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.

Junto Project 0528: Landscape Architecture [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 1925, Helen Keller challenged members of the Williamson County Lions Club, located about 20 miles southwest of Nashville (USA), to do more than just be business leaders. Keller instilled upon them the responsibility of better serving their community by adopting a philosophy that acknowledges accessible biodiversity. With that message came a commitment to providing experiences that a blind person could appreciate, even something as simple as being outdoors on a sunny day.

The result was a sensory park for the blind, located behind Grassland Elementary School and cared for by local volunteers. This small but inviting nirvana offers a feast for all senses, even if a visitor isn’t able to use one or more of them. A circular walkway features different stations, each devoted to exploring the possibilities of the soundscape, with natural earmarks (bubbling fountains, buzzing bees) helping visitors navigate the grounds without having to rely on visual clues.

Suss Müsik considered how auditory clues might be utilized to prevent blind travelers from trampling on fragile vegetation. The result is this strange and thankfully short piece. All the sounds are composed entirely from VCV Rack. Midi inputs were run from a Leap Motion controller, programmed to respond to gestures that move from side-to-middle. An Electro-Harmonix 8-Step CV sequencer controlled a Meris Enzo pedal from the mixer’s send channel.

Suss Müsik’s performance of this piece looks ridiculous, so of course there’s a video of it. Enjoy.

The piece is titled Liminality, a word to describe the status of being on a threshold. The image is a refactored bucolic scene somewhere in Pennsylvania.

Junto Project 0515: Talking Cure [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 their excellent book Healing At The Speed Of Sound, Don Campbell and Alex Doman mention how hospitals are experimenting with “[hiring] trained professionals [who] know how to harmonize with the sonic environment, mask ambient noise, and otherwise shape the auditory environment.”

Although numerous studies have been done on the benefits of sound design in clinical settings, Suss Müsik decided to seek some expert opinions.

Suss Müsik consulted with two friends for this project: one a mental health professional, the other living with the after-effects of a traumatic brain injury suffered a few years ago.

Both agreed that music is preferable to silence when sitting in the waiting area of a therapist’s office. Although neither had any interest in pop or rock music, there wasn’t much support for strictly ambient, shapeless, Enoesque soundscapes either. “I need something that rewards my attention if I choose to actively listen to it,” insisted the friend with a TBI, “I’m also fine if it recedes pleasantly into the background.”

The therapist friend echoed this sentiment, equating the music in a waiting room to the sonic equivalent of a fishtank. “There’s movement, light, shadow, and depth, but nothing that distracts or causes anxiety. The last thing we want is the environment causing mental or emotional friction. Something that functions well with natural light.”

For this short piece, Suss Müsik sought to create an actively calm, pleasantly busy soundscape. Something that rewards limited attention, settles into ambience when necessary, and serves as the auditory fishtank we all need from time to time.

The piece is titled Plume and named after Jenny Plume, a Nashville songwriter who created a music therapy program at Vanderbilt University Medical Center and in 2013 released a CD of their works.

This work is licensed under Creative Commons BY 4.0, which allows any remix, adaptation or derivative works from the original. If you like it, have at it.

Junto Project 0511: Freeze Tag [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 of late has been studying the art of technoscientific semiotics. Don’t be too impressed. Most of the concepts befuddle and confuse Suss Müsik’s tiny brain.

According to a paper written by Zachary Horton, humans make sense of our environment by reducing everything to a transcribable surface. The sky, the land, the ocean — these vast entities represent forms of media that must be collapsed, in order to achieve comprehension of our place within the greater Anthropocene.

Freezing and thawing play a large part in our understanding of climate change. According to IPCC lead author and climate scientist Richard A. Betts, CO2 levels in the Earth’s atmosphere are currently 50% higher than pre-industrial levels. Barring massive carbon removal over the coming decades, the melting of sea ice and rise in reflective temperatures will result in a global increase of four degrees Celsius (and possibly 10 to 15 degrees at the poles).

Grim stuff, indeed. Professor Betts takes great care, however, to emphasize that different models present nuances of uncertainty. The core message is that everything is getting warmer; how quickly that is happening—and what actions we need take for the short-term and extended future—are the variables to be reconciled.

For this piece, Suss Müsik “thawed” two synth washes that had been “frozen” in time since 2006. These were broken into rhythmic shards using grain synthesis, metaphorically representing the splitting of sea ice into melting and floating fragments. The vocal is a refactored recording of Professor Betts’ 2009 speech for the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research, hosted by Oxford University Centre for the Environment.

The use of Professor Betts’ speech is covered under a Creative Commons license and is “free for reuse, remixing and redistribution in education worldwide.” The use of this material is intended to promote broader interest in learning more about the scientific evidence supporting our planet’s climatological transformation.

Junto Project 0496: Isolation Room [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.

“Teleology takes a different approach to organizing and writing history,” writes David J. Gunkel in his book Of Remixology: Ethics and Aesthetics After Remix. “If archaeology rummages around in the past for an originating ancestor, teleology begins from the end of the story, then reads backward into the past to find traces, precursors and nascent versions of the practice.”

This is the approach Suss Müsik took with this week’s Disquiet Junto project, a revision of Disquiet Junto project 0290. For that piece, Apple VoiceOver was used to record four quotes. These phrases were then refactored to approximate the gasps, hiccups and nonverbal noises that accompany everyday human speech. That part from 0290 was then isolated to create this new piece, recorded live to 8-track with some sloppy piano and DIY electronics.

The piece is titled Teleology. The quotes used in the piece are as follows:

“Those are my principles, and if you don’t like them… well, I have others.” ~ Groucho Marx

“Life is too short to work on inconsequential problems.” ~ C.K. Prahalad

“Somebody asked me, ‘If you had to give advice to a young actor, what would it be?’ I never even knew I was thinking this, but I said, ‘Always, even in a limo, wear your seat belt.’ To me, that’s good advice.” ~ Christopher Walken

“I’m seven people away from myself at the moment, but getting closer all the time.” ~ Don Van Vliet, aka Captain Beefheart

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

Junto Project 0488: Reverse Delay [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 unadorned idea of a goal is ambiguous,” writes the neuroscientist Read Montague in his book Your Brain Is (Almost) Perfect. “As with any complex information-processing system, there are many levels of software in the brain … all other subgoals take a backseat to the most important edict—‘Stay alive until tomorrow.’”

One could be forgiven for procrastinating creative efforts during these past fourteen or so months. Alternatively, such conditions may also inspire a flurry of new activity that otherwise would not have happened. Regardless, some amount of stuff doesn’t get done.

Suss Müsik had an album ready to go for nearly a year before actually completing and releasing it this week. The concept was to revisit prior works with simpler, more spare arrangements.

Suss Müsik was also interested in exploring what French philosopher Gilles Deleuze described as “figurative analogies,” blurring the auditory lines between how digital and analogue sounds are represented.

This week’s Junto contribution, titled Deleuze, is the demo of a track that wasn’t included on an album that almost never got made. A figurative analogy, perhaps, for what we mean to do vs. what we actually do.

Ex Post Facto

Suss Müsik is readying a new release, a 34-minute album of reworked (and some previously released) material entitled Ex Post Facto. Here’s the cover:

Most of the tracks are decidedly kept short, between two and four minutes each. One track approaches the eight-minute mark, but for the most part the intention was to make the point and evacuate. The pieces are performed on fake strings, piano, mallet percussion, some fake woodwinds, and (on one track) a table saw.

The album is in the mixing/mastering stage and should see formal release in May 2021.

Update: Ex Post Facto has been released. Give it a listen and read the liner notes.

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).