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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Derek Holzer and Seth Zahn play “Animals (for two analog modular systems)”

Posted in Announcement on September 14th, 2013 by admin

Derek Holzer and Seth Zahn play “Animals (for two analog modular systems)”

“Time Lapse” event, Berlin Art Week, Altes Finanzamt
Schönstedtstraße 7 – EG Neukölln 12043 Berlin
U7 Rathaus Neukölln (Exit Schönstedtstraße)
Sat 21 September 2013 20:00

Think less Pink Floyd’s pigs on the wing, and more what you might hear if you could amplify the kind of animals seen under a microscope. A live improvisation, built up from scratch on Serge and DIY analog modular synthesizers and played at high volume by two performers with nothing to lose. Derek Holzer is an American sound artist and instrument builder who has made Berlin his home for several years, while Seth Zahn is a more recent transplant to this city’s experimental scene from Brazil.

http://macumbista.net/
http://soundcloud.com/macumbista
http://soundcloud.com/dragns

Also playing:

Oscar Palou
and
Robert Rosshoff

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Benjolin & WolfTone SoundBox Orders for Sept

Posted in Announcement on August 21st, 2013 by admin

Dear readers, I will be doing another run of Benjolins (four in total). Production will start on 01 September, with projected shipping date by 15 September. The design will be similar to the Benjolin 2013v2, seen here:

http://macumbista.net/?p=3579

and here:

http://macumbista.net/?p=3642

but slightly different, more “modular” in style, with attenuators on all the control voltage inputs, and without the external input to the filter on this run.

Price will be EUR 495 (incl. 19% EU VAT) / EUR 416 (shipped outside the EU) plus shipping
.

I also have three or four WolfTone SoundBoxes which can be made to order, with a choice of several handmade Japanese paper interiors. You can see details here:

http://macumbista.net/?p=3626

Price will be EUR 250 (incl. 19% EU VAT) / EUR 210 (shipped outside the EU) plus shipping.

Please let me know if you are interested by using the CONTACT page of this website, or emailing me at MACUMBISTA at the domain GMAIL dot COM, and thank you for your kind attention.

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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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TOMORROW NIGHT — LIVE SYNTH SET for BEDLAM CHAMBER on RADIO ON

Posted in Announcement on July 30th, 2013 by admin

Live internet radio from NK Projekt Berlin, starts 20:00 CEST, Weds 31 July. The show will also be archived on the radi0n website.

“Several years ago, I abandoned the digital sound world to spend (quite a bit of) time building a modular analog synthesizer based on the forms and functions of the legendary Serge and Buchla systems from the 1960s and 70s. In performance, I summon the chaotic, generative powers of this machine to explore the physical affects of volume, frequency and complexity within a given space. For fans of Maryanne Amacher, Bernard Parmegiani, Eliane Radigue and Slayer.”
–Derek Holzer

http://radio0n.wordpress.com/

My apologies for those that couldn’t connect to the stream… no one told me it was limited to 10 people until too late! I have uploaded the two live sets and interviews as an edited MP3, total 59 minutes: http://tinyurl.com/mqlm3uc

This will be up until 08 August. Enjoy!

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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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Eye for an Ear Festival Berlin

Posted in Announcement on June 15th, 2013 by admin

I have been invited to give a lecture on optical sound synthesis as well as perform the TONEWHEELS live set as part of the Eye for an Ear Festival in Berlin later this month. There are quite a few other amazing people involved in this, namely Andrei Smirnov, whose recent book “Sound in Z: Experiments In Sound And Electronic Music In Early 20th Century Russia” is one of the best things I’ve read in the last year.

Full details should be available on the NK website soon, and those of you with FaceBook can access the event page here.

LECTURE

“A Brief History of Optical Synthesis”, a lecture by Derek Holzer, Wed June 26th 21:00 at NK Projekt Berlin

The technology of direct optical synthesis arose with the first sound-on-film motion pictures. In the 1930′s, several designs for optical synthesizers were produced in the USSR, Germany and United States, with a handful even being commercially realized to great amount of techno-utopian hype. The future of sound, we were assured, was made of light.

However, the use of optical synthesis for electronic music creation was largely abandoned after the Second World War in favor of techniques derived from new military technologies which made the V2 rocket and the atomic bomb possible. Thus, contemporary research into optical sound synthesis represents a media-archaeology of “the road not taken”, that of a connection to the culture of film and music versus the science of destruction and death.

PERFORMANCE

TONEWHEELS (Derek Holzer: sounds, electronics), Friday June 28th 20:00 at NK Projekt Berlin

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.

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Macumbista Benjolin 2013v2–now taking orders

Posted in Announcement on June 4th, 2013 by admin

The Benjolin is a standalone synthesizer designed by Rob Hordijk from the Netherlands. It contains two oscillators (one LFO and one VCO), a low pass filter and a circuit called a “Rungler”, which allows chaotic cross-modulation possibilities between the different parts of the circuit. Hordijk refers to the Benjolin as a circuit which has been “bent by design.”

These hand-made Macumbista Benjolins have been further customized with a patchbay, which can be used to interface with other modular synthesizers, or to setup further feedback systems within the Benjolin itself, a switchable external line input to the Benjolin filter and LEDs displaying the internal state of the Rungler.

For Spring 2013, I will produce five of these Benjolins, housed in antique wooden slide/dia boxes. One Benjolin from this run has been sold, and four more are available for order, with shipping on or before 21 June 2013.

This run is sold out!. These Benjolins are produced under licensed agreement with Rob Hordijk.

This instrument ships with an external 110V or 220V AC/AC converter wall power supply.

Please email MACUMBISTA at the domain GMAIL dot COM with orders and inquiries. Other customizations are available on request. Thank you for your kind attention.

AUDIO DEMOS

Quick and dirty demo of Benjolin 2013v1, the first of several Benjolins to be built for sale in 2013.

A familiar old loop run through the filter section of the Macumbista Benjolin2013v2 via simple line-in modification. Filter cutoff frequency modulated by hand, by the two oscillators and Rungler sections of the Benjolin and by various control voltages available from the banana-jack patchbay.

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