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DIY video synthesizer looks and sounds like your busted Atari

Make Magazine is now selling their Cellular Automata video synthesizer kit, allowing people to create musical tones from shifting video patterns.

Photo of Make Magazine's Cellular Automata video synthesizer DIY kit
Don't let the box fool you, hippies will hate this thing. Make Magazine

Make magazine--purveyor of awesome and amusing DIY projects and kits--has added a new product to its online store -- the Cellular Automata video synthesizer kit. It may look like a hippie guitar pedal, but actually it creates endearingly retro (but mostly annoying) audio and video akin to an Atari 2600 meltdown. The kit offers RCA audio and video outputs, costs $50, and is mostly preassembled. You will have to find your own enclosure (the rainbow-colored wooden box is only a suggestion) and solder on the knobs and a reset button.

Screen shot of Make Magazine video synthesizer.
Either someone needs to blow the dust out of that Frogger cartridge, or you're looking at 8-bit cellular automata. Make Magazine

The video synthesizer works off a mathematical idea called cellular automata, which basically generates evolving patterns of data based on predetermined rules. I don't really understand it myself. All I know is that it has three controls--one that controls how many colored squares fit onto the screen; one that controls how the squares behave; and a third the controls how fast they go. Here's a video (.mov) showing what you can expect.

I imagine the novelty of this thing gets pretty old pretty quick, but I love the idea of building this kit into some old lunch box.

"What's that Scooby Doo lunch box with the knobs sticking out of it?"

"Oh, it's a cellular automata video synthesizer."

"What does it do?"

"It gives people horrible headaches."

Link to manufacturer's site (Critter and Guitari).