In 2015 I had the pleasure of working with Phillip Sollmann on his performance/installation Sirene. For the project, I researched how to control two very precise, high-tech Faulhaber motors with Pure Data over a serial connection. Originally designed for aerospace use, the Faulhaber motors became the engines for Sollmann’s air-powered, microtonal sirens which were presented at Oststation, Vienna in the spring of that year. The physical structure of the sirens was designed and executed by Paper/Christoph Blattmacher in Berlin.
Another vehicle for interdimensional travel completed! This one features seven identical Thomas Henry XR-VCOs with three different timbre modulation options (hard sync, “skew” waveshaping and a J3RK/Stroh Modular crossfader between triangle/sine and square), all with voltage control, plus voltage-controlled frequency modulation, a summing mono output and even a headphone amp.
When I think about the human-hours that went into this instrument, I start going a little bit insane. Completing this would not have been possible without the assistance of Lars Ennsen and Damian Jaroszonek. Thanks düdes!
SoundBoxes are small, primitive electro-acoustic instruments built from a wooden box, a speaker, a small audio amplifier and a contact microphone. During the first of two workshop days, participants learned about electricity, how it becomes sound and then how to build their own personalized SoundBoxes.
On the second day, they explored the possibilities of the SoundBoxes through a series of listening and improv exercises, with the goal of collaboratively creating the score for an immersive, surround-sound performance inspired by the works of Alvin Lucier, Pauline Oliveros, John Grzinich, David Tudor, Gordon Monahan and others, performed in a darkened room for an eyes-closed audience.
In the piece, a swarm of individual, simple sound sources such as tones and textures are modulated and moved through the space physically by the performers to create a complex sonic environment. Delicate and intimate sounds pass closely near the bodies and ears of the audience, while stronger, more extreme sounds occur at the edges of the space to give a sense of the architecture of the room and the objects in it.
More info: macumbista.net/?page_id=1897
SOUNDBOX ORCHESTRA PERFORMERS
Video by Montse Torredà Martí
18-19 July 2015, Atelier Macumba Berlin
From 5-15 OCT 2015, I will be Toolmaker in Residence at Signal Culture in Owego New York.
While there, I intend develop a PCB which can be used for producing vector graphics, viewable via Vectrex, Wobbulator/hacked TV, laser display or other analog systems, which takes one or two audio inputs as well as control voltage. This board should include function generators, quadrature oscillators, phase shifters and multipliers, and could produce either traditional Lissajous figures using the analog multipliers or raster-type effects using synced function generators. The ultimate aim of the board is not only the development of artistic works, but also it’s use as the core of a future analog vector graphics workshop where participants both build and experiment with the circuit.
The lo-res sketches included here were created in September 2015 in Berlin using a vector monitor [V INPUT, H INPUT, Z-AXIS INPUT, PULSE MARKER INPUT] + Dual “Butterfly” Benjolin.
The “Miasmachine” is a custom re-design of the Benjolin as a guitar-processing synthesizer for Norwegian musician Erik Skodvin (aka Svarte Greiner, half of Deaf Center and owner of the Miasmah record label). In this adaptation, the input signal is first run through a ring modulation circuit (with one selected raw oscillator waveform–TRI, PULSE or PWM–of the Benjolin being the modulator signal), then the ring-modulated signal is inserted in the Benjolin’s Voltage Controlled Low Pass Filter to control the higher harmonics.
This instrument was a custom commission, however if you are interested in a similar instrument, please contact me at macumbista AT THE DOMAIN gmail DOT com, or via the CONTACT page of this website.
I am still in the process of editing video for this machine, so this will be posted at a later date.
Together with Jeroen Vandesande, I gave my Neanderthal Electronics instrument-building workshop to a group of students of the RITS Winterschool (Erasmushogeschool RITS, Brussels) from 12-23 JAN 2015. Over these ten days, the participants with backgrounds in acting, writing, theater tech and radio production designed, constructed, learned to play and created a composition using their own self-built DIY electronic instruments. A variety of circuits–including CMOS logic chips, amplifiers, portable loudspeakers, contact microphones and opto-electronics–ensured that each instrument gave a unique voice to each player in the piece.
The resulting 16 minute composition (inspired by the works of Alvin Lucier, Pauline Oliveros, John Grzinich, David Tudor and others) was an immersive, surround-sound experience, performed in a darkened room for an eyes-closed audience of 25 people at a time. In the piece, a swarm of individual, simple sound sources such as tones and textures are modulated and moved through the space physically by the performers to create a complex sonic environment. Delicate and intimate sounds pass closely near the bodies and ears of the audience, while stronger, more extreme sounds occur at the edges of the space to give a sense of the architecture of the room and the objects in it.
