The Makerspace as 21st Century Bauhaus: A Black Mountain College in Every University

At the 10th Annual Black Mountain College ReVIEWING conference (September 2018), I moderated a panel with three innovative makerspace leaders — Adam Rogers (NCSU), David Romito (UNC), and Lauren Di Monte (U of Rochester).  We talked about how the modern university makerspace is a continuation of the interdisciplinary hands-on educational philosophy that guided the Bauhaus art school in Germany (1919-1933) and Black Mountain College in Black Mountain, North Carolina (1933-1957).  Responding to quotes gathered from BMC student and teacher interviews, memoirs, essays, and other artifacts, we connected the voices of the past with the voices of the present to discuss everything from the challenges of implementing Neo-Bauhaus pedagogical philosophies to whether a 3D printed pot is still pottery.

BMC Brochure NC Archives

Black Mountain College Brochure 1938/39:  The college also offers art courses…music courses…

The conference was hosted at UNC Asheville, September 28-30, 2018.  This year’s focus was the Black Mountain College Summer Art and Music Institutes, summer programs that brought together creative artists, designers, and happening makers like the composer John Cage, dancer Merce Cunningham, poets Charles Olson and Robert Creeley, designer R. Buckminster Fuller, painters Willem and Elaine de Kooning, and too many others to list here.  It was “galaxy of talent,” as painter Ray Johnson described it, gathered to, as Martin Duberman said, break down the false differentiation between “curricular” and “extracurricular.”

Below is the abstract for our panel and brief bios of our panelists with links to the makerspaces in which they carry on the work of providing students an open opportunity to pursue interdisciplinary projects in the tradition of Black Mountain College.

The Makerspace as 21st Century Bauhaus: A Black Mountain College in Every University

The modern university makerspace carries on the mission of Black Mountain College and its Bauhaus roots by providing a space where students and faculty can explore interdisciplinary projects both as part of degree programs and in shorter, non-credit workshops and project-based programs. Makerspaces provide students an opportunity to learn traditional crafts like sewing and woodworking, modern methods like 3D printing and digital design, and the creative use of microcontrollers and other computer technologies – providing a combination of art and science, theory and hands-on skills. In this discussion with members of three university makerspace programs, we will highlight the similarities between the modern makerspace and BMC from the challenges of finding a space (and then, sometimes, having to find another), how to engage faculty and students from multiple disciplines, how to build a sustainable community of interdisciplinary studies, the relationship between the business of making (or sustaining such a place) while retaining the freedom to pursue esoteric aesthetic adventures, and even how some modern technologies like 3D printing are more like hands-on crafts like pottery than people may imagine. We will discus similarities and differences in the well-established makerspaces at NC State (NCSU Makerspace) and UNC (BeAM makerspaces) and a newer space at the University of Rochester (TinkerSpace) with three people working in those programs whose own backgrounds in visual arts, biology, and cultural anthropology are as diverse as the cultures they help to create.




Adam Rogers
Head of Making & Innovation Studio, NC State University
North Carolina State University Libraries Makerspace

Adam Rogers is an innovative, user-focused librarian who works at the intersection of public services and new technologies. In his role as Head of Making & Innovation Studio for the NCSU Libraries, he directs the library’s Makerspace program, which includes spaces at the James B. Hunt Jr. Library and the D.H. Hill Library, and makes 3D printing, 3D scanning, laser cutting, and electronics prototyping tools accessible to all at NC State.



David Romito
Science Librarian, University of North Carolina (Chapel Hill)
Kenan Science Library, BeAM Makerspace

David Romito is a science and makerspace librarian at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He works with students, faculty, and staff in all disciplines, helping them enrich their research and learning experience with technologies such as 3D printing, electronics, and virtual reality.

