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Cardboard Sequencer

Being Creative Within Limitations

Many musicians will tell you that they are the most creative when presented with the least amount of equipment. An inspired keyboard player can make magic with just a combo organ and a boom-chick drum box. If they are presented with a digital workstation with 1000s of preset sounds and rhythms, they'll just get bogged down going through all of the possibilities.

Less Is More

Cardboard Sequencer

Cardboard Sequencer

Cardboard Sequencer

Cardboard Sequencer

I like sequencers, but they are often complicated affairs with too many modes and options. Even a simple step sequencer is a chore to set up, and you often lose focus on just making music.

Back in 2003 I was trying to come up with the most minimal sequencer possible, that would still be fun and creative to use. After a few false starts, I came up with the Cardboard Sequencer. The main idea was to remove ALL of the electronics, and make it purely mechanical.

The Cardboard Sequencer is essentially an audio switching device.

When you spin the top (by placing your finger in the notch), a brass contact on the disc alternately makes and breaks the connection with a ring of 8 contacts on the base. By connecting audio sources through the contacts on the base, and picking up the output through the common contact, you can create an 8 stage sequence.

It's Not Analog Or Digital, It's Office Supplies

Cardboard Sequencer Parts

Cardboard Sequencer Parts

Cardboard Sequencer Parts

Cardboard Sequencer Parts

The Cardboard Sequencer is constructed from cardboard, brass split-pins, washers and some hookup wire. You can find split-pins at an office supply store. The phono jacks are optional, but they make it easier to hook devices up to the sequencer.

Cardboard Sequencer Back

Cardboard Sequencer Back

Cardboard Sequencer Back

Cardboard Sequencer Back

The ring of 8 pins on the base are connected to the tip of the individual phono jacks with hookup wire. Another piece of wire is connected to a washer, and then to a common (ground) point on the phono jacks.

Cardboard Sequencer Disc

Cardboard Sequencer Disc

Cardboard Sequencer Disc

Cardboard Sequencer Disc

A single pin on the disc is connected to a central washer. All of the pins are installed facing each other, so that they move over each other smoothly.

Cardboard Sequencer Assembly

Cardboard Sequencer Assembly

Cardboard Sequencer Assembly

Cardboard Sequencer Assembly

A central pin is placed through the disc, and then through several spacer washers. The disc and base are then connected together. You will need to adjust the number of spacer washers to enable the disc to spin freely, but still make contact with the pins on the base.

Cardboard Sequencer

Cardboard Sequencer

Cardboard Sequencer

Cardboard Sequencer

This is what the sequencer looks like when it has been put together. The mounting of the phono jacks is ad-hoc, depending on their shape and size.

Lo-fi Sequencing

The technically inclined out there will probably be saying "This is rediculous. All of the switching noise must sound horrendous!".

Yes, it is a bit rediculous, and yes, it makes a bit of a racket. However, the Cardboard Sequencer isn't designed to be high fidelity equipment. It's meant to be fun.

With a little bit of care and planning, the results you can get from such a simple device are surprising.

The Stereo Effect Project

Cardboard Sequencer CD

Cardboard Sequencer CD

Cardboard Sequencer CD

Cardboard Sequencer CD

Cardboard Sequencer CD

Cardboard Sequencer CD

Cardboard Sequencer CD

Cardboard Sequencer CD

After I built the first Cardboard Sequencer, I recorded a short 5-track CD with it, under my production name of The Stereo Effect Project.

Production With The Cardboard Sequencer

Production With The Cardboard Sequencer

Production With The Cardboard Sequencer

Production With The Cardboard Sequencer

For the sound sources I recorded drones from various synthesizers, and also used other noises (like FM radio static) for percussion. The drones and noises were then played back on a handful of portable players (anything I had on hand, like a Minidisc player), and fed through the Cardboard Sequencer. Everything was recorded on a 4-track open reel recorder, with ample use of tape echo and sound-on-sound. Here is a photo of the setup, as shown in the CD booklet.

I sold about 50 copies of the CD at various zine fairs and DIY arts markets in Toronto, and it got some campus radio airplay across Canada. After that, it just sat on the shelf, until now...

You can download the entire CD from the links below. Included are the booklet, sound samples that were used in production, and the template files to build your own Cardboard Sequencer.

The booklet contains detailed instructions on how to put it together, and the CD has a spoken work instruction track explaining the whole concept.

Cardboard Sequencer Download Links

Cardboard Sequencer CD Audio 10.2 MB
Cardboard Sequencer CD Booklet 1.9 MB
Cardboard Sequencer Sound Samples 3.2 MB
Cardboard Sequencer Template Files 388.7 kB

Cardboard Sequencer Demo

Here is a video showing a demo of the Cardboard Sequencer in action.

Cardboard Sequencer Demo

Cardboard Sequencer Demo

3 comments on Cardboard Sequencer

Chris
Love this whole idea. I've been wanting to do this kind of interactive cd for years but have never got round to it. Great sequencer, great music. Now I had better find some card!
February 2nd 2015 19:05 EST
Keith
Chris,

I'm glad you liked the concept for the Cardboard Sequencer. I had been thinking about making a video on this topic for a long time. I actually had to pull up an old copy of CorelDraw, just to extract images from the original CD booklet!
February 2nd 2015 22:22 EST
Revmecha
Great idea and demo. Thanks for posting this!! More designs should be simple like this.
February 8th 2017 19:51 EST
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