Introducing a limited edition re-release of this iconic electronic instrument in a modular format.
This limited edition of 75 units is a tribute to the pioneering work of Dutch musician and instrument maker Michel Waiswisz (1949 - 2008), who first invented the Cracklebox with Geert Hamelberg in the late 1960s.
The Cracklebox was a small, handheld device designed as a way to explore new sonic territories. It was one of the first electronic musical instruments to use circuit bending techniques in the creation of electronic music. It allowed musicians to manipulate and control electronic circuits in real-time, creating a wide range of unique and experimental sounds. Waiswisz used a circuit from a toy piano as the basis for the instrument, and then added a series of touch-sensitive pads that were connected to the circuit. When a player touched one of the pads, the circuit would be completed, producing a crackling sound.
The Cracklebox was probably the first commercialy available portable selfpowered alternative 'keyboard' analog electronic instrument with inbuilt loudspeaker.
In the 1970s about 4000 Crackleboxes were built and sold by STEIM in Amsterdam.
Nowadays many people refer to the The Cracklebox as the archetype of 'glitch' or 'circuit bending'.
In the decades since its invention, the Cracklebox has continued to be an important and influential instrument in the world of electronic music. It is still in use today, and is considered a classic example of the potential of electronic music to create unique and innovative sounds.
This Eurorack recreation includes a 9v battery, swappable through the frontpanel; this allows to isolate the current flowing through the user's fingers from the Eurorack frame PSU, protecting the user from undesired electrical shocks. We also removed the internal speaker and used a transformer instead to isolate the output signal.
The output generated can be used as an audio, as a gate or a cv signal. When using it as a cv source, due to the specific qualities of the signal, users may want to send it through other modules as slews, sample and holds, quantizers to tame/control it's peculiar cv output.
- The module features an on/off switch to turn off the 9v battery (remember to turn it off when you turn off your Eurorack system).
- A Power Starve knob reduces the 9v voltage feeding the circuitry changing its overall timbre/pitch
- An Output Gain knob to control the output volume.
- A Boost switch to add more presence to the signal.
5.5 cm deep
9v battery required
"He leaves us with a mighty legacy of local and international community. May his spirit continue to inspire this community."
Michel Waisvisz (1949 - 2008) was a creator of live-electronic music and electric theatre. He was the composer and also the performer of his music.
By making electronic sound tangible through the invention of instruments such as The Hands, The Crackle Box and The WEB, and staging the first theatre play ever entirely performed by real living robots ("The Slungels" Holland Festival 1981), Waisvisz is widely praised as an authentic creator and performer in the electronic performance arts. His approach is typically based on the re-animation of carefully deconstructed technology. As such the Crackle Box is a very early example of 'glitch'.
Michel Waisvisz moved and worked independently; he was mainly self-taught; he had a reputation for being a forerunner; as a performer he could steer up ecstasy with clinical technology. One critic wrote, describing his impact: "Waisvisz’s performance causes an itch in a part of the brain where we cannot scratch".
In the late seventies he chose to work exclusively for live performance; since then he did not publish any of his performances on CD or other media. Until very recently he wanted his electronic music only to exist in the reality of the concert hall.
Waisvisz toured internationally and played in a great variety of social entourages: from the Concertgebouw in Amsterdam, various clubs and smaller venues in Europe, the Mutek festival in Montreal, the Philharmonie in Berlin, the Exploratorium in San Francisco, the inflatable Colourspace in London, The Kitchen in New York, big open air rock/jazz festivals in Rotterdam and Moers, church towers in Groningen and Utrecht to a subway station in Hannover and a dungeon in Bologna. In the summer of 1996 at the inauguration of the new tower of the IRCAM in Paris he performed on the square next to the Centre Beaubourg and created music with the sounds contributed by passing audiences and street musicians. He also performed in a packed 2500 seat hall at a Shinto sponsored festival in Nagoya in Japan. In the main auditorium of the Louvre in Paris Waisvisz performed a live film sound track to the original version of 'The Hunchback of the Notre Dame'.
