Robot Drummers & Knock Sensors

Suss Müsik continues making weird things that make weird sounds. The most recent addition to the DIY instrument family is a percussive trigger device, which uses piezo “knock” sensors to send MIDI information to a sampling synth.

knock-sensor midi device

The first prototype utilized handmade knock sensor drum pads that, when struck, trigger damaged text-to-speech output. In this video, a hidden foot pedal controls the amount of distress put on the sound. A weird sort of phasing takes place when a pad is struck multiple times.

The next video features an upgraded firmware that plays chord clusters in various pentatonic scale composites, in this instance replicating the sound of a string quartet. A little companion device controls bow pressure, string noise, harmonics, detuning, and scrape with joysticks and knobs.

The third and final video feature the above device with handmade synth instruments built from various 1990’S computer parts. Readers of this space are familiar with Suss Müsik’s obsession with repurposing hardware from the detritus of consumer technology.

In this instance, a robotic “drummer” controlled via two servo motors plays a simple Krautrock beat, the output passed through a Meris Enzo pedal. As of this writing, the robot drummer is nameless although it seems to respond to being called Xavier.

Samples of spoken conversation were triggered by the knock-sensor percussion device, played by mallets striking against the pads. A Glitch Storm Mk II adds electronic coloring.

The piece is provisionally entitled “Multiple Undoings.”

All of these pieces were recorded live to TASCAM 8-track in February and March 2024.

Junto Project 0628: Alchemical Brothers [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.

Earth is turned into water black and blue / And water after into air under very white,” wrote George Ripley in his 1471 work The Compound of Alchemy. “Of this Separation I find a like figure.” Heavy stuff.

Suss Müsik believes all sound to be a process of experiential transformation, a constant shifting of directional timbres and tones. Musically speaking, it’s difficult to explain why some sounds seem to have more success combined with others. It might simply be our biases at work (Suss Müsik, for example, uncovers alchemy in any classic Thom Bell production). Or perhaps something more mystic takes place on a subconsciously metaphysical level.

The approach Suss Müsik took with this week’s Junto was to begin quite literally with blue and white noise, pushing and turning the voltages the same way an acoustic instrument might move air into water. The sound was manipulated by various self-built electronic gadgets and MIDI devices. The piece was composed (well, more like discovered) and recorded quickly to 8-track.

The piece is titled Tetraptative, a Middle English adjective whose only appearance in written or spoken form is believed to occur in Ripley’s text:

And Separation is called by Philosophers definition,
Tetraptative dispersion of the said four elements.

Junto Project 0627: Just Ice Society [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.

An Individual Conditional Expectation (ICE) is a type of plot that demonstrates the deviation from a predicted occurrence when some aspect of it changes. Resembling statistical visualizations popularized by Edward Tufte in the 1980’s, ICE plots represent information as a series of lines each representing a separate, unique data point.

Every new year brings a period of reflection, inevitably coupled with an optimistic array of good intentions. One might be compelled to plot these on an ICE or similar chart detailing progress toward a given milestone. For Suss Müsik, the 2024 plan includes critical objectives like “be nice, mostly” and “try to avoid hospitals.” The bar is admittedly set low around here.

For this recurrent Junto project (one of Suss Müsik’s favorites), the sound of ice in a glass was sampled and run through a sort of handmade grain synth. This weird rhythm makes its appearance later in the piece, following an organ prelude accompanied by an arpeggiated bell/harp pattern. The voices were digitally stretched to resemble nothing more than long breaths, perhaps metaphorically representing the deep exhale one emits after a challenging year.

The piece is titled 2101.06986, in tribute to the filename of a 2021 paper by three authors describing the use of slice visualization to model machine learning algorithms. (Another Suss Müsik 2024 goal is “title more pieces after numbers,” because why not).

Junto Project 0621: The Leftovers [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.

Suss Müsik’s entire creative practice is centered around the quest to derive gold from detritus. It’s likely an attribute shared with carefree art school days of an earlier era: a time when post-modern photography, sweaty punk rock, and ramen noodles served as daily sustenance.