Composed and performed by Bram Verrecas, Amber Meulenijzer, Jana Rymen, Kimberly Struyf, Francesca Van Daele, Anna Van Hoof, Max Adams, Zoë Bossuyt, Iben Stalpaert, Milan Van Doren, Nils Melckenbeeck, Emma Schiettecatte, and Michèle Even at Kunstencentrum NONA, Mechelen, Belgium on 23 JAN 2015.
Much gratitude to Dieter van Dam for the invitation!
Workshop info here: http://macumbista.net/?page_id=497
PLEASE LISTEN TO THIS CLIP WITH HEADPHONES
I just realized that, although it was built more than one year ago, I still have not documented the Apokalypsegerät machine I created for Andreas Catjar and Markus Öhrn‘s theater productions, and which I play in Bis Zum Tod. I was probably waiting to edit some videos for it, but my video backlog is twenty miles long at this point. So here we go….. Please note there are some slight differences in panel layouts (and a couple extra functions added) between the proposal images and the finished system.
* Analog Modular Synthesizer with four Voltage Controlled Oscillators, four switchable Voltage Controlled Filters/Amplifiers, four Output channels and onstage lighting
* Optimized for the creation of apocalyptic doom drones
DUAL XR-2206 VCO
* Rough and Fine manual Tuning Controls
* Manual- and Voltage-Controlled Skew adjusts shape of the waveform
* Linear, Exponential and 1 Volt/Octave Frequency Modulation
* Sync input resets waveform
* Square Wave output
* Switchable Sine or Triangle Wave output
* Low Frequency or High Frequency Oscillator modes
* Circuit design by Thomas Henry, circuit layout by Bugbrand
* Two Dual XR-2206 VCO modules present in system
QUAD LOW PASS GATE 292
* Each of the four independent gates is switchable between Voltage Controlled Low Pass Filter, Voltage Controlled Amplifier or “Both” mode
* Used for Manual- or Voltage-Control over both amplitude and spectrum of audio signal
* High resonance allows generation of percussive sounds as well
* Circuit design by Don Buchla, circuit layout by Thomas White
* One Quad Resonant Low Pass Gate 292 module present in system
QUAD OUTPUT MODULE
* Each of the four outputs converts unshielded banana-jack to shielded 6,3mm audio jack
* Attenuators used to reduce modular synthesizer voltage level (10 Volts peak-to-peak) to line-level audio (3,5 Volts peak-to-peak)
* Female XLR connection provided for gooseneck LED lamp
* One Quad Output module present in system
I would love to do more custom systems like this, please contact me via the CONTACT link or at the email address MACUMBISTA at-the-domain GMAIL dot COM for more information.
A new generation of the SoundBoxes is born, combining the touchable body contacts and high-gain portable amplifier from the original design with a nasty distortion with enough controls to keep your fingers busy wiggling for a long while.
* Large, high-efficiency (read: LOUD!) 12cm speaker
* High-gain input, suitable for contact microphone, electric guitar, etc. (Line level signals can be attenuated if clipping is not intended.)
* Line output
* Neutrik 6.3mm (1/4 inch) jacks on both input and output
* Four-control, switchable, extreme[!], vintage hand-selected Germanium transistor distortion
* Six “circuit-bending” touchpoints
* 9V battery operation
* Includes a resonant spring contact microphone.
This SoundBox could easily be used as a portable guitar amplifier with built-in distortion, for example, or can be used as an instrument in it’s own right to create a wide range of electronic sounds and textures.
The sound of this instrument is quite similar to what can be heard in the following video (however the video was done with the SoundBox and FuzzTone distortion pedal as separate units). Through the creative use of feedback, as well as the CHP and SQZ settings on the pedal, generative tones and chaotic patterns can emerge:
The price is EUR 225 (incl. 19% EU VAT) / EUR 190 (shipped outside the EU) plus shipping. Each instrument is made to order with an approximately one month waiting time. A 50% deposit on the price is required to begin work.
Please contact me using the CONTACT page here, or through MACUMBISTA at-the-domain GMAIL dot COM. Thank you for your kind attention.
This interview was featured in Sante Sangre magazine this week…
How would you summarize this past year on artistic and personal level?
This last year held huge changes for me in terms of direction and outlook. I still get a lot out of performing on a personal level, but I have always struggled with the avant-garde elitism I find throughout the entire experimental and new music scenes. My disgust with this elitism–coupled with the very realistic awareness that I will likely never make a living playing noise concerts–led me at first towards teaching people to build their own instruments in a variety of workshops over the years. But in 2013, I began producing and selling my own hand made electronic sound instruments in earnest, and the response has been fantastic!
