Handmade electronic instruments with guest artist Nicolas Collins

Nic Collins teaching

Cracklebox workshop

“The students instantly understand. Similar to putting a football in front of a small child, they don’t ask questions, they just do”

Guest artist Nicolas Collins is a composer, improviser & master-hacker. He wrote Handmade Electronic Music (Routledge) which combines an accessible guide to building personal electronic instruments with an overview of contributors to the field. Nic has taught at top universities and schools all around the world, but has never strayed far from his electronic music roots and has both performed and presented installations over 1,000 times around the globe. In June he returned to the Catalyst hallways, bringing his wealth of knowledge and experience to run a well attended workshop for our Music MA students.

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“It’s very intuitive” he explained after the class, “within an hour and a half, everyone is making noise”. Nic bought with him a prepackaged module for each participating student, containing all the necessary parts to build a tangible electronic instrument. Which is exactly what the students did for the next 3 hours. By the end of the workshop, the Electronic Music Production Lab was full of 12 hand-built machines producing squeaks, vrooms and bjow noises (video above). The innovative instrument, called a “cracklebox”, responded to student’s skin depending on where and how hard the player touched the recently soldered chipboards.

nic collins assists ma student

“This workshop is a break from the norm for us. Normally the Creative Production Masters in Music is concerned with primarily students' own creative projects” said Richard Scott, Programme Lead for Creative Production Masters in Music. “It is a delight to have Nic here again and to introduce the students to his endless creativity, energy and good humour!”

Nic described the workshop as more akin to vocational training and comparable to some educational forms in the states, where Nic is from. “I have led similar workshops before, but this one really zoned in on one particular piece of equipment”. Students all left the classroom chatting enthusiastically, and can now process how the workshop will inform their upcoming projects and future practices.

Alvin Lucier lecture

Luckily the Music MA students were not left wanting, and the following week Nic returned to deliver a lecture. He spoke about his understanding and misunderstandings of the work of Alvin Lucier. Lucier, who died late 2021 was a hugely influential American minimalist composer, whose work used brainwaves and many different technologies, often in unconventional ways. He was Nic's teacher and colleague, and he assisted him in the realisation of many performances. This was the first time Nic has discussed his work publicly since, and presented Catalyst students with a rare opportunity to hear from someone who was deeply engaged in this work over many years. Thanks for your generosity and time, Nic!

The Nicolas Collins workshop and lecture is part of the Creative Production Masters in Music framework. Rich in guest lecturers, seminars and workshops that provide a thorough grounding in practice-led research theory and methodology, these elements run alongside and feed into a wider range of research in sound, music and the arts. You can read all about the course and its structure here . To read more about Nicolas, you can visit his page here