Beakerhead and EMMEDIA event teaches attendees to build synthesizers


“We’re here to make some noise,” begins Calgarian visual artist and technician Lowell Smith. He’s addressing the 20 workshop participants gathered in the intimate workspace at EMMEDIA, a media arts hub located in Calgary’s Beltline.

The group is comprised of men and women ranging in age from teenagers to baby boomers. They’ve all gathered for Atari Punk Synth, a workshop co-presented by the annual science, art and technology festival Beakerhead. This event aims to teach rudimentary circuit electronics skills to the end of constructing a handmade synthesizer.

The name comes from a simple circuit set-up first conceived in a Radio Shack booklet dating back to 1980. Its name comes from the sonic similarity to the Atari gaming console.

Smith, who holds both a bachelor’s of fine arts and technical diploma in electronics engineering, isn’t just here to impart trade skills. As he says, “In this workshop and in my practice, I want to spark the idea of curiosity and desire to figure out how something is working and understand in a simple way.”

One participant at the workshop is Bryce Maruk, EMMEDIA’s newly hired production director. It seems Maruk is about to to get his feet wet as he joins in to try out building a synthesizer of his own.

“This [is] my first time working with circuitry of any kind. I’m not exactly the most tech-savvy, but this [is] relatively simple,” he says.

He also explains the significance of hosting the event for the organization, stating, “EMMEDIA is a hub for multi-disciplinary media arts at all levels. Electronics and music are a big push for us, so this fits in our mandate of promoting media art at all levels.”

After enough soldering, twisting and intertwining of wires has been completed, the room is literally buzzing. Bleeps from one end of the table ring out above feedback and siren-like squeals from another. After about three hours, the workshop is over and the attendees are packing up their new treasures.

EMMEDIA officials say they will be announcing a follow-up workshop later in October. For anyone nervous about working with electronics for the first time, first-timer Maruk assures, “I would absolutely encourage folks to give this a shot.”

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The editor responsible for this article is Zarif Alibhai and can be contacted at

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