Lauren Di Monte
Director of Research Initiatives, University of Rochester Libraries
River Campus Libraries TinkerSpace

Lauren Di Monte is the Director of Research Initiatives at the University of Rochester where she works to engage and support faculty in interdisciplinary research. In 2017, she founded the library’s TinkerSpace with workshops that included such diverse skills as creative coding with microcontrollers to basic electronics skills like soldering and data science skills like data visualization and creative coding projects. In the 2018 academic year, the TinkerSpace program will expand from the River Campus Libraries to include workshops in the Rettner Fabrication Studio, part of the new Roland Rettner Hall for Media Arts and Innovation.



Elliot Inman

Elliot Inman
Musical Maker / Experimental Psychologist / Data Scientist
Musical Circuits (aka, where you are now)

Elliot Inman has led workshops in electronics and creative coding on topics ranging from basic electronics and Arduino programming to Fast Fourier Analysis, 8-bit chip synths, MIDI controllers, and the Internet of Things. He developed and led the “Musical Circuits” series as Maker-in-Residence at UNC (spring 2016) and “Quantification: The Art of Making Data” workshop series at NC State (fall 2016). At Moogfest (2017, 2018) and Knobcon (2016), he led workshops on experimental musical instrument design. He is an active participant in the maker faire scene, having participated in Burlington, Charlotte, Greensboro, Raleigh, and Rochester. He earned his undergraduate degrees in English and Psychology at North Carolina State University and his PhD in Experimental Psychology at the University of Kentucky, completing his masters thesis on text processing and a dissertation on visual perception and learning. He works for a leading analytics software company designing data mining and data visualization software. He first encountered Black Mountain College as an undergraduate at NC State when he discovered the Black Mountain Review and, in particular, the work of Cage and Cunningham — surprised to discover that such a utopia had once existed so close to home.

Lake_Eden_Drawing by Gropius and Breuer 1939

A Coney Island of the Mind… The Lake Eden Campus as drawn by Gropius and Breuer (1939)



This year’s ReVIEWING conference was held at the University of North Carolina Asheville campus.  While Google can provide perhaps more detailed views of Asheville from street-level to satellite, no one has illustrated Asheville more accurately than Willem de Kooning.

Asheville by Willem de Kooning 1948

Asheville, Willem de Kooning, 1948


~ WEI 2018


Posted in Abstraction / Distraction, Experimental Music, John Cage

Musical Circuits Goes to Moogfest 2018

MF18 Moogfest 2018 Screenshot v2

From Digital Bits to Analog Waves:  Breadboarding an 8-bit Synth

Using only digital logic and handful of wires and resistors, we will breadboard a circuit that creates complex analog sounds.  Theoretically speaking, we will wire an R2R (resistor to resistor) ladder to smooth the output of a Walsh function generator, experimenting with the auditory effects that result from altering those connections.  Practically speaking, we are going to breadboard a circuit and poke it with wires to hear what happens.  This is a make-and-take workshop.  No computer, no soldering, no electronics experience required.  Please bring your own earbuds to listen to the output.  All other materials will be provided and you can keep what you make.

MF18 Circuit Diagram


Ciani Versus Buchla:  An Audacious Experiment in Sound Design

“[W]e played tennis frequently.  He was a very good tennis player, and we shared that passion.”  Suzanne Ciani talking about Don Buchla (Electronic Musician, May 2017).  What would that have sounded like?  Using Audacity, we will create an imaginary auditory narrative of a game of tennis played by two of the greats of synthesized sound.  We will model the sound of Ciani’s serve, Buchla’s return, a racquet hitting a ball, the bounce of a ball back and forth on the court, and the roar of a crowd.  No experience with Audacity or sound design (or tennis) is required, but participants must bring a laptop (MAC or PC) of their own.  Please download Audacity before the workshop.


