Some Thoughts on Concept and Craft

Posted in Text on November 4th, 2010 by admin

Raymond Parker, Untitled, 1959

While Pop art constantly referred to contemporary society through its reconfiguration of consumerist images, Color Field painting consciously distanced itself from societal referents and focused on the lyrical possibilities of color.

—“Color Fields” exhibition catalog, Deutsche Guggenheim, 2010

An Estonian art student recently informed me that, “since WWII” as he was taught, the position of the artist has essentially become that of a conceptual engineer rather than that a mere “craftsman”. I did as best I could to protest. On the one hand, I argued, this means that the artist is largely divorced from the process of creating their own work. All the would-be Jeff Koonses or Damien Hirsts who relegate their labor to hired armies of technicians and assistants lose the direct familiarity with the medium that they work in, and subsequently miss out on any suggestions that the materiality of that medium might have on their creative process.

On the other hand, what it leads to is a vision of art as a cynical manipulation of symbols and referents alone. Whether it is the visual-arts hipster ironically juxtaposing iconic cultural references, or the media-arts nerd sonifying stock market data streamed at them through Twitter, it all becomes a series of artistic black boxes where we can only assume that what comes out has some relationship to what went in. And when anything=anything, the end result is that the we the artists take a stand on nothing.

One week it’s unwatchable “found footage” from YouTube in the galleries, the next it’s sock monkeys, with everyone in the monkey camp loudly denouncing those who still prefer handycams to knitting. The Estonian student’s professor once placed a golden replica in the former location of a controversial Soviet-era statue in Tallinn.  In his 5 minutes of fame on the evening news, he preferred to mumble something about “relational aesthetics” rather than admit that the action might actually mean something. And so we the audience…in the end we can believe in nothing.

When I began working on the TONEWHEELS project, I was more interested in the technical side of this equation: how to avoid the black box of the computer and how to demonstrate a tangible connection between image and sound. But now I see how it addresses the conceptual side as well.  By working with direct optical synthesis, I hope (in a similar manner to the Color Field painters of the 1960s, the subject of a current exhibition at the Deutsch Guggenheim) to shortcut this reliance on symbols and intellectualism in favor of the only thing left to believe in: the direct, personal and physical experience of light and sound.

Tags: ,

France 17, 19, 20 December 2010

Posted in Announcement on November 4th, 2010 by admin

17 November: TONEWHEELS performance @ Résonances Electroniques Festival, Museum of Fine Arts, Dijon FR

19 November: TONEWHEELS discussion + performance @ /dev/art/, 19h / 23h, BlackBoxe, 17 rue de la Chapelle 75018 Paris FR, FREE

20 November: TONEWHEELS performance @ I-R-L Performances / Optica Festival avec Art of Failure and Chloé Mazlo & Son of a Pitch, 20h30, Centre Mercoeur, 4 rue Mercoeur 75011 Paris FR – M° voltaire/charonne, paf: 5 euros

Thanks to Octarine Productions, Jack/Kevin/Laurent@RYBN and the beautiful Tomoko Sauvage for support putting this trip together.

Now Playing

kevin drummlive at bardens boudoir, london, uk 29.01.08 mp3[2008]
kk nullakumu[2008 vital]
mattin (ed.)noise and capitalism book[2009 arteleku audiolab]
paul demarinisburied in noise book[2010 kehrer][danke carsten!!!]
prurient+cold cavestars explode[2010 hospital productions]
merzbow+balázs pándilive at fluc wanne, vienna 18.05.10 lp[2010]

Tags: , , ,

TONEWHEELS@AS220, Providence RI 30.04.2010 by Amy Hope Dermot

Posted in Documentation on September 12th, 2010 by admin

Photos by napkinshoe/Amy Hope Dermot @ Flickr. Thanks Amy!!!

Now Playing

stan brakhageessential brakhage, selected witings on filmmaking book[2001]
meara o’reillychladni singing[2010]
william t. vollmannrising up and rising down: some thoughts on violence, freedom and urgent means book[2003]
andrzej zulawskidiabel (aka the devil) film[1972]

Tags: , , , ,

TONEWHEELS @ Résonances Electroniques Festival

Posted in Announcement on September 8th, 2010 by admin

TONEWHEELS @ Résonances Electroniques Festival
17 November 2010, Museum of Fine Arts, Dijon FR

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 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.

Looking for things to do in Paris 18-20 November. Get in touch!!!!

Tags: ,


Posted in Documentation on May 4th, 2010 by admin

So the TONEWHEELS tour has come to end. Stokes of luck seem to have characterized it… lucky to get out of Europe right before mighty Eyjafjallajökull reminded everyone of what silent skies would sound like, and lucky to get out of NYC right before some nutjob got the idea to try toasting Times Square with a propane-fertilizer cocktail.