Over the years Waisvisz also collaborated with many artists: he worked together with amongst others: Evan Parker, Najib Cheradi, Laurie Anderson, DJ Spooky, Truus de Groot, Shelley Hirsch, Maarten Altena, Lodewijk de Boer, Moniek Toebosch, Richard Teitelbaum, Fausto Senese, Steve Lacy, Shusaku, Peter Brotzman, Frans Zwartjes, Patrizia van Roessel, Willem Breuker, John Cameron, Misha Mengelberg and many others. He also performed 'Operation LiSa' a collaboration with the audience: this is a piece that is entirely based on sounds sampled live from the audience and turned into music on the spot.
He received commissions for compositions by The San Francisco Symphony, the IRCAM / Paris, WDR studio for electronic music in Köln, Art Rock Festival Frankfurt, Centro para la Difusión de la Música Contemporánea in Madrid, Viitasaari Festival Finland etc. Recently he made a music work collaborating with the audience. The piece was entirely based on sounds by the audience recorded and manipulated live by Waisvisz.
He is the founder of Physical Philosophy. In Physical Philosophy, instead of using spoken or written language, the phenomenon of the physical act of manipulation of instrumental objects is considered the shortest and most precise expression of the axioms of philosophy. 'The act is its metaphor; the act overrules its description’.
Besides his work as composer Waisvisz has created series of instrumental inventions. Amongst them The Crackle Box, The Hands and The WEB take a prominent place . The Hands is an instrument that consists of small multi-sensor keyboards attached to the hands. By moving arms, fingers and hands one can play an entire electronic 'orchestra'. The instrument was a breakthrough in a time when electronic music was still merely a studio-art. Waisvisz motivates the physical approach in the design of this electronic music instruments by stating that machines are precise with numbers, but the human hand is more precise with musical time. Before the World Wide Web existed on Internet Waisvisz developed The WEB as a musical instrument. Waisvisz envisioned the concept of a mechanical web, with each thread as a sensor, as a physical metaphor for handling the big quantity of information needed to manipulate electronic sound in an organic and human way. In Waisvisz' musical WEB an extended complex of wire-sensors that are inter-connected in a WEB-structure can be manipulated by a single finger movement. By feeding the many sensor signals to a computer music system one person can create and manipulate complex combinations of electronic sounds in an extremely spontaneous and intuitive way.
Many variations on the these instruments and other ideas have been bundled in the Touch exhibition. This exhibition entirely consists of instrumental objects that can be played by the audience. Since the seventies various incarnations of this successful exhibit have toured Europe and has proven to be a great inspiration for other initiatives in the field. It receives firm attention from school teachers, their pupils and researchers in education.
Waisvisz also developed - together with Frank Baldé - software for live electronic performance. The Lick Machine and LiSa (and recently also junXion) are widely known for their unconditional dedication to instantaneous musical en sonic exploration.
He initiated - together with Tom Demeyer and Steina Vasulka - the development of Image/ine, an image sampler/manipulator that has become the forerunner of VJ software's like Arkaos, Nato, Jitter and Isadora.
As an organiser Waisvisz has contributed to, or founded, many of the new music festivals and electric art manifestations in the Netherlands:
Claxon Sound Festival, Pandora’s Music Box, Rumori Festival, STEIM’s ‘Secret Concerts’ etc.
Waisvisz led the STEIM foundation in Amsterdam since the early eighties. Since then STEIM has become a major international research and development centre for new instruments for live electronic music and also the visual arts, and international meeting place for those who work in electronic performance and new media culture.
