Post-classical ambient minimalism for crepuscular airports

Vactrol Cyanbox

Suss Müsik designed and built a weird instrument called the Vactrol Cyanbox. You’re obviously wondering what it does.

Cyanbox

Inside the box are two vactrols. What’s a vactrol? It’s another term for a photoresistive opto-isolator, which is an exceedingly fancy term to mean “a light that blinks into a sensor and turns something on and off.” The word vactrol is derived from a trademark by Vactec, Inc. Now you know.

So there are two vactrols, each a single white LED directly facing a photocell resistor and encased in a black rubber tube. Each vactrol controls its own voltage-controlled oscillator (VCO).

One VCO plays a continuous tone. The pitch is controlled by the rate at which the LED blinks, adjustable by two knobs with a single 1/4″ output. The other VCO can also play continuously or be controlled via pushbutton, with added knobs for pitch, modulation and density.

In the video below, a third (!) vactrol distorts the playback of a hacked cassette Walkman. Not shown are two Moog pedals that control filtration and a prerecorded glitch loop played via an offscreen iPad.

Yet to be announced: some live* (!!) Suss Müsik performances!

*Well, sort of live.

DIY Synths & Cassette Hacking

Thanks to ongoing life in the quarantine era, Suss Müsik continues the DIY silliness with two new instruments. One is a combination oscillator and cassette tape looper, built from a hacked Walkman whose amplifier nodes were manually distorted and given a variable-phasing effect. It looks like this:

DIY cassette looper

The second instrument is a synth using built-in filtering, pitch-control and modulation. It can be played either continuously or via a small push-button.

DIY Synth

Just to prove that something musical (well, sort of musical) can come out of all this, Suss Müsik has posted a new piece entitled Chagrinningly. Getting the loops to synchronize with other instruments is both challenging and exciting. It’s a possible new direction to explore.

DIY Synths, Artiphon Attachments, and “Dovum” Live

Suss Müsik built upon the Artiphon INSTRUMENT-1 with a DIY synth attachment, played via touch-sensitive ring with built-in modulation. DIY synths are fun.

The first demo is a little improvisation with fake strings played on the Arti as fingered chords, with sustain/pressure variances controlled by footpedals. Sound is generated on the synth by gliding one or two fingers along the outer ring.

The second is a live performance of Dovum, a piece built around audio scans of B.G. Madden’s artwork.

The added text is the first paragraph of Oku no Hosomichi (meaning “Narrow Road to Oku”), a 1702 work written by Matsuo Bashō. Translated to English, the text reads as follows:

“The months and days are the travelers of eternity. The years that come and go are also voyagers. Those who float away their lives on ships or who grow old leading horses are forever journeying, and their homes are wherever their travels take them.”

The Quarantine Concert series shall continue for as long as the pandemic does.

DIY Photosynthesizer

Suss Müsik continues an obsession with building handmade synth devices that make odd (and sometimes beautiful) noise. The latest one is a dual-ouput synth controlled by flashlight, each channel with a built-in VCF control. This recording was made accompanied by a fake string quartet (not shown on camera).

Latest in a series of Suss Müsik Quarantine Concerts, along with this little ditty composed with the Artiphon INSTRUMENT-1. The device’s default modulation functionality is controlled by external foot pedals, leaving the internal accelerometer free to manipulate other sounds.

Suss Müsik will be making some exciting announcements in the coming weeks, so stay tuned for those (or don’t).

Junto Project 0467: Toolbox Show & Tell

Someone suggested that Suss Müsik repost our contributions to the weekly Disquiet Junto projects, because they enjoy reading the explanations of the tracks. While you’re reading the original post, make sure you check out the other contributors’ works as well.

“The thing with analog circuits is they follow very simple, natural laws,” says synthesizer designer and builder Jessica Rylan, “just like breaking a tree branch, or like water, or even like birds flying in a V — they push and are pushed into that pattern because it’s the path of least resistance … like you turn on the power, it’s just following whatever the vibration would do. And the sound it produces is the exact same as the electricity producing it.”

