Don't let the cute exterior of the Bleep Labs Thingamagoop fool you: this noisy little synth can really scream.
Bleep Labs has taken the lessons learned from the circuit bending craze and put them to good use in a portable instrument that is sure to put a smile on your face. The Thingamagoop ($100) is an analog sound generator that resembles a child's drawing of a robot: it has a photocell for a nose, a power switch/volume knob and a ¼-inch line-level output for ears, controls on its chest, and a bendable antenna with an LED at the end called a LEDacle.
Four rubber feet raise the Thingamagoop enough that you can hear its sound coming from the tiny speaker on its underside. At 4.25 inches tall (not including the antenna) and 2.25 inches deep, and powered by a 9V battery, the aluminum instrument is perfect for noisy play onstage and in the studio.
Inside are two oscillators, one of which acts as a square-wave LFO. The knob on the front controls the LFO's frequency. When the left switch is down, the LFO controls the speed of the blinking LED, which in turn can affect the photocell. In the up position, the LFO, which goes into the audio range when the knob is fully clockwise, amplitude-modulates the oscillator.
The right switch sets the main oscillator's frequency range: high in the up position; low in the down position. The oscillator's frequency rises and falls depending on the brightness of the light hitting the photocell — the brighter the light, the higher the pitch.
The type of light source makes a sonic difference as well, with sunlight and incandescent light yielding the highest pitches and cleanest timbre, and fluorescent light adding grit to the sound. The combination of the LEDacle and another light source offers plenty of rhythmic potential as you cover and uncover the photocell and the antenna's flashing bulb.
Obviously, the Thingamagoop is designed for people who like noisy rhythmic sounds. With the knob cranked up, you can get the instrument to scream by slowly uncovering the photocell with a finger (see Web Clip 1). When the knob is in the range of 7 to 3 o'clock, you can set up interesting noisy pulses, depending on the lighting conditions and the position of the LEDacle.
Although it may seem like a one-trick pony at first, the Thingamagoop offers quite a bit of sensitivity thanks to its photocell, making it a joy to play (when you can get it back from the kids). The controls are easy to manipulate with one hand due to the instrument's diminutive size. And even if you cover the photocell with your thumb, the light from the LED will shine through your skin somewhat, allowing you to add animation to the sound as you bottom out the oscillator's pitch.
Of course, echo and spring reverb can be used to enhance the sci-fi qualities of the Thingamagoop's sound. For a recent session with the rock band P.A.F., I was asked to add a “noisy psychedelic solo” over an open jam, and the Thingamagoop fit the bill. We ran the signal into a guitar amp in a live room and miked the amp. With some stereotypical delay effects, the results were reminiscent of '60s-era swooping guitar feedback, but with greater intensity (see Web Clip 2).
It's a Scream
With the Thingamagoop, Bleep Labs puts a friendly face on noisemaking. Getting the most out of it requires a creative and open mind, as well as a healthy sense of humor. Each one is made to order, and you can customize your own from a palette of 25 colors online.
Whether you're listening to its unadulterated sound through the built-in speaker or running it through a chain of stompboxes (which I highly recommend), the Thingamagoop is a blast to record, and even more fun to play live.
Value (1 through 5): 5