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March 8th, 9th, 10th, 2013.
Machines to make Machines
by Tim Phillips
The Mechanical Drum Machine is pretty much complete, but not without a storm of activity and collaboration from a lot of people. With the goal of being a public interactive instrument, quantity and quality have become an important part of scaling up the Machine. I thought I'd take you through some of the fun I've had sourcing all the parts.
The largest obstacle was the gears and my greedy designs demanding nearly 100 of them. Given that one gear took about an hour to cut out by hand, I was looking for a machine to do the work for me when I got an offer that was better than I dreamed of...
A local fabrication company called Group Delphi were excited by the project and wanted to collaborate. They very kindly offered their expertise (and the most state-of-the-art CNC machine I've ever seen) as a donation to create all the gears we would need. Given that I'm building a big machine as a musical instrument, you can imagine how excited I was to see all of my imagined gears being precisely cut out by an even bigger machine.
Wanting to share that excitement, here is a nice geeky video for you of the CNC machine cutting out the gears.
A big thank you to John Bradford and all at Group Delphi who helped make this possible! (That's John below).
Clips & Sticks:
Binder clips and drum sticks are very cheap, so we could just buy those, but we needed a strong reliable motor to drive the whole thing. I have a number of mechanic friends who all enjoyed (a little too much) discussing my best option and sent me off on my virgin voyage to something called the 'Pick 'n' Pull' to find a windshield wiper motor (chosen for it's durability and high torque at low speeds...).
The Pick 'n' Pull is a highly organized scrap yard. There are hundreds of cars, each up on blocks in varying states of dismantlement. It's so simple, but kind of a genius sustainable practice. If you need a part for your car, you find a car like yours, then find the part and take it out yourself. Then you know how to put it back in your own car, plus it is cheap.
The durability of the windshield wiper motor was proven, as absolutely every one of these cars still had it, i.e. no one needed a replacement. This made it hard to choose which one we should take. We settled on the Ford Focus, mostly because the engine was gone making it easy to work on.
A motor is fine, but it is better if it's running and even better if it's got buttons and knobs to control the speed. From mechanics, to electricians - enter my ever generous friend Sam. Sam not only worked out how to change the speed of the motor without loosing torque or over-heating, but he also got me in on the soldering action and pretty much understanding how it works.
I found a stash of old hard drive magnets on ebay.
The sheet steel for the tabletop was kindly donated by the firm I work for:
Gyroscope Inc. | Artists, Architects and Designers
This just left a bunch of tinkering, cutting, screwing and painting, although there is still plenty to get done before unleashing the Mechanical Drum Machine at the museum. However, it does now work and we got to test it out on the public down at the Bing Concert Hall at
Here's a little sample:
CHARCOT MARIE TOOTH
by Kristin Conover
I am the only person in my family with CMT and growing up, my body was not a safe place. The falls and clumsiness made it unsafe physically, and the teasing made it unsafe socially. I saw doctors and they made guesses about my oddly shaped feet and recommended surgeries. I quit any physical activities by junior high, but didn’t receive the correct diagnosis until my first year of college. I cried for a long time – months, probably. The worst was all the unknowns and my youthful imagination. They say that the first phase of grief is denial, but for me it was worrying. No one would ever be attracted to me and even if someone wanted to be with me, I would only be a burden. At the end of a string of worries, I inevitably imagined my future self in sweatpants, alone, unable to open a jar of bargain chocolates.
I guess it was a few months post-diagnosis that I entered into my second phase – denial. It might sound strange, but for five years I didn’t believe I had CMT. Most of my friends didn’t know and I forgot to mention it to people I worked with or dated. My doctors didn’t act like it was a big deal and my parents followed suit. I didn’t think I really needed the orthotics and ankle braces I was prescribed and I could walk without them. Forgetting protected me and I felt safe again – knowing but not knowing, real but not real, CMT but no CMT.
Denial felt safe, but it was unsustainable. A cross-country move and training as a therapist jolted me out of my state of suspended emotion. Most important was the experience of meeting other people with CMT for the first time. I attended meetings of the Boston CMT Support Group and participated in events to raise money for CMT research. Unlike my experiences with able-bodied doctors, people with CMT had answers to the questions I really cared about, like where to find good shoes and how to tell friends and partners about CMT. Mostly though, it was great to hear that other people shared my worries and experiences. Looking back, forming connections marked my third phase of adjusting to CMT.
It was hard to leave
and its wonderful CMTers, as I learned to call us, to move to a beach town
with no CMT support group or fundraisers. I was just beginning to feel safe in
my body and I liked it. That’s when I turned to a dear friend of mine, the
Internet. When I was diagnosed six years earlier, CMT websites were scary
places. I was an able-bodied person, despite all the evidence, and these
websites featured pictures of people in wheelchairs. Googling my disease always
ended with tears. Now, however, my in-person connections provided me with a
foundation to overcome these fears. I joined a CMT Facebook group and began
chatting with and friending other CMTers. I posted my thoughts and questions
and responded to posts from others, sharing stories of falls and pedicures,
information about braces and feet warmers, pictures of surgeries, and decisions
about having or not having children. I became part of a supportive CMT
community that got it and was there for me any time of the day or night. California
Being given so much by CMT and CMTers, I developed a desire to be more active in disability communities and work to improve the lives of people with disabilities. Those people that I once ignored and then feared, I now see as “my people.” The perpetual student, I am currently working on my dissertation exploring the impact of negative disability-related social interactions on people with disabilities. Not only has the CMT community made me stronger than I would have been without CMT, in my current phase it has also given me a sense of drive and purpose. I still feel frustrated and sad at times, and I’m often in pain, but I also feel friendship and happiness and love directed toward myself and toward others like me.
To end with the requisite life lesson, I guess I’ve learned that true safety, the kind sturdy enough to get you through the really hard times, isn’t inherited. Safety is created and it is shared. My body is a safe place because I care for myself and allow others to care for me too.