From orchestrating derelict CRT television monitors to organizing arrays of baby monitors, Darsha Hewitt mobilizes old technology towards novel ends. Her latest project, A Sideman 5000 Adventure sees the Berlin-based Canuck digging into the innards of an obscure drum machine and using that opportunity to not only conduct research, but stage an electronics history lesson for the internet. After discovering a semi-operational Wurlitzer ‘Side Man’ drum machine from 1959 (the world’s first drum machine, in fact) Hewitt decided to make her exploration of this eccentric electro-mechanical device public and launched an extended video tutorial series. Equal parts irreverent and educational, Hewitt demonstrates through disassembly to highlight the Side Man’s major components, and uses them to discuss electronics fundamentals and talk through other related topics such as how vacuum tubes work, and how sound is transformed into electrical signals. After seeing her engage in a fascinating conversation about the project at the recent MUTEK_IMG event in Montréal with sound studies scholar Jonathan Sterne, CAN reached out to Hewitt to learn a bit more about her predilection for vintage drum machines.
One of the reasons I decided to focus on the machine for such a long time is because I had to. Most of the time there is an abundance of technical documentation surrounding culturally significant music gear such as the Roland 808 – Side Man unfortunately had very little accessible information so, I had to reverse engineer it. Since I am not an engineer it took me over a year to fully understand how it works. During this process I recognized that it was an ideal machine to learn about electronics from – the components are huge and beautiful and it makes really neat sounds it makes the sometimes dense technical info fun. It only made sense to me to revive the machine by highlighting its inner workings by making it the star of a TV show.