Chuck Stephens joined us last year at our inaugural Tampa Bay Mini Maker Faire as RedSquid Art Stencils and Design, crafting a poster for us that everyone enjoyed. This year, he’s gifted us with a new one and added a new component to his Maker exhibit – a Noise Zoo! Intrigued by the multidisciplinary interests and skills Chuck brings to our Mini Maker Faire, we thought you’d enjoy learning more about him, too.
TBMMF: Tell us about yourself !
CS: I’m a guy who likes to make things and think about stuff. I make electronic and acoustic instruments, I paint, I scribble in notebooks constantly, I work with metal and wood, I cook, and I read a lot. I learn every day.
My tools are my toys and my work is my play. I treat my brain as a tool and I’m never bored. My mother says that making me sit in the corner or go to time out never worked because I could entertain myself in an empty room.
TBMMF: You brought some stencil art to our inaugural event, but this year you’ve got a “Noise Zoo” – tell us about that.
CS: In William Gibson’s Neuromancer there is a space station named Zion which is inhabited by Rastafarians. The station has an artificial intelligence that produces an original, computer generated dub reggae soundtrack that constantly changes. That image has stuck with me for years.
I turned 40 last year and instead of buying a sports car or chasing my secretary, I became obsessed with learning electronics. I saw a video of the Atari Punk Console on Make blog and decided to go for it. I was hooked. I bought Forrest Mims’ books and did a bunch of web research, but mostly I just did it. I started learning about analog synthesizers and sequencers and eventually my mind returned to the rasta dub machine from Neuromancer. I started working on ways to add randomness and variety to these circuits while still maintaining some level of musical structure and rhythm.
The Noise Zoo is the result of this work. It is a series of analog synth, noise and percussion circuits controlled by various lights, off-set gate sequencers, motion devices, video screens, and other gizmos. The overall effect is musical, shifting, rhythmic sound, what I think of as robot jazz.
TBMMF: What will folks be able to do at your exhibit?
CS: Build a Noise Zoo of your own! I’ve put together a reasonably priced kit with breadboards, components and an instructional booklet that you can use to explore the circuits on your own. I’ve included easy to follow directions for building circuits like the Atari Punk Console, various oscillators, an FM synthesizer, several different LED flashers and more. I’ll be giving a workshop at the Faire explaining the circuits and how I’ve applied them to my projects. Afterwards we can play with some circuits and make some noise. I’m also bringing some of my other musical projects for folks to play with. I can’t wait!
TBMMF: You seem to make a lot of things – what do you like making best? Or – conversely – what about making anything do you like best? What’s your inspiration?
CS:I describe myself as a little boy chasing butterflies through a field. I just pursue what interests me. My favorite thing to make is the next thing I’m planning to make. I’m always looking for something new. My favorite part is the first hour or so after the project is done when you get to play with it (I make a lot of noisy projects so this is my wife’s least favorite part).
I’m inspired by patterns and rhythms inherent in the world around us- traffic, shifting urban shadows, sunlight through swaying branches, weather patterns and graphed statistics of population, consumption, distribution and other societal factors and cyclic events. My super secret next project involves turning these glacially slow cycles into beats and musical arrangements.
TBMMF: Anything else you’d like to share?
CS: I can’t wait for the Tampa Bay Mini Maker Faire!
And we can’t wait for the Noise Zoo! Thanks, Chuck! You can see more creatures from Chuck’s Noise Zoo on his Vimeo channel.