Bent Fest Interview II + update(!!!)

Posted in Text on April 30th, 2010 by admin

1. Can you explain the process of putting together your live performance? How exactly are you making the different forms/colors of light affect the audio output?

The TONEWHEELS performance uses the same technology found in film projectors which use optical motion picture soundtracks. The amount of light which falls on a photodetector modulates an electrical current, which can then be connected to a speaker to make audio. The sounds are created by printing the waveforms I want to play on transparent spinning discs, and placing these discs on motors with a variable speed control. This process was also used for the famous Optigan organ made by Mattel in the 1970’s, as well as by a number of avante-garde composers, filmmakers and instrument inventors such as Daphne Oram, Jacques Dudon, Evgeny Murzin, Norman McLaren and Evgeny Scholpo.

2. What aspect(s) of circuitbending motivate you the most?

I’ve mentioned at other times that I don’t really consider myself a “circuit bender”, since I rarely take commercially available devices or toys and hack them. But the meme of circuit bending is interesting to me–the idea that people can re-purpose things which are normally considered “black boxes” in our electronic culture, that they can break them down into simpler things and reassemble them in new, fantastic ways. I find this idea very challenging to the consumer-industrial status quo of selling us new stupid gadgets every year, forcing us to discard the old ones without every considering how we could transform them into something else–or even build our own new things from scratch. I’d be much more interested in constructing some DIY caveman communications device myself instead of running out to buy the latest iPhone…

Tristan Perich of Loud Objects takes his self-made mobile phone everywhere. No camera, no games, no texting, no BS.

3. Some of the performances at Bent could be described as ‘music,’ while others are better described as noise/sound art. Your work seems to lean toward the latter, but which category do you feel you fall into, if any?

In every kind of music, the art form is in some way determined by the technology. But no where is this more apparent than in electronic music, which is full of gear and software which makes it easier and easier to make music–so long as it fits into a very highly predetermined genre or style. I don’t think of what I do as any less “musical” than europop, trance techno, dubstep or whatever other trend the kids are into these days. The difference is that my work is determined by very different technological choices and processes. As well as by a huge collection of heavy metal and hardcore records!

4. Do you feel like there is a division among circuitbenders who use these different approaches?

I can’t really answer that question except to say that I appreciate it much more when artists try to step outside the box and create something that is unique and personal to them instead of simply playing the kind of sounds they think other people will dance to.

5. What do you hope that someone new to circuitbending will take away from going to an event like Bent Fest?

I would hope that someone coming to Bent for the first time would recognize that there as many ways to do electronics and sound with electronics as there are artists who do those things, and that they might get some inspiration to move beyond being passive consumers of music/technology and become active creators on their own.

Bent Fest Highlights

Bodytronix‘s insane metropolis of self-made gear, :::vtol:::‘s lovely little boxes and warm personality, Peter Edwards/casperelectronics‘ beautifully abstract set (even after some douchebag ripped off one of his $300 creations from the merch table!!!!), KBD‘s weird post-everything space out session, Phillip Stearn‘s incredible neural network of lights as well as his festival photos, Daniel Fishkin of LÖWENZAHN’s magick-bent electronic folk, hearing a few minutes of Todd Bailey‘s Analog Video Synthesis and Bending lecture (although it sucked to have to miss most of it!) and finally figuring out WTF a Brass Monkey is late Saturday night (although I regretted it the next day)… Thanks again to Brendan and Suzanne and all the volunteers for pulling this thing off!


The Sommerville show at the Starlab next Saturday has been relocated due to flooding! The new location is in Cambridge, MA at MIT Building N52, 265 Massachusetts Ave. Get there before 9pm or you will have to phone a number posted on the door to come inside. The door will look like this:

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kevin drummsecond reissue[1999/2010 perdition plastics]
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TONEWHEELS @ Bent Fest 2010

Posted in Documentation on April 26th, 2010 by admin

Photos by mindphone_divided on Flickr.

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Posted in Announcement on April 8th, 2010 by admin


FRI 16 April: Buffalo NY–SoundLab, 110 Pearl Street: TONEWHEELS performance + Affecting Animate Nerve Organs (16 artist multi-media installation) [8pm]

(UPDATE!!!!) SUN18 April: Syracuse NY–Spark Contemporary Art Space: TONEWHEELS performance + Heavy Hymns [8pm]

TUE 20 April: NYC, NY–Electronic Music Foundation, 307 7th avenue ste 1402: “A Brief History of Optical Synthesis” lecture [7pm]

WED 21 April-THU 22 April: NYC, NY–Harvestworks: Soundtransit-The Art of Field Recording workshop [6:30pm each night] SOLD OUT!!!

