These are primitive, limited instruments, but they're so visually striking that I routinely have curious onlookers asking what these things are and where they can get one for themselves. They also demand a tactile form of interaction that is distinctly refreshing when working with computers, or even more haptic instruments like synthesisers and drum machines. And even though Electro Lobotomy's one-off designs have been available for some time, their obscurity means they're new to many people.
The first Electro Lobotomy instrument I bought was a Sonic Forest. It is literally a box containing a contact microphone with different wires shoved into it. It runs on a 9V battery, (mine hasn't run flat in almost two years of solid use) has a mute switch and tone and bias knobs. And that's it. It's a ridiculously simple instrument that might even inspire you to start building your own DIY instruments.
Without extra effects, it has an understandably raw edge. The first time I plugged it in, I felt a little silly for buying it because it just sounds like a box with wires sticking out of it. The point is that you need to experiment to get the most out of it. Introduce spatial processing, looping and a bow, and you have instant Einstürzende Neubauten.
From a dance music production perspective, the Sonic Forest will naturally appeal to producers making techno with industrial and noise aesthetics. In such contexts, a Sonic Forest is a great means of creating sound by hand, so to speak. Creaking, groaning, wailing textures can be generated that no synthesiser can match. Of course, anything you record with a Sonic Forest can also be a starting point for further experimentation—layering it with synthetic sounds is a great way of injecting a unique ambience and tonal quality.
Other producers might be offended or amused by the above example of the Sonic Forest. But it doesn't have to be used in a violent manner. It can find a place in any sort of atmospheric, evocative music. You can gently run your fingernail along the ribbed edges of a wire to create a rhythmic texture not unlike quickening footsteps in a corridor. Then sample it, reverse it, change the pitch and speed and you have a ratcheting, bouncing-ball effect that'd be the envy of any modular synthesist. What's more, it has a distinctly acoustic quality that can breathe air into electronic productions.
The other product I purchased was a Sonic Spring Board. Again, it's a simple device that encourages experimentation. My version has two silver springs stretched along and fastened to a board ending in a small box housing a piezo pickup. Like the Sonic Forest, it's powered by a 9V battery and has just a tone and bias control. Whether it's via an Ekdahl Moisturiser or kicking a guitar amp, the sound of springs has a warm place in many hearts. The Sonic Spring Board gives you this flavour for under €100. The rounded edges of the springs lead to a softer sound than the angular, clattering Sonic Forest. It holds its own without effects better than Sonic Forest, but it too comes alive with a little bit of processing.
There's something evocative about the harmonic character of a spring. It has the tonal complexity of a cymbal or a bell. Sampling and repitching the spring into chords creates a powerful, dense cloud of overlapping harmonics that sounds somewhere between Romanian spectralism, Tibetan throat singing and Nurse With Wound. It's got such character that it can sustain experimental pieces all on its own. Or you can sample some strums, blunt the attack, add a bit of reverb and stick a cavernous kick drum under it for instant dark techno satisfaction. Or push a spring into the board to raise the pitch and hit it with a stick for a unique, twanging percussion sound.
The Spring Board is a one-trick pony. But if you're a fan of complex harmonics, that one trick is endlessly satisfying. Like the Sonic Forest, you're initially stumped by its limitations but this ends up forcing you to think of other ways of using it. Suddenly you're looking around for everyday objects to use as a beater or a bow.
These aren't products made by a corporation or even a small business. This stuff is handmade, pretty affordable and made by an individual. Nevertheless, I was treated very well by Mr. Electro Lobotomy—he even sent me another spring after the first was lost in customs. They're possibly fragile but I've dropped both of them and taken them on aeroplanes without causing any discernible damage. You might be sold on the demo videos alone, but I highly recommend checking these out because they can add a quality to your music that you'd otherwise never get unless you built something similar yourself.
Ease of use: 4.7