsy; and some, perhaps, from catching the fancy of a buyer from a national retailer looking for a unique American-made product.

The extra bedroom in the faux colonial she rents with friends, her share being $600 monthly, has become, for now, a design studio and sewing room. Not for long, Laroux said. “In three months, in my ideal world, I would have this little storefront I’ve been looking at downtown, with my studio in the basement and three other designers that have studio space, and we take turns running the shop.”

Long ago at fashion school in New York, Laroux had a burned-out professor who told the class none of them were ever going to really make it as designers. “’You’re just going to be getting coffee for people at design houses,’” she recalled him saying, acting as if administering this dose of reality was a favor.

Maybe it was. He made her angry, and now she’s making her stand, assembling a fashion posse. 

By Allen Salkin for The Henry Ford Magazine. This story ran in the June-December 2016 edition.

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For the Le Mans 24 Hours this year, I’m part of the new Ford Chip Ganassi Racing GT team that is attempting to win the big race again for Ford, 50 years on from that first victory in 1966, and I will be carrying The Henry Ford logo on my helmet.  How did that come to be?

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When people think of Ford and its famous victories at Le Mans, most think of the MKII GT40 that took the win in 1966, or the Gulf liveried cars that won in ’68 and ’69 races, but for me it’s all about the Mk IV car that won the race in 1967 with Dan Gurney and A. J. Foyt. It’s one of my very favourite cars, not just for the result it achieved, but for the story of its development into a winner and how drop dead gorgeous it is. By complete coincidence I’m in the No. 67 car this year, though I was secretly hoping to have that number, to be able to carry it makes me very happy indeed, hopefully we can do it justice! 

There is an incredible page on the The Henry Ford's website that allows you to take a 360° tour of the car, I highly recommend it.

As for my connection to the museum, I’ve been lucky to get to know the good folks at The Henry Ford over the last few years, especially Christian Overland and Spence Medford, and through their passion for The Henry Ford and all that it does. I’ve become a massive fan of the museum, all of the amazing things it contains (from Beatles memorabilia to Thomas Edison and, of course, the cars!) and the way it immerses visitors in history.

I wanted to help the guys spread the word in some small way, so I suggested to Christian that I carry The Henry Ford logo on my helmet for the Le Mans 24 Hours and he kindly agreed.

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Nothing would make me happier than being able to win the big race with Ford and be able to give back in some small way to an institution that gives so much to so many. You never know, if we can achieve a great result here at Le Mans, maybe some of our story will be a part of the museum in the future? Now that would be cool…

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Marino Franchitti. driver,  No. 67 Ford GT, Ford Chip Ganassi Racing.

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ANSWER:
According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, a scientist is “a person who is trained in a science and whose job involves doing scientific research or solving scientific problems.” 

Based upon this definition, I agree it would be easy to consider conservators scientists. But, truthfully, scientific work represents only a portion of the work that we carry out on a daily basis.

Conservation as a field is interdisciplinary. 

It involves studio practices, sciences and the humanities. As a conservator, you are responsible for the long-term preservation of artistic and cultural artifacts. We analyze and assess the condition of cultural property and use our knowledge to develop collection care plans and site management strategies. We also carry out conservation treatments and related research.

Now, there are conservation scientists, who represent a specialized, highly trained subset of conservation professionals whose work concentrates exclusively on the science of artifact preservation. Rather than conserving artifacts, they focus their daily efforts on the analysis of artifact materials to determine how to best prevent degradation. They also conduct research to establish the best materials and techniques for conservators to use when they work on artifacts.

So are conservators scientists? No, we are not. But we do use an extensive training in material science, in combination with artistic skills and knowledge of art history, to conserve museum artifacts.

Mary Fahey is Chief Conservator at The Henry Ford.

Garage Art

June 3, 2016 Think THF

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Photo by Bill Bowen.

Model T mechanics are restoration artists in their own right.


The Henry Ford has a fleet of 14 Ford Model T’s, 12 of which ride thousands of visitors along the streets of Greenfield Village every year. 

With each ride, a door slams, shoes skid across the floorboards, seats are bounced on, gears are shifted, tires meet road, pedals are pushed, handles are pulled and so on. Makes maintaining the cars and preserving the visitor experience a continuous challenge.

“These cars get very harsh use,” said Ken Kennedy, antique vehicle mechanic and T Shed specialist at The Henry Ford. “Between 150,000 and 180,000 people a year ride in them. Each car gives a ride every five to seven minutes, with the longest route just short of a mile. This happens for nine months a year.”