Another stroke of luck was that, when The Starlab venue got flooded, mi amiga Jessica Rylan stepped up to the plate and offered her artist-in-residence studio at MIT in Cambridge as a replacement! A small but dedicated audience turned up, and in particular I got to experience the amazing transcendental drones of Benjamin Nelson. Shawn Greenlee‘s set was also smokin’, as was the “final show” of Karlheinz, and I was rather intrigued by Animal Steel‘s collection of drugged-out Judy Garland tapes. His nonchalant delivery of said material came as quite a surprise for those accustomed to his orgies of destruction as one half of Two Dead Sluts One Good Fuck.

Photos by Shawn Greenlee

The Providence show at AS220 was also a complete mental blowout, in particular seeing Human Beast‘s combination of noisy, arty-farty tights, carny sideshow vibes and suspended-upside-down-from-the-ceiling organ playing. Brian Chippendale‘s solo Black Pus project also rocked out, sort of a messier, more freeform version of his Lightning Bolt sets, if you can imagine that…

Photo by Tatyana Yanishevsky

The Rhode Island/Massachusetts leg of the tour would have been impossible without the phenomenal energy and hospitality of Shawn Greenlee. Thanks a million, man!!!!! Thanks also go out to Jessica Rylan and Egan Budd for hosting and organizing the MIT gig, and to all the other acts that played on the two bills (and it was quite a few!).

And finally, one more photo from the TONEWHEELS set at the Bent Fest in NYC, this time by Eric Archer:

Now Playing

antonio russek, raul pavon, roberto morales, vincente rojomusica electroacustica mexicana 1960-2003[creel pone reissue]
benjamin nelsonlive at the piano factory/standing field cs[2009 semata productions]
david behrmanwave trains[1998]
david tudorlive electronic music[1970-1984, leonardo music journal]
gordon mummalive-electronic music[2002 tzadik]
ivo malectriola[1978 ina-gram, avante garde project 148)
vachinese experimental music 1992-2008 4xcd(2009 sub rosa)

Tags: , , , ,

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:

Now Playing

frank popperorigins and development of kinetic art book[1968 new york graphic society]
guy brettkinetic art: the language of movement book[1968 studio vista]
joe colley and jason lescalleetannihilate this week[2006 korm plastics]
kevin drummsecond reissue[1999/2010 perdition plastics]
mudboyimpossible duets lp[2010 hundebiss](thx raphael!!!)

Tags: , , , ,

TONEWHEELS @ Bent Fest 2010

Posted in Documentation on April 26th, 2010 by admin

Photos by mindphone_divided on Flickr.

Tags: , , ,


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.

Now Playing

Carl Gustav JungDreams[book 1910-1952]
Pierre KlossowskiRoberte Ce Soir & The Revocation of the Edict of Nantes[book 1953]

Tags: , , , , , ,

[video] Nu Fest Padova interview

Posted in Documentation on March 19th, 2010 by admin

Nu Fest 2010 – Derek Holzer interview for

A somewhat silly interview with the Padova student internet radio and television at Nu Fest, 19.02.10.

Now Playing

boris morganamuuan sali cs[2010 self release][kiitos juuso!]
opec/jazzkammermonilinien/we forgive you lp[2005/2009 posh isolation][tak jonas!]
roberta settelsisolation! (meinhof in memorium) lp[1985 music in conflict/2007 BIN records][tak jonas!]
silvester anfang iicommune cassette[2010 blackest rainbow]

Tags: , , , ,

Interview for Bent Fest, NYC

Posted in Text on March 1st, 2010 by admin

The following is an interview I completed this evening for the Bent Festival in New York City, where I’ve been invited to perform TONEWHEELS and give a workshop over the weekend of 23-25 April 2010.

> *Bent:* /Before you got into electronics, what type of music or art were you into?/

I’ve been involved in electronic, media and net art for the past 10 years, and although I make “electronic music”, I don’t listen to any contemporary dance or pop artists at all. A look through my record collection might turn up electro-acoustic composers from the 1960’s, old African funk 45’s from the 1970s, hair metal from the 1980’s or hardcore from the 1990’s, plus folk music from any number of East European, Middle Eastern or Asian cultures. Just no techno.

Right now, some elements of the noise scene like Daniel Menche or Kevin Drumm remain pretty exciting, as well as more conceptual people like John Wiese or Florian Hecker. On the historical side, composers like Eliane Radigue, Maryanne Amacher, Iannis Xenakis, Bernard Parmegiani and David Tudor have been big inspirations to me. I also listen to shit-load of drone, doom, death and black metal.

It’s good to remind yourself that nothing is really ever new or original, you can find the roots of anything if you look deep enough into the past.