“Photographs, so much a part of our daily lives, become highly self-conscious when pulled from the fraying of their ordinary locations,” wrote the art critic Julia Ballerini in 1989. “They refer back to their origins in a different voice … suggest[ing] a complexity of potential attachments, detachments, and reconfigurations.”

For this week’s project, Suss Müsik utilized four handmade devices recently built from material laying around the workshop: a digital sample trigger, a joystick-activated grain synth, a touchscreen MIDI device, and a touchscreen modulation controller. These were used to manipulate sonic material (loops, found audio, etc.) from the backlog, some of which has been in the works for more than eight years.

Given the nature of this week’s offering, Suss Müsik captured the session on video. The piece has no title and was recorded live to a TASCAM 8-track.

Junto Project 0603: Animated Suspension [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.

In a 2004 photograph by performance artist and painter Keith Boadwee, the artist is shown jumping off the roof of a house, his naked body horizontally splitting the frame in half. The piece, titled Leap Into The Yard, is arguably the most benign of Boadwee’s works. (Google him if you dare).

Boadwee’s image serves as tangible evidence of suspension, both literally and figuratively: a moment caught between decision and consequence, a physical body arrested in the flow of time. Performance artists have long documented their efforts with photographs or films, the ephemerality of their works legitimized through a process of ocularity. Think of it as an early harbinger of the meme “pics or it didn’t happen.”

Then again, maybe the pictorial act of suspension is itself a lie. Art critic Martin Jay reminds us that photographs taken in the 19th century often produced ghostly double-exposures, and that any image we view represents at best a distorted truth. “Artists insistently stage their desire to be present, to have an immediate effect on their audience,” Jay writes, “yet this very desire bespeaks an awareness that images will inevitably interpose themselves, and that all images can mislead as well as inform.”

With the above in mind, Suss Müsik tackled this week’s Junto project as an exploration in ghostly, there-or-not-there suspension. A metallic percussion rhythm was looped through a distressed synth filter, while a chord sequence was played on electric piano. A DIY electronic instrument (built from an old computer heat sink and run through a hazy reverb modulator) provides floaty background atmospherics.

It’s music that you hear, then you don’t; a sonic depiction of the blur between action and impact.

The piece is titled Ocularity and was recorded live to 8-track in July 2023.

Disquiet Junto Profile

Followers of this website (all eleven of them) will recall that Suss Müsik is a regular participant in the Disquiet Junto. Headlined by writer and publisher Marc Wiedenbaum, the Junto is a online music community who participate in weekly assignments. Prompts have included experiments in visual scores, collaborative projects with international arts organizations, and tributes to noteworthy composers.

Marc is publishing a series of profiles on Junto participants, and Suss Müsik was honored to be included in May 2023. Topics include a Neil deGrasse Tyson quote, some insight on DIY instrument building, and the importance of a good set of headphones.

“Soft Refusal” Video Performed on DIY Synths

Suss Müsik continues to build strange electronic devices that make strange sounds. The latest is a midi-sampler that triggers AI-generated audio. Built from a 1990’s Syquest drive, it resembles a steampunk adding machine.

midi-sampler built from a 1990's Syquest drive

You can see and hear the device in action in a performance video of “Soft Refusal,” a piece from Suss Müsik’s latest release New Hopes.

Junto Project 0588: Swell Time (Make Some Surf Music) [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.

P.oceanica is a slow-growing species of Posidonia, a global seagrass that provides food and shelter to marine organisms, protect coasts against erosion, and purifies natural water resources. P.oceanica covers the entire coastline of the Mediterranean Sea with its network of roots and rhizomes. One colony discovered off the coast of Ibiza is believed to be nearly two-hundred thousand years old, which would make it the oldest living plant in the world.

Marta Solé, a research scientist in environmental engineering at the Universitat Politècnica de Catalunya in Barcelona Tech (UPC), has spent her career studying the impact of noise pollution on marine biology. Solé’s previous research demonstrated that cephalopods hear sound through small sensory organs, which become damaged when noise exceeds a certain volume and frequency. P.oceanica have exhibited similarly adverse effects to noise, compromising the plants’ ability to connect to root systems and gather nutrients from the ocean.

