The Vectorian Era

Posted in Text on November 23rd, 2016 by admin

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THE VECTORIAN ERA: an Investigation into Analog Computer Graphics

The Vectorian Era opens with a screaming across the sky. Analog electronic computers predate their digital counterparts by several decades, and one of the first practical applications of the analog computer was in controlling the trajectories of German V2 rockets as they traced their rainbow of gravity from Flanders towards London during the Second World War. As Friedrich Kittler has observed, the relationship of media technology to military tools of destruction was sealed by moments such as these.

Post-war developments continued in this direction. Tennis for Two, programmed in 1958 by William Higinbotham on an analog computer at Brookhaven National Laboratories in Long Island NY USA, using an oscilloscope as the display. It combined a two-player interface with physics models of a bouncing ball displayed as vectors in motion, and is arguably the first publicly-playable video game. The laboratory itself performed government research into nuclear physics, energy technology, and national security.

In the early 1960’s, the composer Morton Subotnik employed engineer Don Buchla to help him create “the music of the future”. Buchla redesigned the existing function generators of analog computers to respond to voltage controls of their frequency and amplitude. This gave birth to the realtime-controllable, analog modular synthesizer which was subsequently expanded by others such as Bob Moog and Serge Tcherepnin.

In 1967, the Sony Portapak revolutionized video by taking the camera out of the television studio and into the hands of amateurs and artists. And by the early 1970’s, an interest in cybernetics, systems theory and automatic processes brought the analog computer closer to the worlds of art, music, and architecture. Figures such as Heinz von Foerster, Gordon Pask, Nam June Paik, Steina and Woody Vasulka, Iannis Xenakis and R. Buckminster Fuller all speculated on the effect of computers on society, and used computer-derived forms in their work. The 1972 Rutt-Etra Video Synthesizer, used famously by the Vasukas in several works, employed an analog computer to manipulate and deconstruct the raster of a conventional video signal with very otherworldly effects.

Vector graphics were widely adopted by video game manufacturers in the late 1970’s due to their computational efficiency, and the wealth of experience using them that the history of analog computing provided. Perhaps the most iconic of these games is Asteroids, a space shooter released by Atari in 1979. Battle Zone (1980), Tempest (1981), and Star Wars (1983) all stand as other notable examples from this Vectorian Era, and also as rudimentary training tools for the future e-warriors who would remotely guide missiles into Iraqi bunkers at the start of the next decade. As electronics became cheaper, smaller, and faster in the 1980’s, the dated technology of using analog vectors to directly manipulate a Cathode Ray Tube fell out of favor and rasterized graphics, animations and moving image quickly took their place.

Informed by the discourse of media archaeology, my own personal interest in analog vector graphics isn’t merely retro-for-retro’s-sake. Rather, it is an exploration of a once-current and now discarded technology linked with specific utopias and dystopias from another time. The fact that many aspects of our current utopian aspirations (and dystopian anxieties!) remain largely unchanged since the dawn of the Vectorian Era indicates to me that seeking to satisfy them with technology alone is quite problematic. Therefore, an investigation into “tried-and-failed” methods from the past casts our current attempts and struggles in a new kind of light.

Derek Holzer
23 NOV 2016
Helsinki FI

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IMAGES:

–TOP: Derek Holzer, “VECTOR SYNTHESIS” study, August 2015, Berlin DE
–BOTTOM: Early computer art created by anonymous IBM engineers, this pinup girl program is running on a SAGE (Semi-Automatic Ground Environment) defense computer. Polaroid photo by Lawrence A. Tipton, 1959, Ft. Lee Virginia USA. Via The Atlantic.

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XR-VCOs Custom Synthesizer

Posted in Documentation on July 12th, 2016 by admin

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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!

Videos someday….

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NEANDERTHAL ELECTRONICS ORCHESTRA (RITS Winterschool)

Posted in Documentation on January 28th, 2015 by admin

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

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Last Benjolin of 2014

Posted in Announcement on December 10th, 2014 by admin

Meine Damen und Herren… may I present the last Benjolin I will build in the year 2014.

The Benjolin is a standalone synthesizer designed by Rob Hordijk from the Netherlands. It contains two oscillators (one LFO and one VCO), a voltage controlled 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 (produced under licensed agreement with Rob Hordijk) have been further customized with a patchbay, which can be used to interface with other modular synthesizers or to setup further control voltage feedback systems within the Benjolin itself, attenuators on the three control voltage input and LEDs displaying the internal state of the Rungler.

You can see more photos and videos here: http://macumbista.net/?p=3935

This Benjolin is completed and ready to move, and just to get it out into the world a little bit quicker, I am offering FREE SHIPPING anywhere on the planet, this week only (payment must be in by 13 DEC).

Price is EUR 495 (incl 19% EU VAT) / EUR 416 (shipped outside the EU). Contact using the CONTACT page here or email MACUMBISTA at-the-domain GMAIL dot COM.

I am looking forward to newer, bigger and better things in the coming year.

I thank you kindly for your attention.
Derek

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Apokalypsegerät 2013

Posted in Documentation on October 16th, 2014 by admin

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.

FEATURES

* 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.

