Film by Maren Sextro (repost) + Helsinki show

Posted in Announcement, Documentation on June 2nd, 2012 by admin

Filmmmaker Maren Sextro created this portrait of me for in May 2012. Together, we visited the flea market and my studio, and spoke about my approach to sound, performance, “circuit bending” (a term I rarely use to describe my own constructions), DIY electronics and self-education.

Maren was kind enough to send me an HD version so that I could present this without the disgusting advertising, so once again I am in her debt. Enjoy.

Helsinki Show

Next week I make a quick trip to Helsinki, where the MUU Gallery will be opening the latest “MUU for Ears” show. I will be showing one of the “nonlinearity suite” videos, playing a live set for small analog synth, soundboxes and found objects on 7 June and leaving a few artifacts there for the two-week run of the show. Some of these artifacts may be for sale. I will post more on this before I depart.

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Interview for Groove TV + updates

Posted in Documentation on May 24th, 2012 by admin

I was interviewed by filmmaker Maren Sextro a few weeks ago about my DIY electronic instruments, you can see the results here. In the 60 seconds of film trailer that plays before the interview, I recommend you go to the kitchen for a glass of cold milk. The video itself is very well done, on the other hand, and I thank Maren warmly for her work on this.

Still places left for the workshop this weekend, or drop by O’Tannenbaum on Sunday night for the presentation and their fine selection of Belgian ales. They have one that tastes just like vinegar that I’m not so sure about, though…

And finally, Machine Deva premiered to rave reviews at Cine-Marfa last weekend. Steve and I are still picking ourselves back up off the floor after the amount of work that went into finalizing the soundtrack and getting it to the festival. I will have some CDRs to sell of this later on, watch this space.

Students of the Sonic College (Haderslev, Denmark) and the the SoundBoxes they built with me yesterday at NK in Berlin.

Now Playing

birchville cat motelbeautiful speck triumph[2004 last visible dog]
douglas leedyentropical paradise[1968 seraphim]
swanswe rose from your bed with the sun in our head[2012 young god]

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Cryptography Studies

Posted in Documentation on April 13th, 2012 by admin

cryptography (study I) from macumbista on Vimeo.

I took a quick break from some soundtracking work to build and document this little box over the weekend. I have been interested in examining the use of simple analog implementations of pseudo-random number generators, akin to those used in encryption algorithms, for the chaotic production of sound patterns. One of the simplest pseudo-random number generators is a three-stage shift register with a non-linear feedback loop, such as that found in Rob Hordijk’s “Benjolin” instrument design.

Rungler schematic courtesy of Rob Hordijk, redrawn by Casper Electronics

The most interesting part of the Benjolin is a circuit Hordijk calls a “rungler” (the rest of the Benjolin being two simple oscillators and a resonant filter). It is made up of a shift register in the middle (U4, a 4021B integrated circuit), an XOR (eXclusive OR) logic gate created by one transistor and an op-amp on the left, and finally a rudimentary Digital-to-Analog converter built around another op-amp on the right. Note the feedback from the last stage of the shift register to one input of the XOR, or what could be called the “poor man’s ring modulator”. The other XOR input comes from one of the two oscillators (P1).

Hordijk writes:

The purpose of the rungler is to create short stepped patterns of variable length and speed. […] It needs two frequency sources to work and basically creates a complex interference pattern that can be fed back into the frequency parameters of the driving oscillators to create an unlimited amount of havoc.

The rungler is basically a CMOS shift register clocked by one oscillator and receiving its data input from the other oscillator. The output bits of the shift register are used as […] a 3 bit code that is fed into a 3 bit DA converter. This DA eight level output voltage is fed back to the oscillator frequency control inputs. The output of the DA is the ‘rungler CV signal'[…]

When the rungler signal is fed back to the frequency parameters of the oscillators it will change the triangle waveforms and pulse widths of the oscillator outputs[…]

The rungler will try to find a balanced state. In this way it behaves according to principle from Chaos Theory. There seems to be an unlimited amount of possible balanced states and when a balanced state is just slightly disturbed it can be noted that it takes a little time to find the next balanced state, with noticeable bifurcations, etc.

Now, a shift register itself is a quite simple idea; one has several stages, and information (an analog voltage in some cases, or a binary state in others) gets passed from one stage to the next every time the shift register gets a clock signal. Passing the last stage of the shift register back to the first results in a loop, however any sort of transformation done to the last stage before it gets sent back to the first (an XOR “ring modulation” in the Benjolin’s case) means that each iteration of the loop changes. This satisfies the basic requirements of chaotic syntheses: that there is feedback, that there is nonlinearity and that there is sensitivity to initial conditions. (see Slater, Dan, “Chaotic Sound Synthesis”, Computer Music Journal 22.2 19 September 1998, pp 12-19.)

