Articles / The Cracklebox
the Steim cracklebox
Great things come in small packages
by Howard Moscovitz
The CrackleBox is a tiny battery-powered portable electronic musical instrument that you can take with you almost anywhere. Designed by Michel Waisvisz when he was with Steim back in the mid-seventies, this was one of the first bent instruments. The CrackleBox may not have the legendary status of a Mini Moog, but this instrument is destined to be a classic.
CrackleBoxes aren't that well know in North America. I first saw one at the Nord Modular meeting in The Hague back in 2004. There as a big show of nearly 100 vintage synths. One guy there had a CrackleBox; I fell in love with it. Of all the synths at the event, the CrackleBox made the biggest impression on me. (I even took a picture of it, ).
In 2004, Michel started a new manufacturing run of 500 CrackleBoxes. They are obviously hand-made. I ordered one and got number 130. It is wonderful. There is a web site for the CrackleBox, http://www.crackle.org/CrackleBox.htm , were you can read a very interesting history of the device - well worth the read. Michel Waisvisz was a pioneer of bent instruments, and the Crackle Box may be the seminal bent instrument.
The CrackleBox doesn't come with a manual or instructions - it's completely intuitive. You play the CrackleBox by first turning on the power switch labelled "aan" and touching the front panel. It ships with the 9 volt battery installed, so you can start enjoying it immediately. The sound comes up through 24 small holes. I don't think it is possible to figure out what these touch-pads exactly do because with changes in humidity and your skin resistance, you are constantly getting different sounds. Playing the CrackleBox is a process of constant discovery.
When you don't touch anything, the box is silent, so you can articulate different notes by touching and releasing the playing surface. You won't be able to play melodies in a conventional sense, but the device is very musical. If you have every played a bent instrument, you'll love the Crackle Box. You can get it to make very low pitches, even discrete pulses, and very high pitch wails and squeaks. It's loads of fun.
I'm used to carrying a harmonica along on walks in the park and on trips. I like to make music whenever there is an opportunity. My new CrackleBox is going to replace my harmonica.
There are a few improvements I'm going to make to my CrackleBox when I get the time. These are:
1) a headphone jack 2) a line out jack 3) a volume control
You don't have to buy a CrackleBox, you can build one yourself. On our DIY forum there is a discussion about that already, or check out this page. I wanted to get an original CrackleBox. I'm glad I did. They say money can't buy happiness, and maybe that is true, but to me at least $70 US for a CrackleBox makes me pretty darn happy. Happy, happy, joy, joy...