Here's FXDB's interview with Jamie Laboz of Chamber Of Sounds.
Chamber Of Sounds is run by Jamie Laboz. The company is located in Tucson, Arizona.
I got into building synths and pedals only 4 years ago. After getting a good response on eBay, I decided to make standardized models of my experiments, to reach a larger, but still underground audience.
When I first started, it involved buying a simple kit from the local
electronics store. Then it involved modifying broken effects that I'd
find at the local music store. After building a bunch of Frankenstein
units, I came across a Synare Sensor drum synthesizer. Not knowing what I
was doing, while trying to repair it, I added a photocell for the pitch
and mistakenly attached the trigger wires to the drum mount screws,
allowing skin-touch, sensitivity. That very early design became our
current Jupiter T synthesizer, which I've made some nice improvements on
over the years.
After finding a great custom enclosure distributor, who paints and drills the orange sparkle cases, I continued building the devices, solo, in my laundry-room/workshop. It wasn't until a year later, when I enlisted the circuit board, soldering skills of fellow musician and metal fabrication artist, Chris Nast. He's made assembled most of the Jupiter and LSD circuit boards ever since. I wire the completed boards and other components into the enclosure and finish off the units. This ultimately cuts down the build time of each unit, allowing us to make more units and keep the price low.
In late April 2012, I moved into a new, dedicated, still small, space set up exclusively for building devices. Chris continues to work on his own, in his own metal fabrication shop. We build about 150 devices a year now.
I was inspired by a lot of circuit bent devices I was coming across online. Mostly I was inspired by late 70s and early 80s drum synths, like the Synare Sensor and the Boss PS2. It was a concept that came and went and needed to be revisited, especially with the 80s electronic revival.
Chamber of Sounds comes from the original space, that the company was founded in. It's 30 foot ceilings and cinder-block walls resembled a chamber or dungeon and prompted the name.
1970s space movies and tv shows inspired the logo's look.
What sets Chamber Of Sounds apart from other builders?
The use of light & touch sensors immediately sets us apart from other manufacturers. The fact that our devices are miniature, hand-held and triggered by any audio source, set us apart too. Our space-age designs, diagonal knob placement and orange-sparkle cases also contribute to setting us apart from anything else out there.
We have a lot of big names using our devices and even more underground artists, most of whom are professional musicians and producers. They all share the love of random sounds and noise and look for unique, high quality instruments that can set their music apart from standard faire productions.
How do you start on a new pedal?
When I have an idea, I'll make a rough version of it, then work out the kinks as I go along, figuring out what it need to be most unique. If I feel it's an idea worth pursuing, I'll sketch out a wilder, graphic version of it, then make a prototype. If I really dig it, then I'll get some cases and decals and start building a few, to see how the public likes it. After posting a video, I can usually gauge the response, and see if it's worthwhile to make a limited run or a full production device. The whole process of development to production can be as little as 3 weeks. Being online has made the whole process incredibly fast.
How do you name your pedals?
Jupiter obviously is a space reference, as that's what the device sounds like. The III after Jupiter, is just the 3rd version, that became the production model. The T version, stands for touch, as in touch-sensitivity.
LSD stands for, Light Sensitive Delay, but is also an obvious reference to the hallucinatory drug, that it sounds like and makes you feel like you're on while using it.
Droneulator, was a play on a space device and also a shortened version on "Drone you later".
Octo, is short for octagon, as it's an eight-sided space drum, it kind of sounded European and fun.
TCM is simply the abbreviation for Time Clock Module.
Can you tell us something about the production process?
I personally finish and test each pedal in-house, but circuit boards for a couple of our devices are assembled by one contractor. So there's on full-time builder and one part-time builder.
Chamber of Sounds uses only the finest, double-sided PCBs. They're all hand-wired with lead-free solder. The cases are mostly Hammond cases, custom painted, some custom drilled and silkscreened, by a small pedal enclosure operation in Louisiana. The cases are powder coated and extra resistant to scuffs and scratches, in a striking orange sparkle finish.