Not surprisingly, analog shift registers such as the one produced by Serge Tcherepnin were often referred to as “arabesque generators”, as in this image from Synapse Magazine September/October 1976. However, we could also refer to this structure as a Lindenmayer, or L-system. An L-system is essentially a grammatical system which rewrites itself for every new iteration according to a system of rules.

Here is Lindenmayer’s original L-system for modeling the growth of algae:

variables : A B
constants : none
start : A
rules : (A → AB), (B → A)

which produces:

n = 0 : A
n = 1 : AB
n = 2 : ABA
n = 3 : ABAAB
n = 4 : ABAABABA

(Source: Wikipedia)

In Non-Standard Sound Synthesis with L-Systems, Stelios Manousakis refers to non-propagative L-systems as being similar to cellular automata algorithms in that the data produced doesn’t branch out and expand endlessly, but rather is used as rules for determining the output of each cell. In our 3 stage shift register example, the non-linear feedback applied to the last stage before it returns to the first would be the new “grammatical rule” applied to the next iteration.

Now, another term we could use to describe a chaotically-produced series of binary numbers with a high sensitivity to the initial conditions (or “seed”) of the process which creates them is a Pseudo-Random Number Generator (also know as a Deterministic Random Bit Generator). And many implementations of a PRNG use what are called Linear Feedback Shift Registers to create those bits, which are the basic building blocks of many sorts of encryption processes.

Our 3-bit Benjolin is a far cry from the 128- and 256-bit encryption algorithms commonly used for digital security today (to say nothing of the “uncrackable” 1024-bit scheme used by the RSA algorithm), and probably bears a closer resemblance to the “shuffle” feature on my ITunes, which “randomly” seems to play back the same 220 songs out of the 22,000 in my MP3 collection. Or, as quantum mechanics pioneer John von Neumann joked, “Anyone who considers arithmetical methods of producing random digits is, of course, in a state of sin.” For the purpose of creating generative sound compositions in realtime, however, these pseudo-random bits appear to provide an interesting and “musical” balance between randomness and structure.

Other circuits or projects involving the potentially chaotic use of shift registers and/or pseudo-random number generators include the CGS 34 ASR (which is of course influenced by the original Serge ASR), the CGS 31 Digital Noise, the random voltage generator from the Buchla 208 “Music Easel” and the mighty Klee Sequencer.

As a footnote, I have to add that the man who first uttered the name “L-system” to me is the same man whose film is now sitting on my desktop, waiting to be scored. So with this musing on the cyclical nature of the universe, I bid you farewell for now.

Now Playing

drudkheternal turn of the wheel[2012 season of mist]
earthangels of darkness demons of light II[2012 southern lord]
keith fullerton whitmangenerators[2012 editions mego]
mirroringforeign body[2012 kranky]
oren ambarchiaudience of one[2012 touch]

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Souvenirs from Abroad

Posted in Documentation on March 24th, 2012 by admin


Sometimes when I think back, all my workshops seem to go by this fast…

The participants in Zagreb were great, super-motivated and highly imaginative. Each and every one of them made some incredibly special and unique SoundBox during the two days we had together, and even played them too… We also squeezed in an early morning trip to the local flea market to put the shop back into workshop. Big thanks to Deborah Hustic for organization and hospitality! Was also great to see some old friends around town, such as Ivan “Kliff” Marusic and Borut Savski.

I think my favorite SoundBox from this workshop was this one, crafted from the end of a trashed accordion:


Between 5-9 March, students of the EKA (Taavi Suisalu, Evi Pärn, Lilli Tölp, Aleksander Sprohgis) learned to make their own primitive noise synthesizers with me. Lilli made this short video capturing the essence of the final presentation plus a tiny bit of my solo set.

Evi also posted two videos, here and here.

Like the previous Neanderthal Electronics presentation, back when Ptarmigan was still located in Helsinki, this one was a complete success. Thanks to Raivo Kelomees and John Fail for organizing the workshop and presentation, respectively. Any account of my Estonian trip would be woefully incomplete without mentioning Timo Toots and Marika Agu and their Sunday-afternoon tour of the Architectural Wonders of Tartu. Aitäh!


Derek Holzer vs Jelena Glazova live @Taka 16.03.12 pt3 by macumbista

Live set @ Taka, Riga, March 16th, 2012. Derek Holzer: analog synthesizer, soundbox, found objects. Jelena Glazova: voice, laptop.