Elsewhere at Moogfest 

Musical Circuits Moogfest

Herb Deutsch Playing the First Moog Modular Prototype

MF18 Team Buchla

Team Buchla Tells It Like It Was

MF18 Tlacael Esparza Sensory Percussion

Tlacael Esparza Explains Sensory Percussion as Midori Takada Leans In

MF18 Ben Gebhardt of Moog Explains Electronics

Ben Gebhardt of Moog Explains a Circuit

Musical Circuits Moogfest

AI Design Workshop

MF18 KRS-One Teaches

KRS-One Teaches Everything You Didn’t Learn in School

MF18 Moog by Shanahan

Bob Moog

And then, back into a world too much with us, late and soon…

MF18 Resist


MF18 Wristband


Thanks to Lorna-Rose, James, Megan, and everyone who came together to share a few magic days of electronic sound.

— WEI 2018

Posted in Circuits, Experimental Music, Moogfest, Workshops | Tagged , ,

Four Four Time @ CDI

Four Four Time

An interactive, collaborative constellation of four MIDI sequencers, each of which can play four notes in its own time with variable pitches, note lengths, and tempos. Participants can join in the real time creation of complex musical patterns working at one of the four sequencer stations or just listen in to the results of a crowdsourced quartet.  Presented by Elliot Inman of Musical Circuits as part of MUSICnight at the Center for Design Innovation, November 1, 2017.

Posted in Arduino, Experimental Music, MIDI

Circuit Bending for Beginners

Circuit BendingBecause unmaking something is a great way to make something new.

Circuit Bending for Beginners
Unmake a musical keyboard and discover how plastic parts connect with electronic circuits to make music. See how the piano keyboard actually works, how a power supply is wired, and how the speakers are connected to the circuit. Find out what happens when we trick the circuit into doing things it was never intended to do. With nothing more than a Phillips screwdriver and a handful of wires, we will dismantle a keyboard and turn it into an experimental orchestra of synthesized sounds. No soldering, no high voltage, no computer — only reckless good fun. Workshop lead by Elliot Inman of Musical Circuits as part of the Charlotte Mini Maker Faire hosted by Discovery Place, 10-14-2017.


Circuit Bernding for BeginnersPhoto from Twitter:  CLTMakerFaire, 10/14/2017
Posted in Circuit Bending, Circuits, Workshops

Musical Circuits Goes to Moogfest 2017


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Posted in Circuits, Moogfest, Workshops

A Postmodern Drum Machine

TOFU Time 1

Tofu Time:  A Solid Block of Extra Firm Time and a Very Sharp Knife

“How does time function in postmodern music?  Postmodernism is profoundly temporal, but it uses, rather than submits to time.  Its music shapes time, manipulates time.  Time, like tonal sounds and diatonic tunes and rhythmic regularity and textual unity, becomes no longer context but malleable material.”   ~  Jonathan D. Kramer, Postmodern Music, Postmodern Listening 2016, p. 152.

Most drum machines build a beat from the sample up.  Some, like the Roland 808, allow you to press buttons to determine the position of samples in a left to right sequence.  Others, like the Akai MPC-1000, allow you to set an empty loop length and trigger a sample as your previously triggered samples loop endlessly until you fill up the loop space.  Both drum machines work from the bottom up to build a beat.

This isn’t that drum machine.  This is a drum machine that approaches beatmaking from the top down — a postmodern drum machine.  Instead of building a beat by adding samples, this drum machine lets you build a beat by dividing time down.  This is a drum machine that treats time like tofu, a big block of extra firm tofu.

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Posted in Arduino, Drum Machine, Experimental Music, Postmodernism

Silence, Chance, Cage, Code

Random Silence 2

“Un coup de dés jamais n’abolira le hasard.”  ~ Stéphane Mallarmé, 1897

John Cage is well known as the composer who formalized the use of silence as a compositional element on par with any other note or sound.  He was also the composer who, though Zen Buddhism, introduced chance into composition, allowing the I Ching to dictate the terms and conditions of sound heard in a way that no egomaniacal romantic would have ever allowed.  Cage was content to determine the methods of composition without micromanaging the process note-by-note. Continue reading

Posted in Experimental Music, John Cage, Uncategorized