Affordable, tactile, quirky electronic noisemaking gadgets?
August 14, 2010 8:17 AM   Subscribe

Please recommend me some affordable, tactile, quirky electronic instruments / noise making toys / effects. I already have a Korg Kaoss Pad 3, Alesis Air FX, and a Stylophone, and am going to buy a Korg Monotron - I'm looking for suggestions along similar lines.

You know the kind of thing - not exactly a proper, serious instrument, but more flexible and with more longevity than just a toy. I don't mind if it's high- or low-fi, basically I just want something you can play with out the box and get interesting sounds out of, with the emphasis on it being interactive, inspirational, and fun, rather than it being deeply programmable or particular useful in actual song production. Ideally standalone rather than requiring computer connection, and if it runs on batteries that's a bonus too. Thanks in advance.
posted by iivix to Technology (19 answers total) 23 users marked this as a favorite

Gristlism - Throbbing Gristle facsimile of the Gristleizer straight from Chris Carter himself, only $30 last I checked
Buddha Machine - Eno supposedly bought a zillion of these

if you have an iPod or IPhone, Bloom is Eno's app where you "draw" music. And if you have a DS, Electroplankton or the Korg DS-10.
posted by ifjuly at 8:27 AM on August 14, 2010 [1 favorite]

Have you every considered circuit bending?. There's some serious fun to be had!
posted by Cat Pie Hurts at 8:29 AM on August 14, 2010

And sometimes if you look hard enough at thrift stores or eBay or otherwise get lucky, you can find Casio SK-1s, or the RadioShack knockoff. It's a sampling keyboard where you can put in any sound, like burping or whatever, and manipulate it.

A couple of the dudes my guy hangs out with who also love this shit recently have begun having babies and one in particular loves to circuit bend his toddler's music toys, so if you're at all savvy with that stuff it's an easy fun approach.
posted by ifjuly at 8:30 AM on August 14, 2010

Oh, and someone on etsy makes optical theremins for pretty cheap. You could always also get the "build your own theremin" kit; I believe they're right around 100.
posted by ifjuly at 8:31 AM on August 14, 2010

Oh, and this is from out of left field but the upcoming version of Rock Band is going to include a MIDI guitar. My guy and his synth-geeky friends are all salivating for it; they could care less about playing the game but are going to buy that guitar. One of them bought the best approximation available a few years ago, ordered it from Japan and it was a big ordeal. They can't wait for this.
posted by ifjuly at 8:34 AM on August 14, 2010

Rock Band is going to include a MIDI guitar

You can already use a Guitar Hero controller as a midi device. And considering it's just using the XBOX360 controller driver stack, a Rock Band guitar should work just as well. No need to wait!
posted by Cat Pie Hurts at 8:43 AM on August 14, 2010

Best answer: Look into electronic versions of traditional Indian instruments like shruti boxes or electronic tablas.

"...We noticed a music shop across the street from the theater that sold African and Asian instruments. We went in and were seduced by the Radel "Taal Mala" drum machine, a device that uses analogue synthesis to replicate the sounds of the tabla. This little box comes with many preset "Taals," the traditional beats which serve as the rhythmic spines for the extended performances of traditional Indian music, but they can be re-tuned and sped up or slowed down like an 808."

Copy pasted from the website for Matmos that, if you do a bit of clicking, goes into crazy detail about how they make their music and will surely yield more crazy ass geek gear you've never heard of but now really, really want.
posted by Juliet Banana at 8:44 AM on August 14, 2010 [1 favorite]

Not to derail but Cat Pie Hurts, my husband has a fierce personal dislike for the Xbox and refuses to ever buy one or anything specifically for it.

Anyway, given your specific parameters in the question, OP, of the brainfartsstorms I've come up with I'd say the optical theremins on etsy fit best. They're under $40 iirc and remind me of the stylophone--very toy-ish but not completely disposable junk either.
posted by ifjuly at 8:49 AM on August 14, 2010

I know this doesn't quite fit under "electronic", but harmonicas are usually $10 or less, portable, and ridiculously fun. Also, wireless!
posted by LSK at 9:43 AM on August 14, 2010

Get a Nintendo DS with Electroplankton. It's a quirky and fun music program. I think it's what you are looking for.

Also, there's a Korg synth for the DS, the Korg DS-10.
posted by jgwong at 10:04 AM on August 14, 2010

I came to note the Korg DS-10 on the Nintendo DS. It actually has a ton of screw-around potential, a touchscreen-keyboard, sequencer, and kaoss-pad-type interface, a rudimentary drum generator, and a reasonable amount of ability to multitrack recorded sequences. There are some other music toys for the DS as well (including a guitar synth) but I haven't played with any of those.
posted by nanojath at 10:34 AM on August 14, 2010

Paia has been the place to go for cheap homebrew electronic music toys for over 50 years (no, really!)

I'd say "definitely not" to the Korg Monotron - there isn't enough to do, you'll get bored quickly. For about $30 more, you can get a Kaoscillator, which is hours of fun.

My late friend Doug Walker used to say that no electronic music studio is complete without a slide whistle - you can get plastic for under $10, but spring the extra $15 for the metal one if you are going to get it, it'll last you a lifetime.

This professional-quality kazoo is a steal at $20 - wish I could find mine but the sound quality is excellent.

And as someone else pointed out, circuit bending is a very big winner - partly because you're recycling old electronics that would otherwise go into the garbage, and partly because once you've mastered the basic techniques, the material is very cheap.
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 12:41 PM on August 14, 2010

Suzuki Omnichord sounds kinda like what you are asking for.
posted by ovvl at 1:56 PM on August 14, 2010

This is more like a toy, but a friend had one and it was a lot of fun. Ran through batteries quick, but man -- he was jamming on an electric and I used it to "sing" the harmony to "creep" -- good times.

posted by diocletian at 5:50 PM on August 14, 2010

Man, that stuff is all super commercial and mega-manufactured.

You might want to try something even further off the beaten path...

Ciat-Lonbarde, especially the Sidrassi Organ...
posted by Joseph Gurl at 5:55 PM on August 14, 2010 [1 favorite]

What? The Gristleism is pretty much as un mega-manufactured as can be, as are the homemade optical theremins on etsy.

I can in to mention in regards to the side derail, the other thing that makes the upcoming MIDI guitar for Rock Band 3 awesome is the GH hack still doesn't actually have strings. This will.
posted by ifjuly at 6:21 PM on August 14, 2010

Response by poster: Thanks everyone, some great suggestions, much appreciated. I don't have a DS or anything to run Guitar Hero on, so those things hadn't even occurred to me. I'm not great with a soldering iron, so kits and circuit bending weren't top of my mind, but it looks like it's something worth investigating. In terms of surprisingly leftfield options, I'm particularly taken with the idea of an electronic shruti box - although it doesn't seem to do a whole lot, I didn't even know they existed, so I definitely want to find out more.

> I'd say "definitely not" to the Korg Monotron - there isn't enough to do, you'll get bored quickly. For about $30 more, you can get a Kaoscillator, which is hours of fun.

I think what sold me on the Monotron is that you can feed in an external source and use it as a filter module, so even when the synth itself gets boring, it's still going to be a useful bit of kit. As for a Kaoscillator, I've seen them around but to be honest I have no idea what it does - I know it's some kind of synth, but how does the "sequencer" side of it work?
posted by iivix at 12:01 PM on August 15, 2010

Bliptronic 5000
Stylophone Beatbox

several of these are now being sold by Think Geek which makes them easy to get but less "unique," if that's an issue.
posted by Karlos the Jackal at 3:45 AM on August 16, 2010

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