The T Shed is the 3,600-square-foot garage on the grounds of Greenfield Village where repairs, restoration and maintenance magic happen. Kennedy, who holds a degree in restoration from McPherson College in Kansas, leads the shed’s team of staff and volunteers — many car-restoration hobbyists just like him.

“I basically turned my hobby into a career,” quipped Kennedy, who began restoring cars long before college. His first project: a 1926 two-door Model T sedan. “I also have a 1916 Touring and a 1927 Willys-Knight. And I’m working on a Model TT truck,” he added. 

April through December, the shed is humming, doing routine maintenance and repairs on the Model T’s as well as a few Model AA trucks that round out Greenfield Village’s working fleet. “What the public does to these cars would make any hobbyist pull their hair out. Doors opening and shutting with each ride. Kids sliding across the seats wearing on the upholstery,” said Kennedy. Vehicles often go through a set of tires every year. Most hobbyist-owned Model T’s have the same set for three-plus decades. 

With the heavy toll taken on the vehicles, the T Shed’s staff often makes small, yet important, mechanical changes to the cars to ensure they can keep up. “We have some subtle things we can do to make them work better for our purpose,” said Kennedy. Gear ratios, for example, are adjusted since the cars run slow — the speed limit in Greenfield Village is 15 miles per hour, maximum. “The cars look right for the period, but these are the things we can do to make our lives easier.”

In the off-season, when Greenfield Village is closed, the T Shedders shift toward more heavy mechanical work, replacing upholstery tops and fenders, and tearing down and rebuilding engines. While Kennedy may downplay the restoration, even the conservation, underpinnings of the work happening in the shed, the mindset and philosophy are certainly ever present. 

“Most of the time we’re not really restoring, but you still have to keep in mind authenticity and what should be,” he said. “It’s not just about what will work. You have to keep the correctness. We can do some things that aren’t seen, where you can adjust. But where it’s visible, we have to maintain what’s period correct. We want to keep the engines sounding right, looking right.”

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Photo by Bill Bowen.

RESTORATION IN THE ROUND 
Tom Fisher, Greenfield Village’s chief mechanical officer, has been restoring and maintaining The Henry Ford’s steam locomotives since 1988. “It was a temporary fill-in; I thought I’d try it,” Fisher said of joining The Henry Ford team 28 years ago while earning an engineering degree. 

He now oversees a staff with similarly circuitous routes — some with degrees in history, some in engineering, some with no degree at all. Most can both engineer a steam-engine train and repair one on-site in Greenfield Village’s roundhouse. 

“As a group, we’re very well rounded,” said Fisher. “One of the guys is a genius with gas engines — our switcher has a gas engine, so I was happy to get him. One guy is good with air brake systems. We feel them out, see where they’re good and then push them toward that.” 

Fisher’s team’s most significant restoration effort: the Detroit & Lima Northern No. 7. Henry Ford’s personal favorite, this locomotive was formerly in Henry Ford Museum and took nearly 20 years to get back on the track. 

“We had to put on our ‘way-back’ hats and say this is what we think they would have done,” said Fisher. 

No. 7 is one of three steam locomotives running in Greenfield Village. As with the Model T’s, maintaining these machines is a balance between preserving historical integrity and modernizing out of necessity. 

“A steam locomotive is constantly trying to destroy itself,” Fisher said. “It wears its parts all out in the open. The daily firing of the boiler induces stresses into the metal. There’s a constant renewal of parts.” 

Parts that Fisher and his team painstakingly fabricate, cast and fit with their sturdy hands right at the roundhouse. 

DID YOU KNOW?
The No. 7 locomotive began operation in Greenfield Village to help commemorate Henry Ford’s 150th birthday in 2013. 

moog-love
Image Courtesy of Moogfest.com

From May 18-22,
Moogfest 2016—a festival dedicated to “the synthesis of music, art, and technology”—took place in Durham, North Carolina. While you may not have heard of Moogfest itself, you have almost certainly heard the sound of the synthesizer that is the namesake of the festival. If you’ve ever driven on the freeway nodding along to the Beatles “Here Comes the Sun,” or Kraftwerk’s “Autobahn,” you’ve heard the Moog. If you’ve rocked out to Emerson, Lake and Palmer’s “Lucky Man,” or danced to Blondie’s “Heart of Glass” or (keeping it local to Detroit) Parliament’s “Flash Light”—you know what the Moog sounds like. And if you grew up as a child of the 1980s, watching John Carpenter’s classic horror films—that soundtrack that punctuated the dread of Halloween? It was played on a Moog by Carpenter himself. My point is, the Moog has permeated our culture—its influence is everywhere, in plain earshot.

