A few years back, fellow Austinite and circuit-bending prodigy, Dr. Bleep wowed both the geek-toy and musical instrument community with an ingenious little device called the Thingamagoop (reviewed in the April ’08 issue of Keyboard). Looking like a small robot with a flexible LED “antenna,” the original Thingamagoop was part analog noisemaker, part 21st-century theremin, and all fun. The ’Goop sold literally thousands of units, which is nothing short of extraordinary for a handmade analog gadget.
Last fall, just before the holidays, Bleep Labs ripped the wrapping off the latest incarnation of the Thingamagoop, and boy, was it worth the wait.
Click here for YouTube video from Bleep Labs.
Click here for my own audio example of random doodling.
The original included an analog oscillator that spewed a dirty square wave, which was in turn modulated by an LFO with either square or random waveforms. The pitch was controlled by light; the more intense the source, the higher the pitch. That’s where the LED antenna — called a “LEDacle” — comes in. Its proximity to the Thingamagoop’s “eye” sensor determined the pitch, though melodic performance wasn’t really an option due to the sensitivity of its photo-resistor (and ambient light considerations).
This year’s model ratchets the original idea up a few notches and makes the Thingamagoop 2 a veritable fountain of sonic inspiration. Diehard fans of the original will be happy that the LEDacle and light-to-pitch control are still in place, but the tone generating circuitry is an order of magnitude more complex — and more useful.
For starters, the analog VCO can be controlled directly by the photocell or by a digital signal courtesy an Arduino chip. (arduino.cc) If you’re an übergeek, you’ll be aware that this means the digital behavior can be modified and reprogrammed to your heart’s content, provided you have the know-how and tools to reprogram the chip — definitely not for the faint of heart. For less technically inclined users, this digital mode delivers five different effects, continuously variable from a single knob. The effects smoothly shift between the five modes in the following order: Sample-and-Hold, Arpeggio 1, Arpeggio 2, White Noise, and Bit-Crushed digital data. The first three modes deliver musically pitched results that you can easily record into a DAW or sampler, then fine-tuned into something more traditional. The last two modes are more experimental. White noise creates classic “computer” random effects, while the bit-crushed mode is perfect for straight-up dirty techno.
The Mod section includes a three-position switch for off, square and triangle options. The square mode is basically an amplitude LFO that ranges from standard low-frequency fare all the way into audio rate modulation for ring mod effects. The triangle mode switches the LFO to pulse-width modulation – instantly making the sound creamy, fat and thick with a hint of that trance lead vibe. Pushed into the audio ranges, the triangle PWM adds a sideband-infused crunchiness that’s usually the domain of modular gear.
In the realm of performance options, the LEDacle gets an upgrade with variable rate ramp and random options for pulsing the light source for further modulation fun. In addition, there’s a nifty trigger button on the side that gates the audio output for rhythmic effects0. As to construction, the thing is built like a tank, with a solid aluminum casing and knobs that feel robust. The speaker’s a lot louder too.
While these revisions give the Thingamagoop 2 a level of sound quality and flexibility that’s light years ahead of its predecessor, there’s one final trick up its robotic sleeve: CV in and out. This means you can control the relative pitch of this baby directly from a voltage-controlled analog synth like my vintage Roland SH-101 or newer Doepfer Dark Energy (reviewed here). Granted, the pitch tracking is sloppy as heck and doesn’t conform to any volt-per-octave standard, but it does mean you can sequence tonal patterns — or even use the CV out of the Thingamagoop 2 to control the pitch of a giant modular synth, which is seriously nifty for a box in this price range.
I swung by Wolfgang Gartner’s studio a few weeks back and let him take the Thingamagoop 2 out for a spin. His response: “For $195 this level of inspiration is an absolute steal. I want one!”
Totally unique analog sound. Wide range of textures despite few knobs. Light controlled. CV ins and outs for interfacing with analog gear.
Interface precludes melodic playing, even with CV in.
$195 fully assembled; $130 in kit form