How This Group Of London Hackers Made Musical Instruments From Converse All Stars

What do you get when you put a crowd of creative Londoners in a garage with DIY speaker kits and Converse All Stars sneakers? Musical instruments made from Chucks.

Technology Will Save Us is a haberdashery for technology, supplying DIY kits which allow users to make their own technology items, from a moisture sensor which tells you when your plants need water to soldering your own games console. The company recently teamed up with Google and Converse to host workshops in London where participants turned its DIY speaker kits and Converse sneakers (aka Chucks) into speakers and musical instruments. Here’s how they came together.


DIY Music + DIY Fashion

Designer Bethany Koby and her partner artist Daniel Hirschmann started Technology Will Save Us two years ago after finding a working laptop in their trash can. “That started this dialog around the idea that we have so much technology in our lives and we don’t really understand it, “ says Koby. “We don’t know how to fix it. We don’t know what to do with it when we don’t want it anymore. We don’t know how to be creative with it, not because we don’t want to but because we don’t have the skills to do it. We are given these sealed pieces of technology. That’s where the idea of kits came from, giving people simple easy to create things.”

Technology Will Save Us supplies DIY kits which allow users to make everyday items related to everyday life themes like gardening, cycling, music, food and gaming. The company’s DIY Gamer kit, for example, teaches people how to make a handheld games console, play games on it, and code their own. “We have identified the skills that we think are fundamental when it comes to making stuff with tech: soldering, circuitry, basic electronics, programming,” says Koby.

Converse and Google approached Technology Will Save Us with a challenge to take some Chucks and see how they could be modified with the DIY Speakers Kit. The kit can be used to turn any surface into a speaker. Users solder their own amplifier, plug in a music source like a phone, attach an exciter which converts any surface into a loudspeaker emitting the music signal, and use a potentiometer to adjust the volume.

First Technology Will Save Us developed some prototype speakers. “When you use the Chuck in a certain way it creates more bass,” explains Koby. “When you use it in another way it creates more treble. You can also turn everything into a speaker. You attach an exciter to the bottom of the Chuck and you put it on a wall, on a couch, on a window or any surface to which you attach your Chuck into a speaker.”

Then they started to experiment with making musical instruments. “We used the shoelaces to create the strings on an electric guitar,” says Koby. “We made a microphone, we made a contrabass, a feedback synth. We used our speaker kit and the box to create the amp connected to the instrument.”

Last weekend the collaborators organized a set of workshops in London to allow the general public to come and have a go at making their own speakers and instruments. One participant took apart the entire Chuck and sewed the canvas into a glove that had the exciter embedded in the palm. Anything she touched turned into a speaker. Another sliced the Chuck in half, impregnated the canvas with glue to make it more rigid, attached the exciter to this, and added a more powerful amplifier. When bass-heavy music played, the Chuck would “walk.” There were Chuck guitars and Chuck ukuleles.


Ultimately, Technology Will Save Us wants to give its customers the skills to manipulate and modify the technology around them. “We do find that when people make something, there’s an invention component to it,” concludes Koby, ”We have had people modify the Thirsty Plant kit (which makes a moisture sensor which tells you when your plants are dry) to make automatic watering cans. Take the thing you have made and make it more bespoke, more advanced, more personal.”


About the author

Lapsed software developer, tech journalist, wannabe data scientist. Ciara has a B.Sc.