Waisvisz had a passionate dedication to a physical, bodily approach to electronic music which he has expressed in the use and presentation of his many developments of hardware and software instruments. From his point of view electronic music is created in direct musical interaction with individual technology, allowing for instant travels into sound through improvisation. This multidimensionality in electronic musical practice has been summed up in the expression of Touch in an essay together with Joel Ryan and Sally Jane Norman in 1998.
by Michel Waisvisz
written: march 2004
Sometime in the early-sixties I started touching the inside of my fathers short-wave radio receivers. Before that with my brother René I had given 'concerts' at home by placing our fingers on circuit boards of transistor radios that were 'wrongly', but usefully, interconnected with wires. The little electrical shocks were nice and the changes in the sound were exiting and magic mind-openers. Through touch I was able to start playing with short wave sounds in a way that would later become 'sound music'.
I had already heard some of the early recordings of electronic music, but these often sounded so dull, so constructed, so without musical soul. Touching the inside of audio electronics was way more exciting to me. I knew this could change ideas about electronics and music. Touched electronics sounded rougher and sort of rebellious against the clean and high-tech quality of the electronic music from the fifties and early sixties.
At some point i started playing by placing my fingers on the print board of a damaged electronic organ. By patching the different parts of the circuit through my - conductive - fingers and hands I became the thinking [wet] part of a electronic circuit and i started seeing my skin as a patchable cable, potentiometer and condensator.
The great advantage was that by intuitively touching the electronics one could learn to play this new instrument without having to have schematic knowledge about the circuitry - very much like a traditional music instrument. It could be learned by playing by ear and developing experience and manual/mental skills instead of having to dive into a world of logic, functions, interaction schemes, electronic circuit theory and mathematical synthesis methods. One could play an electronic instrument in direct relation to the immediate musical pleasure of performed sound.
I derived lots of pleasure from the fact that there is, and is, no universal notation for sound. There was no way for me to start transferring laws and methods from existing tonal music concepts [that I thought were lovely but not from my planet]; neither would others be able to create a paper composers practice. Traditional keyboards were exclusively related to traditional european music culture and as such I felt that keyboards were representations an old way of thinking about music: church ordained tone scale divisions lay at the base of the keyboard 'grid'. I felt that 'sound music' needed appropriate 'finger boards': like refined sliders, navigation wheels, rudders, sensitive high resolution controllers. Interfaces that could translate human musical touch and gesture into the sound world in a more continuous and dedicated way.
Human touch can shape electronic sound in a particular way: Finger pressure curves are very basic information standards. The act of applying physical effort through touch is empirically 'known' to all human beings. The listener can feel the performer's touch and recognize the effort. The handling of physical effort is part of a universal language
We noticed that listeners to radio programs that broadcasted our early experimental electronic touch concerts did not believe the sounds were generated electronically. To them it sounded like wood and metal. They seemed to be able to distinguish the motoric 'shaping' and did not associate these with electronic music. Electronic music was at that time (in to some degree still is) shaped by mathematical functions implemented in various kinds of control generators. Composers acted like managers of formulae and processes. The clean sine wave sweeps of tonal structures and sound dynamics was totally in tune with the modern non-romantic formalized world view of 50's high-tech futurism. Interestingly enough a special breed of today's laptop music culture has reverted to a similar exploration of the performer's role as an 'operator' or 'sound process manager'; someone who controls, tweaks, navigates the electronic sound creation process in a very distant, minimal effort strategy and mistakenly suggesting the making of music is a purely cerebral affair. A self-image very much related to the scientific aura of the early electronic music composers, sort of being shy freaks, imagining themselves as operating as art-scientific supervisors in control of a 'music machinery' with the scope a nuclear research plant fueling culture into cosmic dimensions.
The confrontation with audiences and cultures at the time of our early concerts was exciting. We also provided the audience with the possibility of playing the naked print board instruments. The responses were great and many spontaneous improvisations resulted, blurring the boundary between players and audience. I was look for further development of dedicated electronic music instruments by hacking circuits and in the end by creating our own circuits. I met Geert Hamelberg who knew circuit design and together we designed and built the first Crackle circuit in the late 60ties. This was simply a wooden frame with some print boards mounted rear-side up to be touched by the fingers. The circuits were 'malformed' oscillators that were very unstable and highly sensitive for finger connections. The Crackle circuit, as well as the powered speaker box, were battery powered to avoid hum and repeated exposure to dangerous electrical shocks.