There are many such nuggets to be found in Tara Rodgers’ excellent book Pink Noises, which compiles interviews with twenty-four women working in electronic music and sound art. Rodgers’ conversation with Rylan, coupled with pandemic isolation, inspired Suss Müsik to explore the craft of DIY synthesis and digital instrument hacking.

As a result, Suss Müsik’s toolbox is now teeming with circuit boards, jumper cables, soldering equipment, resistors / capacitors / inductors of all sizes, a kaleidoscope of LED lights, touch-sensitive / knob potentiometers, plastic casing of varying sizes, and a lifetime supply of 9-volt batteries. It’s great fun.

A key learning was that acoustic instruments create sound by moving air — a string is plucked, a drum is hit, a mouthpiece receives wind — while electronic instruments make sound by moving voltage. Nature is a rich ecosystem of patterns, and the ability to manipulate patterns of electrical current is the core of synthesized music.

This short piece is an excerpt from a series of compositions played mostly with custom-built and hacked instruments. In this particular instance, you’ll hear an piezo-amplified kalimba, a homemade sawtooth oscillator, and a photo-sensitive harmonic generator played with a flashlight and touch-ring interface.

Below is a photo of that last item, and the cover image is by visual artist B.G. Madden.

homemade synth controlled by flashlight

SixOverEight

SixOverEight coverOut of nowhere comes a new Suss Müsik release, a brief little six-track EP that shan’t take more than a half-hour. It’s available on Bandcamp and features instruments built or customized by Suss Müsik. Visual artist B.G. Madden did the cover. Full description below:

SixOverEight is an homage to life-as-prototype, based on the theme of adaptation.

The concept of “sixes and eights” came about organically. Sequences of notes or chord progressions (the “eights”) were performed using customized or handmade instruments. The most workable bits were then developed into short offerings (the “sixes”) and recorded live.

Coincidentally (or not), sixes and eights also refer to personality types within the Enneagram. For those unaware, the Enneagram is a complex system of patterns developed by Russ Hudson and the late Don Richard Riso.

Put in simple terms, everyone emerges from childhood with one of nine personality types dominating their outlook and behavior. Sixes, for example, tend to look outside themselves for personal validation: jobs, relationships, social status.

Eights, meanwhile, are more willing to follow their instinct. They have no problem asserting themselves (sometimes to the point of hostility) and believe their life mission is to openly challenge the world.

Identity is fluid, however, as are all forms of survival. The human experience is defined by our capacity for resilience. As the year 2020 draws to a close, may we all support each other in mutual adaptation.

Instruments used include: prepared piano; piezo-amplified kalimba; homemade sawtooth synth; distressed fake marimba; open D-tuned Artiphon INSTRUMENT-1 (3D-printed frame) with custom voices; photo-sensitive synth played with a flashlight.

Junto Project 0466: [ ] Sound Machine [repost]

Someone suggested that Suss Müsik repost our contributions to the weekly Disquiet Junto projects, because they enjoy reading the explanations of the tracks. While you’re reading the original post, make sure you check out the other contributors’ works as well.

December, 2010. Suss Müsik is walking the streets of Barcelona at night. It’s Christmastime, so the city is illuminated in celebration of the upcoming holiday.

Suss Müsik notices a pattern in the decorations. One cobblestone street is lined with circular disks of white light; another has rainbow-colored rectangles hanging from the lampposts. The two streets meet at a public square just a few blocks from La Rambla. Suss Müsik determines this intersection to be the Chromogenic Nexus.

A man is photographing the holiday lights around the square. Suss Müsik watches the man from a distance as he stows his tripod and camera equipment and revs up his motorbike. Suss Müsik mentally assigns this gentleman the job title Keeper of the Chomogenic Nexus. It’s a big responsibility.

The Chromogenic Nexus is the metaphorical congruence that personifies this beautiful, fantastic city. It’s a place where new and old worlds mesh perfectly, where a tour of Casa Batlló concludes with a 3D hologram of Antoni Gaudí waving you goodbye.

