“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 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.

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.

Stereo Resonance

Suss Müsik recently acquired a Meng Qi Wingie 2. This little device takes any audio input and converts the signal to a resonated series of tones. The results are quite beautiful.

To optimize the utility of this device in Suss Müsik’s sound world, a DIY contact microphone was built from a reconstituted heat sink pulled from an old Dell computer. Placing a sheet of aluminum on the top of the instrument allowed for additional signals to be picked up via the “alleys” of the heat sink. Combined with a customized MIDI controller built into the housing, the sonic possibilities are endless.

DIY MIDI device with heat sink contact microphone

Here are a couple of YouTube videos demonstrating the instrument at work.

DIY Electronic Instruments

Suss Müsik’s DIY praxis continues to evolve. Along with a number of handmade sonic devices comes new prototypes for the customized Artiphon INSTRUMENT-1. New editions include built-in oscillators with modulation and MIDI control functions. Demonstrations can be viewed from the Suss Müsik Instagram and YouTube channels. A couple of examples below:

The visual overlays are cultivated from images of the sky taken with a 1940’s Graflex 4×5 camera. The images are then manipulated to represent eight stages culled from the history of mechanical reproduction: plate etching, Daguerreotype, mezzotint, four-color halftone, sliver print, color film, scanned pixels, and digital glitch using a μ-law algorithm.

The vocals are refactored according to Michel Chion’s theory of acousmatic sound, the result of removing semantic (verbal) context from verbalized text and leaving only the voice as an inherent sonic attribute.

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, 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 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.