Parts 1 and 2 plus some studio sessions can be found at Holzer vs Glazova.

Thanks to Sandis Baumanis [ULVE Agency] for organization and photos, Jēkabs Nīmanis for recording, Edgars Rubenis for the mixer and Olesja for the lovely smile.

Unfortunately, the only souvenir that RISEBA, the school I was teaching at, left me was a headache. Typical Latvian new-capitalist neoliberals, they seemed to delight in playing ridiculous games over even the smallest amount of money, making them little better than con-artists. The result: I worked twice as many hours this workshop as last year, for the same amount of pay. Count your fingers after you shake hands with people like these…

On that note…

People like these business-school asswipes make me sicker than ever of this constant freelancing life. I have been actively searching for more constant employment teaching at an art, music or design school lately. If any of my dear readers have tips, I would gladly hear them. In some ways, I am beyond caring where such a job might be at this point…

On the other hand, spring has arrived in Berlin and I have very little travel coming up. While that may make the coming months a bit lean and hungry, I hope to use the time to catch up on projects I have promised people, including two cassette releases and a film soundtrack, as well as building some new soundbox-type instruments for sale. Wish me luck!

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Kickstarter + HR-EE-LV Travel

Posted in Announcement on February 28th, 2012 by admin

Machine Deva: An Experimental Art Film

“Machine Deva’s gonna be an unusual experience, it’s someplace between looking at cave paintings in a hand-held home movie that I’ve brought into my dreams.” –Steve Holzer

A distinguished gentleman who I happen to have known my entire life is busy creating his latest camera-less film, and has invited me to help create the soundtrack. He has a Kickstarter page for the project, with a very reasonable goal of $3000 set. He’s halfway there and has only 11 more days to do it. So if you are one of those aspiring patron-of-the-arts-types, you could do worse than to get on board this project. Please drop by and have a look!

Travel & Upcoming Engagements

03-04 March: SoundBoxes workshop + Concert @ Student Center Zagreb HR. Practice your Hrvatski here.

06-09 March: Neanderthal Electronics workshop @ Estonian Academy of Art New Media Dept, Tallinn EE

09 March: Neanderthal Electronics workshop presentation + Concert @ Ptarmigan, Tallinn EE. Read it and weep.

12-16 March: Sound+Space/The Art of Field Recording workshop at RISEBA, Riga LV.

16 March ???: Derek Holzer & Jelena Glazova live set… date and venue to be confirmed, watch this space!

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Video: nonlinearity III

Posted in Documentation on January 3rd, 2012 by admin

nonlinearity III from macumbista on Vimeo.

Q: So what do you do?

A: I make sound instruments that no one’s ever seen before, and then I teach myself how to play them.

Q: Do you play them well?

A: Well, if no one’s ever seen one before, how can they tell if I’m playing it badly or not?

Triple soundbox-drone nonlinearity study, constructed and recorded during my 2011 residency at the Danish Institute for Electro/Acoustic Music, Aarhus and edited during a shorter residency at MOKS, Mooste. Glam-rock, audio-responsive soundbox built for KT.

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Nonlinearity II

Posted in Documentation on September 15th, 2011 by admin

nonlinearity II from macumbista on Vimeo.

Continued studies in nonlinearity, this time using cross-coupled oscillators, smooth/stepped generators and random voltages from the Wogglebug run through a series of Buchla Low Pass Gates and plotted on the oscilloscope. Recorded 14.09.11 at the Danish Institute for Electro/acoustic Music, Aarhus. Reminiscent of Jackson Pollock’s action paintings, mid-century Modernism and a time before the information machines took over. A sketch quickly realized in the dark with improvised tripod and bad, in-camera microphone. To be expanded. Watch with the lights off.

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SoundBoxes workshop video, Tenerife, June 2011

Posted in Documentation on September 15th, 2011 by admin

Workshop with Derek Holzer from laplatanera on Vimeo.

Electronics workshop with Derek Holzer at El Generador, Santa Cruz de Tenerife. Festival Proximos

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[video] TONEWHEELS at Multiplace Fest, Brno

Posted in Documentation on June 2nd, 2011 by admin

DEREK HOLZER (US/DE) – MULTIPLACE OPENING 2. 5. 2011 from Fórum 4AM on Vimeo.

Vzhledem k vývoji celého vystoupení doporučuji všem vizuálně naladěným divákům zhlédnout především druhou polovinu klipu.