I see most modern music technology (software or hardware) as being only partly “instruments” in the classical sense, and more like interactive compositions, where the designer has purposefully included or left out elements which shape the sound in very predetermined ways. By sharing some of the tools I use to make my own performances, I invite other artists (professional, amateur or otherwise) to collaborate with me in new ways and break down this tired, Romantic idea of the genius artist inventing themselves in complete isolation…
What album you listened to most often this year (not necessarily released in 2013)?
Swans – We Rose From Your Bed With the Sun In Our Head [2012 Young God]
What was the best cultural experience not related to music?
My cultural life seems inextricably tied to music somehow, so here I will mention living like a reptile on the high plains of Southwest Texas, experiencing a smoke sauna in the Estonian countryside, watching the leaves turn color in the north of Sweden and reading some of the biographies and journals of the great explorers of the 19th and 20th centuries.
And best trip? Most beautiful or magic place you visited this year?
I was lucky enough to get an invitation to play at the Tsonami Festival in Valparaiso, Chile this year. The invitation came early enough that I could book a whole month of workshops, concerts and residencies in Chile, and spent time in Punta Arenas (Patagonia), Santiago, Valparaiso and the experimental architecture community of Ciudad Abierta, in Ritoque just north of Concón. Patagonia and Ritoque in particular struck me. In both places, the nature was both incredibly beautiful and unforgiving.
What was your greatest disappointment of 2013?
Near the end of my trip to Chile, I was informed that my father was in the hospital with cancer. We have always been very close, and I am certain this wandering, mongrel-dog artist lifestyle I lead is due to his example. Realizing that someone I have respected so much my entire life is still a mere mortal came as a deep shock.
Did you learn anything particular this year?
After turning 40 in 2012, I have been thinking a lot about how one can remain an independent artist in the long term, and in a sustainable way. When you are 27, all you care about is enough money to pay the rent, buy a few new toys and keep yourself in beers. But working outside institutional structures becomes more and more challenging after a while, when you aren’t willing to sacrifice your time, your personal relationships, your health or your future to play a few more door-money gigs in some stinking basement in Neukölln.
A sustainable way of working gives you a stable platform in the long term, rather than twenty bucks, a beer and a kebab in the short term. It’s there for those times when you are sick and have no inspiration, or when you have a huge idea that just won’t wait, or when you fall in love and want to build a cabin in the mountains together, or any other damned thing that isn’t the unrelenting grind of produce-produce-produce, book-book-book and tour-tour-tour to keep the bill collectors off your back.
Plans, hopes, expectations for 2014?
I will fly in some planes, see some new cities, play some gigs, build some new instruments and meet scores of new people. Like most years. And for this I remain thankful. Besides that, I hope to expand this instrument-building business into something which can better support me, without turning into one of the caricature trust-fund hipster start-up types who have overrun Berlin in the last 6 years. But more than anything, I hope to be able to wander the desert like a mad fool with my father again when he is well.
Photo by Terje Toomistu
Changing the Power Base
Around the time of the recent Female Pressure report, which called out many sound and music festivals around the globe for their scandalously poor representation of female artists, I had several discussions with the main organizers of the LAK Festival (three quarters women, incidentally) about how to address the issue. To their credit, they didn’t make a big deal about it. No “female artist showcase” or other kinds of tokenism involved. They simply selected artists they were interested in, which just so happened to place a fairly even number of men and women on the stage that weekend. Which is pretty much how things should be, in my own opinion.
What surprised me more was the turnout for the workshops. There are many ways of reaching out to potential participants of an arts and technology workshop. Written one way, with a focus on parts-catalog jargon and makerlab buzzwords, the turnout is often exclusively dudes in their mid-20’s who wear hooded sweatshirts 24 hours a day, rarely bathe and posses an obsessive interest in controlling their toaster with an Arduino or 3D-printing yet another ashtray.
Written another way, with more of a nod to aesthetics and content, or even just acknowledging a more intuitive and non-linear approach to arts-n-tech, the results are much more varied and far richer. In this sense, I guess we did something right because three quarters of the workshop participants were women–as compared with a whopping zero percent in the workshop I taught to a Danish university sound design course the following week!
I emphasize the presentation and participation of women not from a “Yeah, sisters!” kind of feminism, but rather as a barometer of how it is possible to reach out from a traditional arts or music festival power base. Age, education, race or class could be another set of many possible indicators left for another set of reflections on this or any other festival.
Life in an Alienating Utopia
One criticism of the festival I have heard in several places is that it was merely “sound-for-sound’s-sake.” And this could well be valid–from the position of the passive spectator. I’m sorry if this is news to anyone, but even after one hundred years of history, electronic sound remains a fundamentally alienating dystopia for the exact same reasons it provides a creative utopia.
Namely, this is because it is no longer necessary to have the source of the sound present during its performance, and because sounds can be created which have never been heard before, both through means with which the audience has no connection visual or otherwise. Any kind of electronic sound presentation which neglects this alienation on the part of a traditional audience is doomed to failure with them. Simply put, it’s not just “all about the sound.” Not now, and not ever.
