Darren Waters

All the fun of the Dorkbot fair

  • Darren Waters
  • 15 Mar 09, 06:13 GMT

Stumbling into the Dorkbot expo at South by SouthWest is a little like that scene in Blade Runner at the home of the toy maker J.F. Sebastian.
A jumble of technology, from robots to sculpture, children's musical instruments to 1970s synthesisers it had the air of unearthed future aracana to it.

Dorkbot is a global phenomenon - it is a loose gathering of artists, engineers, musicians and hackers.
Their collective tagline is "People doing strange things with electricity."

In a small tent outside the main conference centre at Austin, perhaps the strangest thing with electricity was local music experimenters ArcAttack.

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The group uses Tesla Coils, which generate flashes of electrical lightning bolts which also produce a square sound wave. That soundwave is fed by fibre optic cable into a midi controller, producing a sound not unlike the analogue synthesisers of the 1970s.


The group played the Doctor Who and Star Wars themes using the Tesla Coils, with percussion delivered by a series of robotic drums.

It was the undoubted highlighting of Dorkbot 2009 at SXSW, which also featured handbuilt synthesisers, and a band called Painful leg Injuries which uses a Nintedo Wiimote controller to play music.

After a day spent in panels musing the future of social networks and the rise of e-mail 2.0 a little light music powered by lightning bolts was very much needed.


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