Homebrew Electronics: A Studio Visit with Steven Litt of CrudLabs

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Kitteh! Steve’s cats Perrey and Kingsley’s homage to CatSynth

Homebrew Electronics is a series on the Rhizome blog. For these posts, I will be conducting studio visits with artists and inventors who create unique electronic instruments.

Last week, I met with Steven Litt of CrudLabs at his Greenpoint apartment. While a graduate student at NYU’s ITP program, Steve developed a machine known as the CrudBox. Central to his installations and performances, the CrudBox allows users to plug electronic or electromechanic devices into a 16 step, 8 channel step sequencer. While normal sequencers draw from a set bank of sounds, the CrudBox allows one to plug in devices such as turntables or solenoids or power tools, opening up the range of sounds one can sequence.

In his living room, Steve had plugged in seven portable turntables into a CrudBox.

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Portable Turntables plugged into a CrudBox

The exterior of this version of the CrudBox was designed by Steve’s friend artist Panayiotis Terzis, who silkscreened all the imagery on the exterior.

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The CrudBox

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Detail of Panayiotis Terzis's silkscreen on the exterior of the CrudBox

The turntables operate off AC voltage, and the CrudBox runs off DC, so Steve had set up a system of high voltage relays so each turntable can be individually activated without any issues. These relay modules allow any wall powered devices to be easily plugged in and sequenced by CrudBox.

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Close-up of one of the relays

In order to control a turntable, the switch at the top left hand side of the CrudBox must be pointed toward the turntable one wants to start.

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Knob on the top left side of the CrudBox

The sequences are controlled by the bottom row of buttons, and the tempo by the knob. The sequences tell the turntables when to stop and go at different intervals.

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Bottom row of buttons and Tempo Knob on the CrudBox

Most of the records themselves were instrumental electronic albums and Steve mentioned that he had attempted to use pop records, such as the Beach Boys, with little success. Other people who had used the same set up seemed to have more luck with integrating different genres of music, but Steve said he hadn’t found the right balance yet.

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Stack of some of the records used in the portable turntable version of the CrudBox

Steve also showed me another version of the CrudBox, the one he uses most often in performance.

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The CrudBox

Steven Litt Performing with the CrudBox

This version activates a number of solenoids, which hit strips of metals, wood, and plastic amplified by contact mics, making a variation of clanking noises. Steve also attaches springs and other objects to the solenoids during performances to create more resonant, pitched sounds and complex harmonics.

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Close-up of the solenoids on the CrudBox

Like the portable turntable CrudBox, the different solenoids are selected by the upper left hand knob, and then sequenced accordingly to tempo by the bottom row of buttons.

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The CrudBox

Steve uses the machine to sequence different rhythmic patterns, making raw techno music. You can listen to clips here.

Steve offered to show the turntable edition of the CrudBox to visitors, if they get in touch through his website. You can also check his site for upcoming performances and installations.