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We love to make our environments pleasing to our senses, but the sounds that we live with are often overlooked in comparison to the time and effort we spend on the sights with which we surround ourselves. A white noise machine is one way that we can take some control over the soundscapes that we live in, but we don’t have much influence over the white noise options that are available to us.

Most white noise machines on the market are either electronic machines that play recordings of white noise, which can sound a lot like radio static, or machines that generate natural white noise from the sound of rushing air. These natural white noise machines simply consist of a mechanical fan that pushes air through an acoustic resonator to create the desired sound. By experimenting with household objects, such as an electric fan and a coffee can, you can easily create your own natural white noise machine to customize the soundscape of your environment for much less than even the cheapest machines on the market!

Your white noise machine can be as basic as a modified bucket placed over a fan, or it can be a sculptural work of art. Here’s how to get started on your own homemade white noise machine:

Steps

Step #1: Design Your Sound

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  • I found a small small USB-powered fan at my local 99 cent store, which worked great because the blades were made of foam, so I was able to stop it with my fingers repeatedly without injury. If you are using a bigger fan with sharp blades, be sure to wear gloves and be careful not to hurt yourself. Use a screw driver to disassemble the grill from the electric fan so that you can fit it into the acoustic resonator that you will use to house it. You may have to use a soldering iron to detach wires from the motor's power source in order to separate the fan motor from the grill. You can solder these back together, or use alligator jumper wires to hook your motor back up to the power source for testing.
  • The acoustic resonator can be practically anything that sounds good to you, but cylindrical containers seem to work best. I used a coffee can because it fit perfectly over the fan, but different containers can sound very different, so you should experiment by holding your container over your fan until you find one that makes a sound that you like.

Step #2: Modify Your Container

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The movement of the air in the resonating container is what creates the white noise, so you will need to make some holes in your resonator so that the air can flow through it. I found that I got the best sound by making several small holes in the top of the container with an awl, as well as a few larger openings that I cut into the base with a utility knife.

Step #3: House Your Motor

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When I was testing the sounds that the fan made in different containers, I noticed that I could hear the sound of the fan's DC motor a little too clearly sometimes. I decided to muffle the sound of the motor by housing it in a small plastic container using weather stripping to hold it in place. Then I used more weather stripping to hold the motor upright in the resonator. Even if your motor doesn't need to be muffled, the weather stripping can be used to cushion and position it properly in the resonator.

Step #4: Wire Your Switch

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  • Besides creating white noise, the only other thing that your white noise machine needs to be able to do is be turned on and off easily. I was able to keep the switch that came with the fan and solder it back together. I put my resonator into a small plastic refuse can that I also got at the 99 cent store because it had lid that could be used to adjust the volume of the machine by opening and closing it. I was able to just melt some small holes in the base of the refuse can with the soldering iron, through which I could access the plug and the switch to be able to turn the machine on and off easily.
  • I ended up getting an adaptor to plug the fan into a wall socket. The adapter I used had different voltage settings, which allowed me to control the speed of the fan, but you could also use an arduino or other micro controller to further customize your white noise machine's sound.

Andrew Salomone

Artist, writer, and teacher who makes work about popular culture, technology, and traditional craft processes. http://www.andrewsalomone.com


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