Innovative approaches to engaging the audience don’t regurgitate the 90’s “interactivity” model of waving to the machine in the proper way so that the machine waves back. Nor do they sugar-coat everything in accessible techno beats. The performer who crouches motionless behind the laptop, mixer or pile of obscure gear playing (or playing back) what one LAK reviewer simple-mindedly called “ant-war” music deserves the reaction they get from outside the small, safe confines of their scene.
Don’t get me wrong here, I love challenging, experimental music–when it is well-presented. But I simply gave up on expecting it to “cross over” to a larger audience long ago. There are very few “civilians” (as Kristina Andersen quipped to me one evening) at an experimental sound art festival, and the ones who do show up can be a cynical bunch.
The Participatory Model
The “sound-for-sound’s-sake” criticism immediately falls apart when the participatory model is taken. In my own workshops, I have noticed again and again that people who would never attend an experimental concert are quite happy to play one of their own when given the chance. Other people’s noise can be annoying, but your own noise–that is sublime! So instead of trying to pack 100 people in a room to watch one self-indulgent noise artist, why not let 10 people become one for themselves for a few hours?
This is the challenge to the passive, cynical audience member… to drop the cool, “what the fuck” posture and take part in something rather than stand by the sidelines and spectate. As Tore Honoré Boe observes about his Acoustic Laptops, when people first see a wooden box with a few toothbrushes glued inside, their skepticism remains high until they actually reach inside and “touch the sound”. Then their attitude immediately changes and they find themselves captivated by their own noise.
For me, two of the most successful workshops were led by Mads Bech Paulszewski-Hau and John Grzinich. In each case, participants committed themselves to days of preparation, creating a tactile sonic installation and a blindfolded sound walk which they themselves were responsible for presenting during the festival. The workshop leaders worked with a goal of planned obsolescence, facilitating and fading into the background the more the participants became confident of their own work. These participants came from a wide range of backgrounds, from visual arts to movement to music to simple interest–as did many of the workshop participants that week. The common factor was the complaint that access to information about sound art was very hard for them to find.
Similarly successful were the CEO Bendorama circuit-bending workshop, the Syntjuntan circuit-sewing workshop, and in particular Kristina Andersen’s ElectroSqueak Club instrument-building workshop for children, all of which provided a low-stress point of contact with electronics, materials and sound which simply does not exist in arts education on the university or community level almost anywhere else. One particularly interesting turn of events came when one of Christian Skjødt‘s improvisation workshop participants installed herself in the stairwell and in her own way joined the lineup of the festival. By and large, those who came–the untrained, the curious, the non-professional–were “civilians” in the most basic sense of the word.
Let a Thousand Noise Artists Bloom
–But who is going to watch all these freshly-born sound artists perform?
The participatory model is highly resistant to stage-elevation. It simply isn’t the point. For centuries, folk music has been created not by professional artists but by everyday people for their collective enjoyment, rather than to single one person out as The Artist and celebrate them alone. Why should electronic sound, the folk music of our age, be any different? In that sense, one cannot complain if there are “too many” sound artists or performers out there, since it is no longer about competition for other people’s attention. The consolation prize is perhaps more people coming into the scene to spectate on other people’s sound art performances some time in the future. Think of it as a small investment…
A Deeper Sense of Contact
This kind of thinking requires a radical reboot of the traditional festival strategy of success-through-maximum-headcount, however. The participatory model is democratic in the sense that it allows direct access, and not because it sells thousands of tickets. Like being one of six pupils at a Montessori or Steiner school rather than one of hundreds at a public school, it is a deeper, more involved way to experience the art form and should be valued for that reason, and not because some “thump thump thump” put a lot of hands in the air.
Do you try to touch a thousand people in a superficial way, or touch a dozen people in a deep way? Depends on your funding model, I suppose. But moving away from one’s traditional, elite power base always requires new models. So even when it means less bodies in a room for now, I am happy to see LAK moving in that direction.
—D. Holzer, Västernorrland, Sweden 09 Oct 2013
Thanks and Appreciation
My sincere thanks to Katrine Møllebæk, Sif Hellerup Madsen, Agnete Seerup, Rasmus Cleve Christensen and the festival volunteers for organizing a great week, to John Grzinich, CEO Bendorama, Tore Honoré Boe, Christian Skjødt, Mads Bech Paluszewski-Hau, Kristina Andersen, Lise-Lotte Norelius and Ann Rosén for their hard work on thew workshops, to Dani Dögenigt and Sebastian Edin for their assistance during the workshops, and to all the workshop participants for their interest and energies! Photos courtesy of LAK Festival, Kristina Andersen and Flora Tosti.