2013 Through My Eyes

Posted in Documentation on December 19th, 2013 by admin

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

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Reflections on the LAK Festival 2013

Posted in Documentation, Essay on October 9th, 2013 by admin

Photo Flora Tosti

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.

Photo Flora Tosti

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.

Photo Flora Tosti

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.

Photo Kristina Andersen

Let a Thousand Noise Artists Bloom

–But who is going to watch all these freshly-born sound artists perform?

–Who cares.

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…

Photo Flora Tosti

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.

Photo Kristina Andersen

Photo Flora Tosti

Photo Flora Tosti

Photo Flora Tosti

Photo Flora Tosti

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Custom Dual-Input SoundBoxes

Posted in Documentation on August 9th, 2013 by admin

These two dual-input SoundBoxes were created custom for Richard Quirk/Sand Fingers. They feature a much larger (and louder!!!) 94mm backlit transparent speaker (normally used in the WolfTone boxes) with Japanese chiyogami paper lining, internal mixer, line-out and “circuit-bending” body contact touchpoints. They really scream!!!

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MAAJAAM Weird Sound Workshop Estonia

Posted in Documentation on July 30th, 2013 by admin

From 13-16 July 2013, I led a small group of workshop participants to build their own electronic sound instruments–either the Weird Sound Generator (from the Music From Outer Space website), or one of my own SoundBoxes. The location was MAAJAAM, an experimental residency/workshop space initiated by Timo Toots in an old farmhouse in the Estonian countryside near Otepää.The workshop ended with a group presentation and invitation to the audience to play the instruments in the outdoor garden of the Genialistide Klubi, Tartu.

I would like to extend my admiration and gratitude to the hard work of the participants: Aivar Tõnso, Annabel Põder, Bianca Triinu-Toots, Kaarel Narro, Kalev Toots, Mihkel Tomberg, Taavi Suisalu and Timo Toots.

MAAJAAM workshop “Music from outer space” from Timo Toots on Vimeo.

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Duelling Benjolins

Posted in Announcement, Documentation on July 11th, 2013 by admin

Duelling Benjolins from macumbista on Vimeo.

Although I have been building Benjolins for more than one year, this was the first night I actually had two Benjolins finished at the same time. So of course I had to get them communicating with each other. As usual, please forgive the less-than-high-fidelity in-camera mic sound.

I’m taking reservations for four new hand-made Benjolin 2013v3 pieces to be produced in August. The design will be slightly different, more “modular” in style, with attenuators on all the control voltage inputs. Price should be EUR 495 (incl. 19% EU VAT) / EUR 416 (shipped outside the EU).

Let me know if you are interested, and thanks for your kind attention.

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WolfTone SoundBox

Posted in Documentation on June 23rd, 2013 by admin

This WolfTone SoundBox was completed tonight for Canadian sound artist Christof Migone. It contains a children’s toy voice-changer circuit which has been modified to include three switches and six touchpoints which interactively modify the sound, 9V battery/DC jack power, a line-level/headphone output, a backlit transparent speaker and an interior lined with handmade Japanese paper. A detachable condenser microphone provides the input to the circuit, which can be either the performer’s voice or feedback from the speaker.

See below for a demo of the first prototype circuit. I have materials to build four more of these on request, please inquire at MACUMBISTA at the domain GMAIL dot COM. And thank you for your kindly attention.

WolfToneBox Demo from macumbista on Vimeo.

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Derek Holzer-ExperiMontag set-11.03.13(edit)

Posted in Documentation on March 14th, 2013 by admin

Derek Holzer-ExperiMontag set-11.03.13(edit)

Solo performance for self-made analog synthesizer, speaker box, found objects and room @ ExperiMontag (Madame Claude), Berlin, 11 MAR 2013. Edited and mixed to be played at maximum volume.

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VIDEO: Experimental Sound Instruments Workshop, TAIK MediaLab Helsinki

Posted in Documentation on February 20th, 2013 by admin

Experimental Sound Instruments Workshop, TAIK MediaLab Helsinki from macumbista on Vimeo.

Students from my Experimental Sound Instruments workshop demonstrate their hand-made projects on the final day. Their instruments involved a variety of technologies, including Arduinos, solenoids, motors, transducers, pickups and amplifiers which I presented over the week. This workshop, which I give at the school annually, ran from 04-08 February 2013 at the TAIK MediaLab in Helsinki, Finland. The students presenting were Johanna Storm, Ari-Pekka Leinonen, Scott McGregor, Saku Kamarainen, Ana Gutierrez, Thomas Svedstrom and Rajeev Siewnath.

My next MLab workshop should be in Oct/Nov.

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Helsinki and Tallinn gig photos

Posted in Documentation on February 12th, 2013 by admin

Live set for analog synthesizer, speaker box, found objects and room, 09 Feb 2013, Kodu Bar, Tallinn Estonia. Photos by Terje Toomistu.

Live set for analog synthesizer, speaker box, found objects and room, 07 Feb 2013, Vapaan Taiteen Tila, Helsinki Finland. Photos by Antti Ahonen.

In the rush of CTM Fest and my annual Mechanical Sound Orchestra Workshop at TAIK (04-08 Feb 2013), I realized I completely forgot to post announcements of these two rather informal gigs here. Let’s hear it for my Facebook page, at least…

Thanks to Jukka Hautamäki, Ilpo Heikkinen, Lauri Hyvärinen, Taneli Viitahuhta, Ilia Belorukov, Antti Ahonen, John W. Fail, Marika Agu, Timo Toots and Terje Toomistu for their support in the various aspects of playing and documenting these two performances.

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Solstice SoundBoxes Wrap Up

Posted in Documentation on December 20th, 2012 by admin

The Solstice SoundBoxes were intended as small, portable and battery-powered electro-acoustic instruments. They can create a variety of drone and reverb-type sounds through feedback between a small speaker and a resonant piezo-electric microphone. A variety of other features were available, including transparent and backlit speakers, decorations within the box, line-outs and “circuit-bending” body contacts. They could also simply be used as cigar-box amplifiers for whatever other electronic instruments you might have.

On 11 December, I took a huge load to the post office and freed myself for a month-long holiday trip to Marfa, Texas. Out of an edition of 30, 27 were sold or gifted to people, which ain’t too bad for a week’s worth of promotional work. You can see the most of the run below. I plan on another edition in January or February. Stay tuned… and happy Solstice!

The roster of recipients [in no particular order]:

Sonny Rosenberg
Lars Lundehave Hansen
Peter Votava
Carsten Stabenow
Jason R. Butcher
Jonathan Lukacek
Steve Holzer
Juhani Liimatainen
Miki Brunou
David Massey
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