Suss Müsik considered the metaphorical duality of sound waves and ocean currents as a framework for this Junto project. Three “waves” of synthetic material were treated with various distortion effects and allowed to pass over each other. A cyclical pattern simulates the gently modulating seagrass that lies beneath the surf, insulating its tender blades from the harsher noise just above the crashing waves.

The piece is titled P.oceanica and was recorded live to Tascam 8-track. Those who wish to learn more about Solé’s work are encouraged to read The Sounds of Life by Karen Bakker.

Ryuichi Sakamoto 1952-2023

The year was 2010, the setting a restored movie theatre converted for live performance. The event was a solo concert by composer Ryuichi Sakamoto.

Against a backdrop of pre-recorded material (including an under-the-ice stream of water recorded from a glacier in Greenland), Sakamoto assumed his position on one of two grand pianos and played what can only be called “a duet with silence.”

At one particularly quiet point during the concert, the wail of a siren could be heard from the fire house across the street from the theater.

It was not unlike how Alan Licht once described a 1952 piano piece by John Cage protégé Christian Wolff, in which the sounds of traffic noise outside Wolff’s open window were louder than the notes he played.

A thin red line was projected on the screen above the stage, slowly moving from left to right as the sound of the fire trucks faded into the distance.

For a brief moment, everyone in the room occupied the same acousmatic field, a happenstance encounter encompassing both creator and audience.

A faint smile on Sakamoto’s face seemed to indicate that the siren was not a distraction, but rather a delightful accident analogous to the shattered glass visible in Marcel Duchamp’s The Bride Stripped Bare By Her Bachelors, Even.

The result was a beautifully unintended yet compelling coincidence, shared by all who participated in its magical serendipity.

It made for the most entrancing moment in the evening teeming with entrancing moments: a collectively satisfying experience encompassing light, sound, space and time.

Junto Project 0578: Rabbit Spirit Ally [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.

“You said a moment ago that everybody you look at seems to be a rabbit,” says the doctor to his patient in a cartoon by James Thurber. “Now just what do you mean by that, Mrs. Sprague?” Meanwhile, Mrs. Sprague recoils in horror at the vision of her therapist’s enlarged, leporine head.

There is a rabbit who lives in the underbrush just behind Suss Müsik headquarters. We’ve named her/him Clover. Clover has grown to be fairly large and tends to regard humans with more curiosity than fear. Still, Clover can still easily escape from predators when compelled. Perhaps Mrs. Sprague could take a leaf from Clover’s book.

The rabbit is viewed in Chinese tradition as a calm, gentle yet crafty animal, whose energy emphasizes balance and intelligence. The phrase jiǎo tù sān kū (狡兔三窟) loosely translates as “a cunning rabbit has three burrows and more than one means of escape.” With the arrival of the Lunar New Year, this is the approach Suss Müsik took with this week’s Junto.

The piece begins with a gentle piano arpeggio, broken into three fragments that randomly shift cadences like a tone poem. A fake fretless bass moves things along until a DIY synth glitches things up. Brief stabs of percussion interrupt the calm, gentle atmosphere, yet the overall feeling is one of balance and crafty intelligence (or whatever the Suss Müsik equivalent would be).

The piece is titled Jiǎo Tù Sān Kū. The image is based on an etching owned by The Welcome Collection, the use of which is covered under Public Domain Mark (PDM) terms and conditions.

Suss Müsik Featured on CKRL “La Croche Oreille”

On Sunday 16 October, Suss Müsik will appear on the CKRL radio program La Croche Oreille, hosted by Gaëtan Gosselin. The program is hosted from Quebec City and broadcast in French. Maybe someone who speaks that language fluently will kindly let Suss Müsik know what’s being said. This coincides with Suss Müsik’s latest album New Hopes being listed as this week’s “What’s New” feature. Exciting stuff.

Update: a rough translation is available in transcript form.

Contact Mic Synth & MIDI Device + Meng Qi Wingie 2

Suss Müsik created a video demonstrating a handmade contact mic synth and customized MIDI device, built from recycled 1990’s computer hardware. (You can see the hard drive housing that serves as a sort of “plate reverb”). One channel was run through a Meng Qi Wingie 2. Reverb and delay pedals were controlled via footpedals; vocal samples were triggered by another handmade device using pads. The piece was largely improvised and recorded live in September 2022.