> Bent:* /How did you get into electronics?/

Long ago, in a previous lifetime, I was studying writing in the university. Some things in my life changed dramatically as a result of my first stint living abroad, and when I returned to the States my new path was clear: doing sound, and in a place where there is genuine support for the arts (i.e. Europe)!

Instead of completing my thesis, I attempted to build my first synthesizer from an SN76477 chip, probably liberated from a pinball machine somewhere. It was a failure, and I spent the next several years doing digital audio instead. I finally came back to electronics about four years ago, when I was so sick of laptop “performances” I couldn’t stand it anymore, and soon after began the process of building my own modular synthesizer as well as designing the TONEWHEELS optoelectronic synthesizer.

> Bent:* /Where do you find inspiration for your work?/

The TONEWHEELS project was 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). With the help of Andrei Smirnov of the Theremin Center in Moscow, I did an incredible amount of research into the history of drawn sound and optical synthesis while I was designing the TONEWHEELS synthesizer. The experiments made with “painted soundtracks” in the Soviet Union during the 1930’s in particular are mind-blowing, and without the work of Mr Smirnov they would be unknown to the rest of the world.

I also spent several days at the Daphne Oram archives at Goldsmiths University in London, reading the letters between her and the engineer who helped her build the Oramics machine. It was fascinating! The same concerns she had, and the same learning process, were the hurdles I had to jump in my own work.

You can see the results of my historical research here:

> *Bent:* /What is your take on the circuit bending community at large? Where are you in it?/

I’d have to say that I don’t consider myself a “circuit bender” exactly. It’s very rare that I take an existing consumer gadget and try to hack it. My approach tends to be to start with the most basic parts I can understand and work up from there. In the case of the TONEWHEELS project, that part is called a phototransistor, and my first experiment was simply to run 5 volts through it into a mixer channel and start flickering the lights in the room!

This might be where I part company from Reed Ghazala’s “antitheory” approach, which seems to be very popular among benders. For me, the possibilities come not from blindly sticking my fingers in things, but instead from understanding the materials I am working with and their specific properties. That said, I failed every math class I was ever forced to take and still maintain a rather intuitive relationship with those materials, which is hardly the way a “real” engineer might work!

I’ve always maintained that the only thing that separates artists using technology now from the electronic art pioneers of the 1960s and 1970s–such as Steina & Woody Vasulka, Don Buchla, Serge Tcherepnin, Dan Sandin and David Tudor–is the internet. Whereas they had much more limited channels to find the information they needed, we have an almost limitless supply. Which is of course the other half of the problem–trying to get the signal out of the noise.

> *Bent: *Is there anything you want to accomplish while you are in New York?/

Finding a place to stay during the week I’m there is a good start!!!!!

But seriously…I’m negotiating to do a field recording workshop at Harvestworks as well as a couple talks at the Electronic Music Foundation on the history of optoelectronic synthesis and a project related to sound and architecture I’ve been involved in called Tuned City.

Besides that, I’m trying to look up the current locations of some of the old original audio and video synthesizers produced in the 1960’s and 1970’s, so I can see them up close. Every university I’ve been invited to speak at in the US and the UK all seem to have some analog treasure locked up in a closet somewhere!!!!

> Bent:* /Who are you most excited to see at Bent? Why?/

I’m quite excited to meet Eric Archer, from Austin Texas. He is performing as part of Handmade Music Austin. Eric and I have been writing for a year or two now, and his Light2Sound device is totally awesome, a really nice introduction to optical synthesis for beginners. I have a huge amount of respect for Eric and his creations–maybe because I have a suspicion he aced his math classes and actually had an idea what he would do with it later!

Now Playing

daniel higgsdevotional songs of daniel higgs[2009 open mouth cassette]
david tudorthree works for live electronics[1996 lovely]
godfleshmerciless[1994 earache]
jaques dudonlumieres audibles[1996 mondes harmoniques](Thanks to Jonas Olesen, who pointed Dudon’s work out to me when I had overlooked it all this time…)
julian jaynesthe origin of consciousness in the breakdown of the bicameral mind[1976 book] (Thanks to Professor Anthony Moore of the KHM who reminded me of the longest title on my mother’s bookshelf when I was a child…and to my mother for digging it up for my birthday!)
nik raicevicthe sixth ear[1972]
ruth whiteseven trumps from the tarot cards[1969]
steve birchallreality gates: electronic meditations by steve birchall[2006 creel pone cdr]
various artists(andrzej dobwolski, bob cobbing & annae lockwood, daphne oram, eric nordgren, frederick charles judd, henri chopin, jean-luis brau, john mcclure, various junior & senior high school students, vladimir ussachevsky)creelpolation 1 – 7″ singles[2006 creel pone] (Creel Pone, I fucking love you!)
yellow swansbeing there[2010 type]

Tags: , , ,