Uganda’s Afrorack goes from modular synths to a DIY disinfectant; more efforts worldwide

Brian Bamanya made a name making DIY modular synths, but now he’s applying voltage to another task – making sodium hypochlorite (aka bleach). Science! That joins a growing number of efforts of DIYers turning to fight the pandemic head-on.

Please, do not try anything like this before reading advisories below.

First off, this stuff is what’s known as household bleach or liquid bleach. Despite the fact that it’s sold readily, it is potentially very toxic – don’t let it touch other cleaning substances based on ammonia and acidic cleaners, for instance, or you’ll brew some harmful fumes. In fact, don’t even leave it sunlight. (Here’s a list of don’ts.) Don’t drink it, obviously (okay, not obvious to some), but also don’t let it touch anything that you’re going to consume – don’t get this anywhere near food.

But used with care, bleach is fantastic. You’ll see it in the toolkits of professional cleaners for a reason – it’s good at certain tasks. And it is very effective on surfaces against SARS-CoV-2, that virus known as the coron— yeah, I know, you hear about it every 15 seconds. Let’s get back to bleach and chemistry, because they’re cool.

But the important thing here is – yes, this can produce a WHO-approved surface cleaner. And no, you should not take any advice in chemistry or health from CDM. Honestly, I’m not sure I would claim you should take synth advice from CDM. Here are reliable sources on bleach and SARS-CoV-2:

World Health Organization on disinfecting [WHO PDF]
COVID-19 – Disinfecting with Bleach [Michigan State University]
National Center for Biotechnology Information on bleach specifically [they’re part of the National Institutes of Health, a US government branch]
Environmental Protection Agency document on the topic

Brian’s approach leans as much on electronics background as it does chemistry, because you can make it by running electricity through sodium chloride salt solution. Yeah – it’s analog. And that’s how it is manufactured.

What Brian is doing that’s clever is making this on a small scale when industrially-produced material has been subject to price hikes – and reusing plastic bottle trash in the process.

Is this a good idea? I don’t want to comment, as I am neither an expert on infectious disease nor anything like a chemist. So I want to put it out there to hear reaction, as normally given the range of backgrounds on the site, someone has an answer. I’ll update this story and our social channels with whatever we hear.

You can support the project here:

And find Brian here:

Bleach is effective in small concentrations; alcohol requires greater purity. But theoretically it should be possible to DIY ethanol alcohol, and off-the-grid types have been doing that before the COVID-19 outbreak. Also, unlike distillation, this will be legal in most places – though be careful not to sell it or make health claims, as that requires a license.

Let me again restate that I am not in any way qualified to talk about this, and you should not listen to me, though you should get in touch if you are qualified, and it is worth reading the experts – if for no other reason than to pass the time.

More efforts from the music makers

It’s also an indication of the changed world we’re in that the synth DIY community in general is in some cases turning to things other than musical instruments.

From Slovakia, Jonáš Gruska of LOM label – an experimental music label and maker of various sound electronics – is one of many people making 3D-printed face masks. (He’s also experimenting with UV hardware, but the face masks I know are being actively advocated by health care professionals around the world for their supplies.)

Groups like NYCResistor, who had been a partner of ours back in NYC, are engaged in similar projects – though the calls are as diverse as places looking for plexiglass boxes for intubation equipment.

Our friend Geert Bevin now of Moog has been making protective gear with UNC Asheville students working at the STEAM Studio:

UNCA students help make protective gear for health care workers [WLOS news]

People are sewing cloth masks, too – originally specifically excluded from guidance, but now part of international recommendations as the contagion and our knowledge of it evolve. Take for instance SewnMasksNYC, and (too many to list here) various efforts undertaken by musicians and media artists in our circle.

Places to find DIY help

I’ll refer to the official US Center for Disease Control instructions here (English + Spanish), just posted as they updated their guidance to begin advocating them. After some mixed messages here, this document is clear and concise and applicable everywhere – uh, once you convert from inches. (Some day, my native country will go metric.)

Use of Cloth Face Coverings to Help Slow the Spread of COVID-19 [CDC]

You’ll also find active open source groups for equipment. The main hub is currently on Facebook:

With a preferred 3D-printed face shield plan living at:

And here’s some music to accompany this article, by Ana Quiroga as NWRMNTC, who I understand has been sewing masks together with curator/artist Estela Oliva in the UK:

We needed some music, for sure, somewhere in this.

Let us know your feedback and what you may be involved in. I certainly don’t mean to intend that everyone in our community needs to contribute in this way – staying at home or doing your day job may be your best bet, and there’s plenty that matters in music itself these days. But I do hope we can use our networks to stay informed and connected.

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