Post-classical ambient minimalism for crepuscular airports

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.

Junto Project 0460: Creative Destruction [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.

“What distinguishes a particular engineering discipline from another is only the palette of things to be put together,” says structural engineer Mark. E. Eberhart in his book Why Things Break. The same might be said for how things are broken apart.

Human beings are compelled to be destructive; otherwise, we simply don’t evolve. Our survival quite literally depends upon our capacity to wreck stuff. Destruction is a fundamental component of construction, for without the ability to sculpt raw matter into tools we have no means by which to build. Destruction is evidence that we have successfully moved forward as a species.

For this exercise, Suss Müsik approached the concept of destruction as both starting point and continuum. A simple counterpoint sequence for fake strings and piano was duplicated and distressed, using heavy distortion filters and run aggressively through a pitch-shift modulator.

The resulting artifacts form what you hear at the beginning of the piece. From there it was simply a matter of reversing the “destruction,” which seemed weirdly self-referential: could the act of destroying the destroyer be considered, by reverse logic, a form of construction? Suss Müsik will leave that for you to ponder.

The piece is titled Entropy and was recorded live to 8-track. The image is refracted sunlight dissipating through a glass of water on a white table.

Junto Project 0456: Line Up [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.

According to art historian Lawrence Alloway, Agnes Martin was one of the principal pioneers of the “Hard-Edge” 1950’s painting movement. “Even where forms are not purely represented,” he wrote, “[Hard-Edge] abstract artists have tended toward a compilation of separable elements, treated as discrete entities. Forms are few and the surface immaculate … the whole picture becomes the unit. The result of this sparseness is that the spatial effect of figures on a field is avoided.”

Martin’s work evokes not only austere minimalism but also a cerebral airiness, perhaps gained from when Martin lived in New Mexico while attending university. Her work appears to vibrate off the canvas, the rigor of her craft subtly transformed into a sort of trembly dissonance. Even a simple line appears to breathe; a series of seemingly identical shapes reveal hidden nuances on close inspection.

For this piece written for fake violins, Suss Müsik interpreted Martin’s lovely 1961 work entitled Words (ink and graphic on paper, mounted on canvas) as a graphical score. The parallel lines are represented by sustained, repetitious phrases playing a single note. The triangles are conveyed through a simple 3-note counterpoint performed in consecutive sets of four, four, six, six, six, six, four and four.

The piece is titled Words and was recorded live with one overdub for piano embellishment.

Co-Process Volume 2 Released

Co-Process Volume 2 coverSuss Müsik amassed enough decent material from the latest collaborations with artist B.G. Madden to put out a proper release. Co-Process Volume 2 continues the path forged by Co-Process released earlier this year. It’s all glitchy, droney, ambient weirdness. Sound was created from audio scans of Madden’s visual art, which was provided in the form of postcards delivered via US mail. (These quarantine days necessitate drastic creative measures). The scans were then manipulated using all sorts of technical gadgets, from grain synthesizers to DIY electronic devices. The album is available on Bandcamp, and more of Madden’s beautiful artwork can be seen here.

Junto Project 0455: Inner Invertebrate [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.

Jellyfish have three essential life functions. They eat, have sex, then they die. The rest of the time, they simply float about the water trying to avoid being attacked by predators. It’s not a bad way to live.

The jellyfish mating ritual is typically the outcome of chance encounters experienced while drifting about the ocean currents. Think of it like aquatic low-speed dating in today’s pandemic climate, with potential partners randomly hooking up while trying to stay away from each other.

Suss Müsik considered the art of avoidance in developing this short piece. Two synth engines were modulated to allow their waveforms to “drift” unpredictably, with a small dollop of spring-reverse reverb to create a “bounceback” effect. An alternating pattern for fake dulcimer provides the melodic “current” that brings these two mates together.

Jellyfish die not long after mating, and such is the case with this piece. A few brief piano notes symbolize the fertilization process and portend the coming demise. What once was clear becomes opaque and drops to the ocean floor.

The piece is titled Scyphozoa. The image is a public domain photograph by Lydia Jacobs.