Post-classical ambient minimalism for crepuscular airports

San Francisco Maker Music Festival

Suss Müsik is honored to be included in the San Francisco-based Maker Music Festival, taking place virtually as of this writing. Some really amazing work being presented, not the least of which is a contribution by artist Sudhu Tewari and experimental music royalty Fred Frith (swoon!). Group participants include London’s Hackoustic (London), MakeMe from France and San Francisco’s own Center for New Music. Suss Müsik’s contribution is the vactrol-controlled Cyanbox. Thank you to creators Joe Szuecs and Sherry Huss for pulling this community together.

Maker Music Festival Website

Psyphonics & Earth Day

Somewhere between Luigi Russolo’s impressionistic sonic frottage, Milton Graves’ bodily pulse explorations, and Steve Reich’s contrapuntal phrasing is the newest Suss Müsik obsession. Entitled Psyphonics, the series is an attempt to render listenable patterns from data-derived origins.

This particular piece is based on Edward Belbruno’s proposed existence of low-energy rock clusters in space. It is believed that microbe particles shared between these bodies may be evidence of life forms seeking habitable conditions. The polyrhythms for fake strings, fake woodwinds and piano were cycled “in orbit” to match the radius of TRAPPIST-1 terrestrial planets. ARP synthesizer and DIY sound-making devices contribute to the interplanetary atmosphere.

Also in the works are a series of pieces that meld both visual and sonic perspectives on the concept of “affordance,” a term common to the human-computer interaction design field. The term was developed by psychologist James J. Gibson, who described the impact that environment has on an object and whether something with no function can influence user behavior.

In other news, Suss Müsik will be participating in Earth Day Art Model, a global telematic event held on International Earth Day. Over 24 hours, the festival will stream performances and media by musicians, artists, writers, and presenters from all around the globe. Earth Day Art Model is sponsored and presented by Deck 10 Media and the Tavel Arts Technology Research Center at Indiana University Purdue University Indianapolis (IUPUI).

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).

DIY Synth Projects

While quarantined from evil viruses, Suss Müsik spent a chunk of this past summer experimenting with DIY electronics. Among the results was a DIY instrument that creates sound from light. Marc Weidenbaum of Disquiet (origin of the excellent Disquiet Junto projects that occur every week) wrote a very kind description. Here’s a little glimpse of how this weird thing works.

Artistic Collaborations

Suss Müsik continues a very fruitful collaboration with visual artist B.G. Madden. The latest piece, titled Dotto, was rendered from audio scans of Madden’s most recent work.

Given current pandemic conditions, Madden delivered his contributions via US mail in the form of handmade post cards. The new pieces are beautifully reminiscent of post-modern “picture theorists” from the late 1980’s: Richard Prince, Annette Lemieux, and especially the late John Baldessari. The scanned output was then filtered through grain synthesizers and Moog modulation boxes.

Suss Müsik has lagged behind the Quarantine Concert series. Dotto will likely be the next piece “performed.” Or maybe something different. The new social archetype is ambiguity, and Suss Müsik embraces it.

In related news, Suss Müsik’s piece entitled Attaché (also a collaborative work, this time employing Madden’s art as graphic notation) will be featured at this year’s New York City Electroacoustic Music Festival (NYCEMF). Again due to the global pandemic, the entire concert series is taking place virtually. Some great work there to be heard, however, and you don’t even have to leave your house.

Quarantine Concerts

Given these weirdly unsettling times, it’s gratifying to see many homebound musicians and artists taking to social media as a way to connect with their audiences. It’s a nice thing.

Suss Müsik doesn’t have an audience commensurate with any of these folks; however, home confinement does present interesting opportunities to provide a real-time window into the creative process.

With this in mind, Suss Müsik has begun releasing small-scale performances to an audience of one: a lonely little houseplant who seems to appreciate the extra attention of late.

The first video is a live performance of “Foraging,” inspired by the sculpture of Richard Serra and the architecture of Tadeo Ando. Both of these visionaries transformed the brute aesthetic of their chosen materials into delicate studies of ever-shifting light and form. Sounds are created and manipulated from an audio scan of artwork by B.G. Madden.

If interested, you can learn more about Madden’s work or order a copy of Co-Process, the album on which “Foraging” appears.

The second video is an impromptu demonstration of a Suss Müsik-designed custom frame for the Artiphon INSTRUMENT-1. The frame makes the device easier to play on one’s lap while holding it upright. The piece is attached to the instrument via three 1/4-20 nylon thumbscrew, with a little notch to accommodate a shoulder strap. Specifications, materials and final 3D-printed manufacturing by WALT3D.

In this video, the device is played with a combination of tapping and “bowing” while using the Violin setting. It’s something like playing a Chapman Stick, except Suss Müsik is nowhere near the caliber of Tony Levin.

More video performances to come, pending length of current quarantine conditions. Everyone stay safe, healthy and sane.