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The Henry Ford is the repository for the original Moog prototype, pictured here. THF 156695

One of the reasons Moogfest is so important is because it raises awareness of the instrument’s impact. Not only is the Moog an essential innovation within the timeline of electronic instruments, it has also continued to influence the soundscapes of modern music. Another unique aspect of the festival is that its organizers give as much weight to organizing a carefully curated roster of lectures, workshops, and sound installations as they do in selecting the bands that play. From gatherings in small rooms where musicians lay their creative processes bare—to future-forward lectures about diverse topics like
Afrofuturism, technoshamanism and radical radio—Moogfest’s speaker programming gives those interested in music, art, and technology the chance to be absorb new ideas about the history of technology. 

This occasionally leads to interesting collisions and exchanges of ideas. Festival-goers might see a demonstration of IBM’s Watson project (a cognitive computing system), and later that day, hear Gary Numan play his groundbreaking 1979 Replicas album in its entirety. They might attend a workshop about “the internet of things,” and then take in a slice of a four-hour-long “durational performance” by analog synthesizer composer, Suzanne Ciani. Or for the truly committed—one might even participate in a “sleep concert” by Robert Rich, where the musician lulls participants to sleep with sound and influences their dreams from midnight until 8am the following morning. 

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Dave Tompkins, AUDINT, and Kristen Gallerneaux presenting their sonic research. The “mission patches” shown at center were discussed by AUDINT and represent cases in military history where sound was essential to the success of the mission: The Ghost Army, Operation Wandering Soul, and The Phantom Hailer.

While I have previously attended this festival as a spectator, this year I was honored to take part in Moogfest as an invited “Future Thought” speaker, where I helped to organize an event called
Spatial Sound & Subhistories. The event opened with a presentation about some of The Henry Ford’s own sound and communications history artifacts—including the prototype Moog synthesizer. Writer Dave Tompkins gave a riveting talk about his book-in-progress, about the effect of the natural landscape on Miami Bass and hip-hop music. The event was capped off by a tour through “can’t believe this is real” sound history by the UK-based collective AUDINT, who began their discussion with the WWII-era “Ghost Army.”

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Dorit Chrysler demonstrates the theremin in an adult workshop.

I also managed to take in a few events at the festival. On Thursday, I hit the ground running by participating in a theremin workshop led by world-renowned thereminist, Dorit Chrysler. Her resume is impressive, having played with the bands Blonde Redhead, Cluster, ADULT., Dinosaur Jr., and many others. Chrysler also founded KidCool Theremin School, which provides educational workshops to increase awareness of the instrument. After spending an enjoyable hour hearing stories about the theremin’s history and dipping my toes in the water of learning to play (but not too well), I’m very happy to say that KidCool Theremin School will be joining us at The Henry Ford for Maker Faire Detroit to offer a series of workshops and performances. Stay tuned for more details! 

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Sam Aaron makes electronic music using live Sonic-Pi coding.

The overlap between sound, art, and the technology used to make it has become indistinguishable in some cases. In this image, Sam Aaron is using Sonic Pi—a software program he created—to create live-coded synth music. As computer code swept quickly upwards on the projections behind the musician and the music changed with each command, it became obvious that Aaron was exposing the audience to the process he was using to manipulate sound. While my initial reaction was that this mode of music-making must be amazingly difficult, Sonic Pi was in fact developed as an entry point to teach basic coding in the classroom. 

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Ryan Germick talks about developing the Pegman icon for Google’s Street View.

At the “Arts & Smarts” event, Google Doodle team leader Ryan Germick played host to something that fell somewhere between a stand-up comedy and technology talk show—complete with a “robot” named “Jon Bot” (actually Germick’s brother in a silver space-age suit). Through a stream of constant self-effacement and hilarious jokes, Germick talked about the origins of the icons he created during his career at Google. As the artist behind the Google Maps “Pegman” icon in Street View, Germick now leads the team responsible for over 4000 Google Doodles—including an accurate version of a Moog synthesizer in celebration of inventor Bob Moog’s birthday. 