In the meantime I had also bought a Putney vcs3 synth. It appealed to me because one could buy it without a keyboard and just operate it using the patch panel, potentiometers and a freely assignable joystick. This was rather unique at the time. Another aspect that I liked was that it sort of sounded like a transistor radio: crackly, brisk, rather crude, slightly distorted and hissing a bit. It did not sound like a pretentious high tech electronic organ or as clean and 'orchestral' as a Moog. Its crackliness reminded me of the sound of ionizing air before an electrostatic spark unloads or the sounds of the short wave band. It had a purity in the sense that it wasn't designed to imitate traditional instruments and it was affordable. However very soon after the purchase I felt unsatisfied with its 'interface' and felt it had to be approriated and bent to my own needs. By now I had written on the wall of the workshop: "If you can't open it, you don't own it"; so I opened the back where I could reach the print board and started connecting wires into the circuit. I led the wires to the lower front panel and connected them to a printboard with fingertop size solder blobs that I mounted on a wooden extension. Now I could play the Putney by pressing and connecting the solder blobs with my fingers and hands. I gave a lot of concerts in Europe with this 'bent' or 'extended' Putney VCS3 in the late sixties and early seventies. However, because of the frequent touring the need for a more compact and portable instrument grew. I started having fantasies about a portable battery powered 'Crackle' synth with an inbuilt loudspeaker.
In 1973 I joined the new STEIM foundation in Amsterdam and started working on the development of the 'Crackle' synth. Peter Beyls, Nico Bes and Johan den Biggelaar were great and inspiring engineers who contributed many of their talents to the development of the Crackle technology. In order to do this well they had to forget almost all of the technology 'moralities' that they had been taught during their education. Through the mid-seventies we realized the 'Crackle synth' and the 'Crackle box'. During this development process we started extending the concept to a hole range of theatrical instruments and playable objects. All sorts of household objects were wired and would become musical 'Crackle' instruments: One could play music by pouring tea into wired cups or by sticking connected spoons and forks in the mouth. The Crackle instruments can also be played collaboratively by touching both one part of the circuit and another person in a circle of interconnecting electronica and humans. Floors, bicycles, chairs, bed-sheets, clothes, coo-coo-clocks, books, string instruments and plants were wired and connected to 'Crackle' circuits and would be played in music theatre performances. This was in the special mid-seventies brand of Dutch music theatre that was often initiated and performed by the pioneers of the independent improvised music theatre scene. Through STEIM we also initiated a traveling exhibition with many of these sound objects: The Crackle exhibition became a big success with children and grownups and later became the inspiration for many other similar initiatives.
This exhibition has gone through many metamorphoses and nowadays it's called STEIM's Touch exhibition and sometimes STEIM's Electro Beep Club. While having focussed on research and development on digital sensor instruments since the mid-eighties, STEIM has recently also started bringing back the Crackle instruments. A new generation of musicians is expressing interest in a more physical control of sound. The laptops are loosing their perfect shine as digital culture becomes mainstream and 'high tech' culture associated with the war machinery. New and old alternative approaches are needed.
STEIM stopped its operations in 2020 when their public funding was cancelled by the Dutch government.
Below is the statement from their website that can still be found archived in Wayback Machine:
STEIM (the STudio for Electro-Instrumental Music) is an independent electronic music center founded in 1969 with an initial focus on developing tools for experimental electronic musicians for live stage performance art. The foundation’s artistic and technical departments support an international community of performers, musicians, and visual artists, to develop unique instruments for their work. Ideas are catalyzed by providing critical feedback grounded in professional experience. Finally, new creations are then exposed to a receptive responsive niche public at STEIM before being groomed for a larger audience.