The Barcelona Sound Machine embraces this city’s Medieval origins, its Nouveau and Gothic architecture, its love of competitive sport, its cultural fluctuations, its nautical cuisine, its Catalonian nationalism.

It’s an audio landscape inspired by multiple generations of artists. If it were a gallery, it would display the surrealistic paintings of Joan Miró alongside prototypes built by Universitat Autònoma students, the two separated by 100 years and a mere 26 kilometers.

It’s a late-night ride on the FGC, where on the station wall a numeric display counts down incoming arrivals to within a microsecond of accuracy.

It’s the bronzed foam topping on a strong cup of coffee, enjoyed outside while gazing at a store mannequin that seems just a bit too realistic. Next door is a shop that sells nothing but scissors.

To Suss Müsik, ultimately, the Barcelona Sound Machine is a glitchy, multilayered, counterpoint homage to the Keeper of the Chromogenic Nexus. Godspeed to the Keeper, he who balances our understanding of what has taken place and what yet may happen.

Junto Project 0463: Making the Gradient [repost]

Someone suggested that Suss Müsik repost our contributions to the weekly Disquiet Junto projects, because they enjoy reading the explanations of the tracks. While you’re reading the original post, make sure you check out the other contributors’ works as well.

Gradients are all around us in the form of airflow. As we move about at different speeds, refractive variations caused by density gradients distort our sense of light and sound. Higher velocity means more distortion, or at least a more visualized shift among images that remain in focus.

(Refraction is also why many of us have trouble seeing as we get older. Next time you stub your toe squinting to locate your eyeglasses, blame the gradients. Shaking your fist in the air at fandom fluid densities is entirely optional).

In 1864, German physicist Augst Toepler invented Schlieren photography as a way to visualize airflow current. Putting it simply, rays of light change when patches of air at varying densities are forced to pass through each other. Placing a concave mirror with a long focal distance helps to illuminate these shifts, which can be photographed using a knife edge or razor blade in front of a camera lens.

For this strange piece, Suss Müsik attempted to recreate a Z-type Schlieren setup with a guitar, two looping pedals, and a pitch-shifting delay pad. The original concept was to cut off one set of loops (the “lamp”) while “refracting” another set of loops (the “mirror”) with various sawtooth/reverb effects. The results didn’t quite hit that mark, but there remains some auditory evidence of densities splitting in motion and later converging.

The piece is titled Schlieren and was recorded live to 8-track. The image is a Schlieren photograph of shock waves produced by an in-flight T-38 Talon, the world’s first supersonic jet trainer.

Image credit = NASA & US Air Force: J.T. Heineck / Ed Schairer / Maj. Jonathan Orso / Maj. Jeremy Vanderhal, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Junto Project 0461: Goldilocks Zone [repost]

Someone suggested that Suss Müsik repost our contributions to the weekly Disquiet Junto projects, because they enjoy reading the explanations of the tracks. While you’re reading the original post, make sure you check out the other contributors’ works as well.

The human brain processes emotion by categorizing all input according to two responses: sympathetic and parasympathetic (i.e. “fight or flight”). Imagine a graph with two axes: one axis representing a state of stimulation (from excited to calm), the other depicting stimuli as being negative or positive.

In his book The Man Who Lied to His Laptop, the late Clifford Nass refers to these two plots respectively as “arousal” and “valence.” Whether an emotion makes us feel angry, humiliated, serene, jubilant, frightened or something else, the brain’s job is to determine what level of valence or arousal is appropriate for a given situation. Although Nass’s book doesn’t go into the Goldilocks Zone as such, the author does explore how the brain constantly resets itself chemically in an attempt to keep us “just right.”

For this weirdly industrial-sounding piece, Suss Müsik attempted to capture the polarities and nuances between valence and arousal. The main pounding riff (the “arousal” side) was created with a pitch-shifter applied to acoustic guitar. The “valence” side is an analog synth wash combined with audio scans of two-dimensional artwork. The two sides meet somewhere in the middle, thanks to some liberal digital-delay phasing and a Ditto looping pedal.

The piece, entitled Nass, was recorded live to 8-track with no overdubs. The image was created by visual artist B.G. Madden.