Analog voltage-controlled oscillators (AVOs) make a variety of intriguing hums, beeps, buzzes, and loops, controlled by buttons, knobs, and sensors. These are fantastic group projects because once the soldering irons are all put down, you get an excellent payoff: you can have an impromptu concert. Bleep Labs, run by Austin, Texas, circuit bender and kit maker John-Michael Reed, produces a few AVO kits that I’ve built and had fun with.
The Thingamagoop 2 features a square wave amplitude modulator and triangle wave pulse width modulator, packed into a lovely silkscreened metal enclosure. The Thingamagoop’s signature component is an LED on a bendable wire antenna called the LEDacle, which looks cool and, more importantly, interfaces with the light sensor hidden in the eye, making for a huge range of possible sounds.
I found the build to be rather challenging. It took me a couple of hours to make, with one or two tricky steps. One thing I appreciated was that unlike other Bleep Labs kits, you don’t need anything but the kit itself to make cool music — there’s no need to plug into anything. When I finally finished my Thingamagoop, I turned it on and watched as my kids snatched it out of my hands and ran off with it.
While the Thingamagoop is obviously kid-friendly, it offers some cool features for mom and dad to explore further. For instance, I’m intrigued that you can reprogram its ATmega328 chip using an Arduino.