All those years STEIM has promoted the idea that Touch is crucial in communicating with the new electronic performance art technologies. Too much the computer has been used, and designed, as an exclusive extension of the formalistic capabilities of humans. At STEIM the intelligence of the body, for example: the knowledge of the fingers or lips is considered musically as important as ‘brain-knowledge’. STEIM has stimulated the design of extremely physical interfaces and is widely considered as the pioneering place for the live and ecstatic use of electronics in performance.
STEIM encourages both high-tech and low-tech solutions, and seeks to support artists who are both the players and makers of their own expressive tools. STEIM stands behind a human-focused approach to technology. This technology has to be tailored to the individual.
STEIM’s former director and founding father Michel Waisvisz (unfortunately passed away in 2008) is generally recognized as being the first to invent a practice for ecstatic live performance with live electronic instruments. Over the years a great variety of the pioneering artists of the live electronic performance arts have worked at STEIM. More recently STEIM is being discovered by DJ’s and VJ’s who want to liven up their act with physical control of their sound machines and laptops, also dancers, actors, visual artists and are coming up to STEIM to use the ideas found at STEIM and develop these further for there personal goals.
Nowadays STEIM’s focus is on supporting Sound Art, a discipline where several art forms come together, using (all) the human senses to experience these Sound Art installations.
For this we have started small, using our Sound Art Expo hallway to present a number of these installations.
STEIM is committed to bringing our artistic network and body of knowledge to the broader local and international community through education and public events, such as workshops and concerts. STEIM has formed ongoing partnerships locally with the Hogeschool voor de Kunsten Utrecht, the Conservatory of Amsterdam, TU/Eindhoven, and the Royal Conservatory in the Hague through the Instruments & Interfaces masters program. Each year STEIM is visited by dozens of international students and educators through our educational programs. Recently STEIM has hosted student groups from the Arts University of Graz (Graz, AU), ELAK (Vienna, AU), CalArts (Valencia, USA), MICA (Baltimore, USA), SAIC (Chicago, USA), and UCD (Doncaster, UK).
Michel Waiswisz website:
Michel Waiswisz Discography:
Michel Waiswisz Condolences webpage:
STEIM Wayback Machine Link:
In-depth essay made for STEIM's Touch Festival in 1998, regarding his practices using touch as a primary source for musical instruments interaction:
In-depth paper about his instrument: The Hands
Sonic Acts - From Stockhausen to DJ Spooky Documentary (in Dutch):
DIY Kraakdoos documentation:
DIY Cracklebox in Hack A Day:
Personally while growing up in my music practice Michel and STEIM were always inspiration and aspiration for me.
Eventually, in 2007, I had the opportunity to make a residence at STEIM and will always cherish my time there.
Meeting Michel, the gentle giant, was a deep personal experience highlighted by the oppportunity of doing live visuals for a small performance he did with The Hands.
About one year later I was invited to give an electronics workshop in Istanbul and, while locally shopping electronic parts for the workshop, went to this old small electronics shop and by chance found about 75 pieces of the 709 opamp used in the Cracklebox. I bought them all and kept them stored since, hoping to make something with them in the future.
My thanks to Cihan Gulbudak who took me to that particular electronics shop.
Meanwhile years passed and while reminiscing about this I feel in a way I'm following his footsteps as developing musical instruments at ADDAC System has been my life for the last 13 years. A few months ago I found the 709 ic's box in the studio and started thinking of finally making something; I thought of an Eurorack module with the Cracklebox and made all the extra electronic circuitry needed to work in the Eurorack environment.
While I finished it late last year, the plan to release it on July 8th came as this idea to celebrate his birthday date.
Also notice this reference in the ADDAC708 name, July 8th.
While testing I also recorded many hours of music that I edited and compiled in an album.
André Gonçalves, 2023