FRI 23 April: NYC, NY–Bent Festival, Dumbo, 81 Front Street: TONEWHEELS workshop [12pm] performance [8pm]

TUES 27 April: NYC, NY–Electronic Music Foundation, 307 7th avenue ste 1402: Tuned City lecture [7pm]

THU 29 April: Providence, RI–Rhode Island School of Design: TONEWHEELS workshop

FRI 30 April: Providence, RI-AS220: TONEWHEELS performance + Black Pus (1/2 Lightning Bolt), Humanbeast and Shawn Greenlee [9pm]

(UPDATE!!! NEW LOCATION!!!) SAT 1 May: Cambridge, MA: Existence Establishment @ MIT Building N52, 265 Massachusetts Ave: TONEWHEELS performance + Karlheinz, Shawn Greenlee, Animal Steel, Brandon Terzakis, Benjamin Nelson, Bombings [8pm]




TONEWHEELS is an experiment in converting graphical imagery to sound, inspired by some of the pioneering 20th Century electronic music inventions. Transparent tonewheels with repeating patterns are spun over light-sensitive electronic circuitry to produce sound and light pulsations and textures. This all-analog set is performed entirely live without the use of computers, using only overhead projectors as light source, performance interface and audience display. In this way, TONEWHEELS aims to open up the “black box” of electronic music and video by exposing the working processes of the performance for the audience to see.


TONEWHEELS is an experiment in converting graphical imagery to sound, inspired by some of the pioneering 20th Century electronic music inventions such as the ANS Synthesizer (Murzin USSR 1937-57), the Variophone (Sholpo USSR 1930) and the Oramics system (Oram UK 1957). In this workshop, participants will learn to construct their own optoelectronic synthesizer using two different circuits: a simple light-to-sound converter and a variable motor speed controller, as well as how to design and print their own tonewheel patterns using the FLOSS software Inkscape.


The technology of synthesizing sound from light is a curious combination of research from the realms of mathematics, physics, electronics and communications theory which found realization in the industries of motion picture films, electronic music, surveillance technology and finally digital communications.

This lecture will touch on various points in the development of optical sound synthesis in these various contexts, referencing the work of Joseph Fourier, Hermann von Helmholtz, Rudolph Koenig, Arseny Avraamov, Thomas Wilfred, Evgeny Scholpo, Nikolai Voinov, Oskar Fischinger, Boris Yankovsky, Edwin Emil Welte, Evgeny Murzin, Norman McLaren, Lev Theremin, Daphne Oram, Jacques Dudon and Iannis Xenakis, among others.

This lecture is given in the context of the opto-electronic performance TONEWHEELS, by Derek Holzer at the Bent Festival the following Friday.

Soundtransit-The Art of Field Recording

Wednesday & Thursday, April 21 & 22 6:30 – 9:30pm $100
Field recording, or phonography, is the art of recording sounds as they are found “in situ”, rather than those created in a studio or concert hall. There are as many ways of approaching field recording as there are field recordists, with interests ranging from recordings of natural or urban environments to improvised situations or soundwalks to the resonance of solid objects or the Earth’s atmosphere.

The first session of this workshop provides a theoretical introduction to the various microphone techniques and recording strategies used for field recording, as well as special tools which allow phenomenon such as physical motion, electromagnetic waves and light can also be converted into sound. This will be followed by a night-time recording excursion into the city.

The second session consists of a critical listening session of the sounds gathered the night before. Key concepts to be explored include musical and cinematic metaphors of sound, composing the cityscape and communicating senses of place and space through sound.

Participants may wish to upload their finished recordings to the website, where they can be used to plan sonic journeys between hundreds of locations around the world.

While the instructor can provide one shared recorder and microphone, participants should bring their own recording equipment when possible. Derek Holzer can provide a simple pair of binaural microphones for sale at a cost of approx $35. They terminate in a right-angle stereo minijack plug, and use the plugin power from the stereo microphone input of the recorder. Please indicate before the workshop date if you would like to buy a pair, and please check that your recorder provides this plugin power (most with minijack stereo mic inputs do) before requesting them.

“Tuned City – Between sound and space speculation”

“Tuned City – Between sound and space speculation” was an exhibition and conference project taking place from July 01.-05. 2008 in Berlin which proposed a new evaluation of architectural spaces from the perspective of the acoustic. It’s next edition is scheduled to take place during the Cultural Capital summer of 2011 in Tallinn, Estonia.

In this lecture, we will see and hear some of the projects from the Tuned City event by Mark Bain, Raviv Ganchrow, Will Schrimshaw, John Grzinich, James Beckett, Akio Suzuki, Barry Blesser, Randy H.Y. Yau + Scott Arford, Thomas Ankersmit + Antoine Chessex, Bernhard Leitner, CRESSON, Farmers Manual, AGF, Chris Watson + BJ Nilsen, Jacob Kirkegaard, Martin Howse, Ralf Schreiber + Martin Kuentz and Staalplaat Sound System will be discussed, among others, as well as related projects covering the themes of Temporary Architecture for Sound, Buildings as Instruments and Composing the Cityscape. A limited number of catalogs and program guides will also be available.


Huge thanks go to Alexis Bhagat of ((audience)) and Shawn Greenlee of RISD for their monumental efforts to get this thing off the ground! Thanks also to Brendan Byrne of Bent, Joel Chadabe of EMF, Hans Tammen of Harvestworks, Egan Budd of Existence Establishment, Natalia Mount of Red House, Michael Baumann of Soundlab and Sean Donaher of CEPA for actually booking me, and to Gill Arno, Raphael Lyon and Tristan Perich for putting up crash space in NYC.

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