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Susan Kare talks about her career designing digital icons.

Keeping with the talk show format, Germick also interviewed a few other guests. Susan Kare, an artist and graphic designer responsible for “creating every icon you’ve ever loved” gave a retrospective tour through her career as a pioneer of pixel art and digital icons. While working at Apple, she created the “Chicago” and “Geneva” typefaces, as well as the “sad” and “happy” Mac graphics—and the Command key on Apple keyboards.

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Virtual Reality designer Manuel Clément has worked on many projects at Google, including the self-driving car project.

Next, Manuel Clément, Senior Virtual Reality Designer at Google, spoke about his early life in computing and his work on platforms like Flash in the 1990s, Google Chrome, Doodles, a Self-Driving car program, and Cardboard. Clément showed the outcome of a new prototyping team called Google Daydream, who are testing issues of social interaction, motion, and scale in virtual reality. He reminded the audience that VR is about “experiencing the impossible,” yet he is aware of its current limitations. In reference to an intense bout of app experiments, Clément asked: “What is VR good for? Maybe it’s good for nothing. But how about we build 60 things over 30 weeks and figure it out?” 

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An exhibit celebrating the legacy of another early synthesizer pioneer, Don Buchla.

A collection of Don Buchla instruments and memorabilia was also on view at Moogfest. Buchla, who is located in Berkeley, California, began creating analog and touch-sensitive synthesizers at about the same time as Bob Moog was creating his synthesizer prototype on the East Coast. The exhibit was created from the collection of Richard Smith—an important instrument technician in his own right, and one-time apprentice of Buchla. Smith provided a glimpse into one of the most complete collections of Buchla material ever assembled—this small portion of his archive certainly left me wanting to see the rest! 

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A “Minimoog Model D” synthesizer under construction at the Moog Music Pop-Up Factory.

Moog Music, whose headquarters and factory are located in Asheville, NC, built a “pop-up factory” for the Durham’s Moogfest. Even on the last day of the festival, the enthusiasm in the building was positively electric. Every demonstration synthesizer available was being played by a visitor, and displays related to Moog’s history were being used as photo opportunities: fans posed for photos next to a larger-than-life image of composer Wendy Carlos and by the circuit boards that once powered the synths of Kraftwerk, Dr. Dre, and Bernie Worrell (who to the delight of fans, dropped in for an impromptu session at the Factory). 

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A view of Yuri Suzuki’s interactive Global Synthesizer Project.

In the spirit of encouraging a Maker Culture, the three finalists of Moog’s 5
th Annual Circuit Bending Challenge were on display—a contest that asks contestants to create a unique electronic instrument for $70 or less. One wall was taken up by a collection of analog synthesizers in the shape of a world map. Designed by sound-art designer Yuri Suzuki, the Global Synthesizer Project asked people to contribute audio recordings of their regions. When the project debuted at Moogfest, visitors were allowed to interact by creating wire “patches” to play the gigantic archive of international sound. 

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The Minimoog Model D, exploded and assembled.

Moog Music also used the buzz around the festival to announce the revival of one of their most iconic synthesizers—the
Minimoog Model D. Using a remarkable amount of research, craftsmanship, and detail-oriented production, the company is staying true to the original 1970 version, down to the last circuit. Visitors could see an “exploded” Minimoog, and step over to the factory stations, where the various stages of their assembly was explained

moog-groupDarion Bradley of Make Noise shows off a modular synthesizer system.

Moogfest, out of necessity and the modern spirit of music-making, isn’t
all Moog all the time. In fact, there is a general spirit of comradery and democracy that permeates the event. In the Modular Marketplace, modern-day instrument makers show off their capabilities. In particular, small companies who create Eurorack modules—a sort of synthesizer that you can build piece-by-piece, by chaining together components—have a strong presence at Moogfest. Companies like Synthrotek, Mutable Instruments, Bleep Labs (along with dozens of others) demonstrated their gear and allowed people to try it out. The philosophies of innovation behind the Asheville-based Make Noise company seemed particularly relevant—not only with regard to their own instruments—but also to the general values found among creative technologists at this particular moment in time: “We see our instruments as a collaboration with musicians who create once in a lifetime performances that push boundaries and play the notes between the notes to discover the unfound sounds. We want our instruments to be an experience, one that will require us to change our trajectories and thereby impact the way we understand and imagine sound.”  

Kristen Gallerneaux is Curator of Communications and Information Technology at The Henry Ford.

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