Sounds intriguing: Audacious – Festival of Sonic Arts

Throughout the first weekend of March, central Christchurch will resonate with an exciting programme of sonic art installations, workshops, sound walks and performances at Audacious, Canterbury’s first ever Festival of Sonic Art.

As both a festival artist and organiser I am very excited about this event and the fantastic range of artworks, activities and experiences Audacious will bring to the city. My own work, Sunburners will be installed on the bank of the Avon River on Oxford Terrace between Hereford and Cashel Streets. It utilizes simple solarbots to tap out minimal but constantly shifting rhythmic patterns as the solarbots speed up and slow down relative to the amount of sunlight shining on them.

This gives the work both an uncanny life of its own and some fun interactive potential as the audience can slow down the solarbots individually by casting shadows on them. The sonic characteristics of the work are very different depending on the levels of sunlight so that in dim weather it is quite subdued and delicate while in full, bright sunshine it becomes rather loud and very fast and furious. I’m crossing my fingers for mostly good weather with a bit of variety in cloud cover for best results.

Sunburners Study by Adam Willetts
Sunburners Study by Adam Willetts

Information from Audacious:

Highlights include A Folded Path the pedestrian symphony created specifically for the streets of Christchurch by UK artists, Circumstance; a water sound sculpture created by Chris Reddington and Tom Phillpotts (Christchurch); solar powered sonic sculptures on the banks of the River Avon by Adam Willetts (Christchurch); sonic glass rods made by Alastair Galbraith (Dunedin) that can be played by passersby and the lost sounds of the city returned, such as the Cathedral Bells, by Stanier Black-Five (Christchurch).

There’s also a chance to get hand/ears-on at the series of sonic workshops over the weekend: from building and playing Taonga Puoro/Traditional Maori instruments, with local experts Tony Smith (Ngāti Kahungunu, Ngāi Tahu – Kāti Irakehu) and Geoff Low (Christchurch) to building your own synthesizer with Nicolas Woollaston (Christchurch). There are also a number of sessions specifically designed for children, such as those led by sound artist and science educator, Dr Claire Pannell (Australia) who will be exploring how we hear and helping children build sound making instruments to take home, and sound based story sessions with experimental guitarist and former Christchurch City Libraries Storytimes star, Greg Malcolm (Christchurch).

For full festival details and booking information visit


Music makers

Delia plays her Dad’s homemade modular synthesizer at the Dance-O-Mat

The practice of building and hacking unique musical instruments has a long and fascinating history filled with wonderful characters and contraptions such as Harry Partch, the BBC Radiophonic Workshop, Reed Ghazala and New Zealand’s own Phil Dadson.

The inventive work of such pioneers can often seem beyond the range of normal human skills but building your own musical instruments and sound-making devices can actually be very achievable and rewarding. Thanks to the explosion of “maker” culture fueled by the internet over the last decade or so, there is now a great range of resources and support available for would be instrument builders.

There are still relatively few books available on this subject but one really great one is Handmade Electronic Music: The Art Of Hardware Hacking by Nicolas Collins. This title was recommended to me by Dunedin artist and musician Pete Gorman who has built some fantastic instruments and sculptures based on Collins’ designs.

In a number of fun projects Collins covers lots of important beginners topics such as tools, soldering techniques and basic electronics. As well as detailing projects for building instruments from scratch Collins also provide a lot of helpful guidance for hacking or circuit-bending existing devices or instruments. Circuit-bending is an idea originally developed by Reed Ghazala and describes the process of creatively short-circuiting and modifying battery-powered instruments and toys to make them behave in new and surprising ways. This can be a fun and accessible way to get started with instrument building, hacking and electronics in general because you begin with something that already works.

If you have an interest in any form of DIY technology, Make magazine is great for all things geeky and homemade and often features musical projects encompassing everything from cigar box guitars to digital synthesizers. Even some of the non-musical projects  in Make would be inspiring reference points for instrument builders.

A large area of recent growth in the DIY musical instrument community has been analogue synthesizers. From simple projects such as Ray Wilson’s Sound Lab Mini Synth to room-sized, modular monsters, the synth DIY community is larger and more active than at anytime since the 1970’s. Some the best resources for synth DIY are online discussion forums such as the DIY forums at and These sites can seem a bit arcane and intimidating on first glance but are generally very friendly and supportive of both noobs and experts alike. Ray Wilson’s  websites are a great place for beginner synth builders to start reading and learning. At  Music From Outer Space Wilson presents many well-documented open-source circuit designs and some good introductory reading about synthesis while at Solder he provides lots of very useful online tools for helping with electronics and synth design.