He plays synth on his bike, turns Trump into a toupeed Furby and everything he touches into a musical instrument. So it was only natural that in London, Makery met Sam Battle, aka Look Mum No Computer.
London, from our correspondent
Rarely do we see so many wires and buttons in a single room. We are in Sam Battle’s workshop, the 26-year-old-musician who designs and builds homemade instruments, which he plays frantically. If you go out in east London, you might have seen him pedaling past on his synth bike, a DIY gem that seems to please even the ducks in the nearby park.
Look Mum No Computer introduces his Synth Bike 2.0, November 2016:
Others might recognize him from the Trump inauguration, where the troublemaker embodied the new president of the United States as a golden toupeed Furby, dutifully reciting comments posted online.
Best of «Interactive Donald Trump Furby President» live, January 2017:
Battle caught the Maker bug at a young age. As a child he enjoyed taking apart his toys, pedal cars and household appliances, from the iron to the toaster, much to his father’s dismay, he says. When he was 12, he discovered the guitar: “It kept me busy for four years.” Nothing was safe from the tinkerer’s tools : Battle pimped it with a Midi keyboard controller. A “keyboard guitar” that he built in five models, including a bass version. “It’s how I discovered Arduino,” he recalls. “My name is Look Mum No Computer, but in reality I use a lot of them.”
His name is a nod and a wink to his geeky childhood. “I didn’t go out much,” he laughs. “In fact, my punishment was to go and hang out with people. Otherwise, I spent my time making rockets.” Or creating his own robots inspired by the TV show Robot Wars.
Three years of inventions in one synth
It was this somewhat obsessive character that led him to take an interest in analog synthesizers. First by exploring the Music From Outer Space website, created by Ray Wilson, the “DIY synth guru” who died last July, then by reading this same guru’s book, Analog Synthesizers, and by scrolling through the DIY synth section of the Muff Wiggler forum.
In a corner of Battle’s workshop lurks a giant synthesizer, the non-exhaustive synthesis of three years’ work. “I regularly take off things to build new ones. This panel, for example, is empty,” he says, pointing at an assortment of scrap metal. Yet his synth is impressively docked. An oscillator varies the frequency of the signal, a filter softens the sound, a controller adjusts the pitch of the oscillator, while a sequencer records loops, and a Speak & Spell spells out words at a specified tempo.
Not everything works–three Game Boys that used to be oscillators are out of service, for example–and the results can be a bit shaky. But Battle is not the precious type when it comes to his machines. For his last gig/exhibition last December, at St John church in east London, the audience could freely experiment with his crazy machine.
Look Mum No Computer live session from his workshop, January 2017:
The maker’s latest project is a Furby organ, where each creature holds one note. It’s not quite as simple as it sounds. “The problem is we can’t tune them,” he explains. For now, Battle is trying to collect around 50 Furbies. He still needs around 30.
After breaking up his pop band Zebra, which tested out his DIY instruments, about six months ago, Battle, who also composes music for TV commercials, leveraged the notoriety he gained from his synth bike to promote his project Look Mum No Computer. So he is making (funny) video tutorials for simpler projects, such as this theremin-like solar panel instrument or this solderless distortion instrument made from a cereal box (and a few transistors). He is also playing live, this Saturday, at Ugly Duck in London, and on the French TV show L’Émission d’Antoine. “I didn’t think people would take it seriously,” he laughs. Maybe that’s the secret.
Look Mum No Computer will be playing on February 4th, at Ugly Duck, 47-49 Tanner Street, London