“Derek Holzer se v projektu Tonewheels inspiruje pionýrskými díly elektronické hudby 20. století (ANS Syntetizér, Variophone, Oramic systém).” Vyrobil

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danica dakicisola bella[video, 2006-7]
evan caminitiwhen california falls into the sea 12″[2011 handmade birds]
leatherfacethe stormy petrel[2010 big ugly fish]

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Hotels of Northern Europe

Posted in Documentation on March 11th, 2011 by admin

Yes indeed I have been traveling and working almost nonstop since the start of the Year. A quick rundown of my activities:

09-15 Jan 2011 – Mechanical Sound Instruments workshop, TAIK University of Art and Design, Helsinki FI

Workshop = awesome! Design students built Arduino-powered electro-acoustic instruments like this one below. I’ll be editing video docs I made in Helsinki soon.

Electro-Acoustic Musical Instrument from Palash on Vimeo.

Hotel room = passable. Töölö Towers is the University’s home for wandering academics, with a very institutional vibe, spotty wifi coverage and full length mirrors for me to shoot very serious-looking self portraits in…

18-21 Jan 2011 – Tuned City: sound+space workshop, Estonian Academy of Arts Media Dept, Tallinn EE

Workshop = 5.5 out of 10. I’m still figuring out what kind of tools are necessary to crack the shells of the Estonian oysters. After some prodding, most of the students really gave their best in making and discussing the recordings. One girl Facebooked and texted the entire workshop until I pointed out that her computer was “broken” and she’d be better off at home.

Hotel = decent. Maneezi house, guestrooms of the Estonian Arts Academy, has everything you would ever want in a post-Soviet flat…a long flight of stairs, some heavy metal doors, a warm radiator and even running water.

01-05 Feb 2011 — Regenwald2011 workshop+installation, West Germany/Club Transmediale, Berlin DE

Workshop = mostly good. Trying to wrangle seven very different artistic personalities into one piece in only five days is never easy. I have decided that giving them less freedom rather than more is the only solution. The audience response to the piece, on the other hand, was quite positive and enthusiastic.

Hotel = not applicable. One of the longest stretches I’ve been able to sleep in my own bed in ages!!!

07-11 Feb 2011 – Field Recording workshop, Royal Music Conservatory, Aarhus DK

Workshop = one of the best! Very high level of capabilities by these composition students at the Electronic Music department there. I gave them one hour to take three random one-minute field recordings from their neighbor and make a short piece out of them, and they all pulled it off! And that was only one of the exercises. If only every group I taught had their shit so together.

Hotel = comical. The Cabinn is a concept hotel, they told me. As near as I can figure, the concept was to make the hotel room itself as much like the sleeping couchette on an overnight train as possible.

A few weeks later I saw an exhibition of living/working spaces by French-Israeli artist Absalon at the KW Berlin. Made to the measure of his own body, and likely inspired by the fact that most of the artist’s short life was spent in the Israeli military, the constructions impressed me as the ideal prototype of future dehumanizing architecture for the 21st Century.

12-14 Feb 2011 – Tuned City:sound+space, Estonian Academy of Arts Architecture Dept, Tallinn EE

Workshop: another five and a half. The concept here was to teach architects to experience urban space through sound, and this worked pretty well. The students brought in recordings of various spaces around Tallinn for us to listen to and analyze. My mistake was in giving them “homework” for the last day. Despite assurances from everyone that they had time and energy to do it, only two came back the next day.

Also during this week I braved the -25C weather to investigate some locations for next summer’s Tuned City event, such as the lobby of the Linnahall, a disused auditorium/ice rink constructed for the 1980 Olympic games.

Hotel: deceptively posh. Somehow I was taken in by the spacious rooms, tall windows, tacky wallpaper and inoffensive framed prints of the Old Town Maestro. Until I realized that the strip-club-disco downstairs wouldn’t stop the party until 7am.

23-27 Feb 2011 – Neanderthal Electronics, NK Project, Berlin DE

Workshop = can I call this an 8? What should have been a warm homecoming was dampened by some kind of breakdown in publicity. The three guys that did show up for the workshop kicked some serious ass though, and made really nice boxes which they played the following Monday for the Experimontag at Madame Claude. Photos and such soon.

Hotel = forget it! I locked the door to my flat and stayed in bed for three whole days when all this was over.

Now Playing

ben frostlive at berghain, berlin 24.02.11
earthangels of darkness, demons of light I[2011 southern lord]
elehradiant intervals[2011 important]
flower travellin’ bandanywhere[1970 philips]
tim heckerravedeath 1972[2011 kranky]

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