Our flagship model, Jupiter T, has acrylic faceplates, that we designed, and are made here in Arizona, close to the Mexican border. The heavy duty ABS plastic cases are manufactured by Serpac in the USA. Decals for the other models are printed locally.
Very important!!! We need to make it clear, by just looking at the devices, that they are from outer space. The knob configurations are not like any other pedals out there. Most people place their knobs straight across and closer to the top. We place ours diagonal and offset, so that the layout of the controls is creating the space vibe, even more so than the graphics themselves.
When we do have graphics, they feature futuristic space fonts and shapes, silkscreened in white, instead of black. The cases also say "space", in that they're either orange-sparkle or light grey ABS plastic. The shape alone of our Jupiter T (trapezoid) and Octo (octagon) make you think of equipment found on a spaceship. The use of old-style, oversized knobs, further construes this feeling of a space device from a another time.
Is parts selection important?
I like to get as high a quality of components I can find, but stuff that's also always available, from a few different vendors. It's foolish to buy parts that won't always be available, when mass-producing devices. The wiring must look like a work of art, when the user opens up the pedal, so we use color coordinated wire, that is laid out in an aesthetically pleasing array. Every detail is important to us and our users.
Which of your pedals makes you most proud?
I'm most proud of the Jupiter T, because it's exactly the instrument I always wanted to make. It's a much better version of my original prototype (the modified Synare Sensor), with more features and a very attractive, space-age design. It's like nothing else out there, sound-wise & playing-wise. It also goes beyond ancient instruments with strings and keys, opening up a whole new world of handheld electronic instruments. One day, most musicians will play instruments like these and progress from instruments that have been unchanged for centuries.
The toughest builds were when I was trying to cram a strobe light inside certain units to auto generate sound, and a little lightshow. It was hard to line the strobe up properly with an internal photocell, and make everything look neat and clean. After only about 3 of these units, I changed direction and just ordered a bunch of lightsticks, that the user could play with externally. Same effect, less mess and hassle.
Which of your pedals is the most popular?
The most popular product is the Jupiter III. Probably because it's the one I've made the longest. People love that it's light and touch sensitive, fully analog and totally portable. The beautiful silkscreened, space graphics and orange-sparkle case probably don't hurt either. Currently, there's nothing like it in the market.
Who uses your pedals and for which genres?
I make devices for anyone who wants to make noise, specifically space noise. Our fans are mostly within the electronic music arena, but also space-rockers as well as experimental musicians. I believe this is the next frontier for music, abstract, futuristic expression. I also feel light and touch sensitivity are two very dynamic components, that aren't explored by other instrument and effects makers, making us one of the few companies utilizing this technology. I've also always enjoyed making random sci-fi sounds, especially on recordings and wanted to make it easier for musicians and producers to make them too, live and in the studio. Analog synthesis without the learning curve.
Presently, Dr. Dog is on the road with a few of our models. Experimental, noise band, Negativland is also touring this summer, with the Droneulator. Ad Rock from the Beastie Boys has a Jupiter III, and dub step pioneer, The Bug, has a few of our devices. Calexico also records with our devices at Wavelab Studios, here in Tucson. This is just a few of the more well-known people using our stuff. You can find the testimonial page on our site, for quotes from these and other artists.
What does the future of Chamber Of Sounds look like?
We'll continue to develop new light and touch controlled devices and effects, as well as selling our current models, direct from our website. Currently we make 6 different devices, 3 handheld synths, a space-drum pad, a light-controlled delay pedal and a time clock module, to control our synths.
We have no plans for big expansion, through dealers or ad campaigns, or having our devices made cheaply overseas. Our core audience would prefer high quality, handmade instruments, that aren't mass consumed and found in chain stores. We're an underground company making unique and beautiful instruments, that you won't find anywhere else on this planet.
Are you working on any new products?
There's always something on the horizon, but being basically a one-man operation, I have less and less time to roll out new products as I'm filling current orders. Follow us on Facebook for the latest product developments.