Sean Williams > Spare a thought for the hardware engineers

During recording on Saturday night my laptop hard drive failed. Totally. This meant that the rest of the weekend was spent making a hardware controller and considering the design details of some bits and pieces found in some boxes in the lab.

The physical traces of human design and craft evident in these circuits can be thought of, to my mind, as an extension of the compositional process, and there must be a useful way of engaging with this type of (sound) design on an aesthetic level as well as a functional level. It looks like there are far easier ways of building these kinds of circuits, and in many cases you would simply use a computer instead. However, we have here material evidence of the creative music process as seen from the engineer’s perspective.

Have a look at these examples and see if they provoke any kind of aesthetic reaction:

STEIM LED display

STEIM LED display

STEIM LED display rear

STEIM LED display rear

And another piece of the puzzle – probably the controller for the LED display:

STEIM LED driver component side

STEIM LED driver component side

STEIM LED driver solder side

STEIM LED driver solder side

You can see the care taken in the complementary layout of both the component sides and the solder sides of these boards, including useful patches of copper left for etching production details and info including a logo, a serial number, and the function of the board. Without much further examination, one can safely assume that the pins marked with red dots are positive voltage pins, and the ones with black dots are ground. This is one level of information communication from designer to designer, but are there others?

Is the orange colour of the connecting wires on the LED module accidental, useful or an aesthetic choice? What about the solid red resistors on the driver board? If aesthetic, what/where/who is the intended audience? Designers, engineers, performers, users, material researchers…? Is there an audience beyond the personal aesthetic of the circuit designer or was this layout just the most practical way of doing it? How does this type of sound design situate itself socially within the field of electronic music, and who do we need to acknowledge here?

Questions, questions…

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