Bleep Labs, the analog manufacturer from Dr. Bleep (John-Mike Reed) made a splash in the industry over the past few years and the Thingamagoop has turned into a cult classic if there ever was one. Here today we're going to showcase the Thingamagoop 2 noise generator as well as their Nebulaphone, an uncased xylophone-esque arduino-based synthesizer that's been in production since 2009 and upgraded accordingly. Now since receiving the Thingamagoop unit they've stopped production on the current Thingamagoop 2 model, but you might be able to find one on Ebay and can still grab the Nebulaphone online along with some more unique creations, including the recently released Delaydelus sampler/delay made in partnership with Daedelus and Bleep Labs.
The Thingamagoop is a handheld synth that features a clear acrylic front panel to showcase the flashing lights and internal circuitry. It's housed in a sturdy metal casing, looking like it's meant to take a beating and would stand up well in a live scenario, especially considering the interactive LEDacle on top that affects the filter cutoff. It's not meant to play a musical scale of notes however and you're more likely to find it useful in at atmospheric role.
The Nebulaphone on the other hand, offers a xylophone-playing surface that is triggered through a metal clip that engages the notes, and arpeggio settings that create a miniature synth with more power than meets the eye. Just watch and listen to the video below to experience its full potential.
CUT TO THE CHASE
The good: The Thingamagoop is one of the quirkiest machines to hit the market over the last few years but interactive light sensors make for an incredibly fun experiment in noise.
The bad: If the Nebulaphone featured MIDI it could be a serious contender but it's still great to use live or as a sample generator.
The deal maker: Rich, complex sounds from machines that fit in the palm of your hand make these a fun addition to any setup.
BEHIND THE SCENES
The Thingamagoop 2 is about the size of your average guitar pedal, and can generate digital or analog sounds from an analog VCO. It has an antenna or LEDacle that sticks out the top, which at the end of it has a light that when pointed towards or away from the sensor will change the frequency cutoff. With a few switches and knobs to control the source and waveform, as well as an arcade style button on the side that cuts the audio in and out and makes the device "somewhat" playable, the beauty of this little box is the sheer weirdness that comes out of it. It's not necessarily musical but in terms of white noise and odd frequencies and sounds, Bleep Labs has delivered one of the all time best noise machines, still a favourite a few years after initial release and priced at under $200 (if you can find one).
Dr. Bleep's Nebulaphone takes the traditional xylophone that you played as a child and turns it into a one of a kind bass synthesizer that fits in the palm of your hand. The second edition of the Nebulaphone is capable of pumping out some rich, raw analog sounds across a wide range of octaves and generated by touching the metal clip to any part of the metal strip along the bottom of the uncased Arduino board. You've got three simple knobs to manipulate the sound and an arpeggiator built right in, as well as eight wave form options to radically alter the sound from white noise to sine wave and more. At only $75 the powerful sounds that this little beast can deliver is well worth it for a micro studio addition, and could be a fun way to introduce synthesizers at a basic level.
Diving a bit into the specifics of the Thingamagoop 2, there is a VCO knob that can switch between multiple waveforms, and directly next to that are two metal switches that determine whether it's analog or digitally produced, and then high or low octave range. The quality of each individual potentiometer and switch is superb, providing a permanent synthesizer solution. On the lower row there are two knobs and a switch in between them. The mod control on the left acts as a LFO modulation and the switch next to it chooses the type of waveform for the LFO. The right control works in conjunction with the antenna/LEDacle, specifying the flash rate of the light that ultimately controls the cutoff frequency by the amount of light that reaches the eye-like receptor near the top of the front plate. Each element is assembled with precision and feels of the highest quality. The see-through acrylic cover lets the internal colourful lights flicker as they respond to parameter changes on the knobs and antenna, while the heavy aluminum exterior casing has an industrial aesthetic that surely will stand the test of time.
On the other end of the spectrum, the minimal design of the Nebulaphone leaves it bare-skinned with all the elements exposed. While this inhibits some who would prefer a finished unit, it does leave the option open for customization, as the xylophone playing surface can be adopted into any home made casing with a little effort. In addition, the cost of this surprisingly powerful bass synth was able to be kept to a minimum and as a studio addition, there's really no need to spend the extra money on something that is in a protected environment all the time anyways. That being said, the build quality of the actual components that are present with the Nebulaphone are excellent. Rubberized knobs and the metal clip turn it into a fun and interactive sound generator.