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Bis Zum Tod, Volksbuhne Berlin 20-21 Sept 2014

Posted in Announcement on September 13th, 2014 by admin

I am proud to announce my participation as musician in the Markus Öhrn/Nya Rampen/Institutet production “Bis Zum Tod”, premiering at the Volksbuhne in Berlin 20/21 September 2014.

http://www.volksbuehne-berlin.de/praxis/bis_zum_tod/?id_datum=8050

We will tour this production to Poznan (3/4 October), Malmö (7/8 November) and Helsinki (14/15 November).

Pictured: Linus Öhrn and Anders Carlsson

Photo: Christian Kleiner

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Macumbista FuzzTone SoundBox

Posted in Announcement, Documentation on May 6th, 2014 by admin

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.

OVERVIEW

* 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:

nonlinearity I from macumbista on Vimeo.

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.

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SoundBoxes Workshops in BE, NL

Posted in Announcement on March 28th, 2014 by admin

I will be giving a series of SoundBoxes workshops in Belgium and the Netherlands next month. This hands-on workshop combines the arts of electronics, noise, sculpture and collage to produce unique, “circuit bent” electroacoustic instruments.

Details here: http://macumbista.net/?page_id=1897

SOUNDBOXES WORKSHOP LIEGE: 09-10 April, L’An Vert
http://www.entonnoir.org/cg/copy/

SOUNDBOXES WORKSHOP DEN HAAG: 12 April, Villa K
https://www.facebook.com/events/1407118902885760/
http://www.stichtingcentrum.org/

SOUNDBOXES WORKSHOP ROTTERDAM, 13 April, WORM
https://www.facebook.com/events/560334607406703
http://www.worm.org/home/view/event/15049

Hope to see some of you there!

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Macumbista Benjolin V3 2014

Posted in Announcement on February 27th, 2014 by admin

I am currently taking orders for the next run of the Macumbista Benjolin V3 2014.

The Benjolin is a standalone synthesizer designed by Rob Hordijk from the Netherlands. It contains two oscillators (one LFO and one VCO), a voltage controlled 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 control voltage feedback systems within the Benjolin itself, attenuators on the three control voltage input and LEDs displaying the internal state of the Rungler.

You can watch a short demo of two of these Benjolins in action here: http://vimeo.com/70111383

Price is EUR 495 (incl. 19% EU VAT) / EUR 416 (shipped outside the EU) plus shipping.
To be included in this run, please send a prepayment of 50% by 15 March. I anticipate finishing this run in the first week of April.

A double version, the Butterfly Benjolin, allowing incredible amounts of chaotic cross-modulation between the two halves, is also possible. Price is EUR 895 (incl. 19% EU VAT) / EUR 752 (shipped outside the EU) plus shipping.

The patchbay of these Benjolins has banana jack connections for the square and triangle waveforms of each of the two oscillators, the Pulse Width Modulation output of the two oscillators, the Rungler output, the XOR (exclusive/or) logic operation of the two oscillators and the output of the filter.

There are also banana jack control voltage inputs with attenuators for the frequency of each of the two oscillators and the filter cutoff frequency. The layout of the panel is designed to be both intuitive and playable (unlike many EuroRack modules, for example…). And finally, the three output bits of the Rungler have been visualized with red, green and blue LEDs.

All Benjolins use a Neutrik 6.3mm (1/4″) output jack (two in the case of the Butterfly Benjolin), an additional GROUND banana jack to interface with other modular systems and a 12 VAC “wall wart” power supply (mainland European and North American versions available).

These Benjolins are produced under licensed agreement with Rob Hordijk.

Please contact me using the CONTACT page here, or through MACUMBISTA at-the-domain GMAIL dot COM. Thank you for your kind attention.

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Two Talks During CTM Berlin Next Week

Posted in Announcement on January 22nd, 2014 by admin

I have two presentations in the CTM Festival in Berlin next week, one during the MusicMakers HackLab Conversations alongside such luminaries as Marije Baalman and Robert Henke, and the other during the Education Networking Day. Details below. Hope to see y’all there!

MUSICMAKERS HACKLAB CONVERSATIONS
Weds 29 Jan at Kunstquartier Projektraum
15h // Probing the Past: A Media Archaeology of Handmade Electronic Sound
Derek Holzer/Macumbista.net

The utopias of electronic sound have hardly changed in its hundred-year history. We still want to imitate existing instruments, create sounds which have never been heard before and realize complex compositions without the need of an orchestra. It is only the tools which have become more complex. But there are dystopias as well, which come especially from using tools designed around other people’s way of creating sound, rather than your own. Instrument builder, teacher and performer Derek Holzer of Macumbista.net will discuss the inspiration of some of the pioneers of 20th Century electronic sound (including those found in the “Generation Z: ReNoise” exhibition) as springboards to some of his own creations, which the audience will have a chance to explore following the talk.

SLIDESHOW HERE

EDUCATION NETWORKING DAY
Sat 01 Feb at HAU 3
13:10 Neanderthal Electronics: Teaching Arts and Technology
Derek Holzer [USA/DE, macumbista.net]

Over the last six years I have developed a workshop program designed to teach art students without in-depth technical backgrounds about basic electronics and instrument building, which has been hosted by several, mainly Nordic schools of art, music and design. During this talk, I will share some observations about the relationship of arts and technology in education resulting from these workshops.

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