Skip to Content

College of Arts & Sciences
Film and Media Studies Program

sound hardware hacking workshop with Nicholas Collins

2012 Events

Hacking Workshop with Nicolas Collins

Columbia Museum of Art
February 25, 2012

Visiting sound artist Nicolas Collins conducted a full-day hardware hacking workshop for about 40 students enrolled in FILM 511S (Sound Studies) and MART 341 (Sound Design).  The workshop took place in the Garden Terrace at the Columbia Museum of Art, where members of the general public were able to watch and enjoy the students' work.

Collins began the workshop with a brief overview of basic goals and principles of hardware hacking (repurposing salvaged radios, loudspeakers, tape players, and other common audio equipment to create abstract electronic musical compositions), then guided participants through a series of hands-on exercises designed to instruct them in basic hacking techniques that he has fine-tuned through the years and elaborated in his book, Handmade Electronic Music: The Art of Hardware Hacking (Routledge 2009, 2nd ed.).

Students learned how to generate sounds from a raw loudspeaker using only a smoke alarm battery, clip leads, and pieces of scrap metal.  They also created wondrous theremin-like noises from discarded AM radios by sliding their fingers across the exposed circuit boards, discovered new worlds of sound in magnetic strips of credit cards and metro passes by sliding them across the playback heads of gutted tape decks, and rewired the circuits of everyday sound-producing kids' toys to let them bend the pitches at will.  In addition, students created their own contact microphones, which they used to explore the sounding properties of everyday objects, including a Slinky.  They used induction microphones to discover otherwise inaudible variations in electromagnetic fields from light switches and laptops, and they learned how to convert their loudspeakers into functioning microphones.

Collins has expressed great satisfaction with the outcome of the workshop and extends his thanks to the University and Museum for making this event possible. Students in both the Film and Media Studies and Media Arts programs have also expressed their gratitude for the opportunity to participate in this event, saying that this was one of the most meaningful and memorable experiences of their college careers, and a number of them have decided to incorporate the techniques they learned in their own creative works and papers.


Indie Grits Film Festival

Nickelodeon Theatre
April 20-29, 2012

Film and Media Studies was a co-sponsor of the 2012 Indie Grits Film Festival. Our students participated as interns and volunteers, attended screenings, and mingled with fimmakers and the judges: Sarah Finklea (Janus Films), Martha Stephens (Director, Pilgrim Song), and Jesse Hawthorne Ficks (Programmer at the Castro Theater and Film Journalist with the SF Bay Guardian).