In 1999, when I started teaching in the Department of Sound at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, I discovered that my students had adopted the computer as an almost universal tool. They were adept at using their laptops to edit a video, compose a dance track, retouch a photo, lay out a poster, write a term paper, and design a Web site. Using the keyboard's command X and command V, they could cut and paste anything. But what the computer offered in the way of power and universality was obtained at the expense of touch.
These were artists, after all, and even the filmmakers and webmasters started out scribbling on paper. Many of them complained about the lack of immediacy and tactility in digital media, and in 2002 I designed a course to show my students some electronic alternatives to the computer -- ways to bridge the gap between the sound world of a generation raised in an electronic culture and the gestural tradition of the hand.
My class handouts grew into a crude PDF textbook, which somehow escaped the walls of the school. Emails began to arrive asking me to conduct workshops. An editor at Routledge, invited me to elevate my drawings and prose to a publishable state, and the result was Handmade Electronic Music -- The Art of Hardware Hacking (2006) (an expanded second edition was published in 2009.)
Assuming no technical background whatsoever, the book carries the reader through a series of sound-producing electronic construction projects, from making simple contact microphones, to transforming cheap electronic toys into playable instruments, to designing circuits from scratch. Along the way, I put the technologies into historical and aesthetic context through information about, and audio and video samples by, artists who have used similar devices to make significant musical breakthroughs (a DVD is included in the second edition.)