Post-classical ambient minimalism for crepuscular airports

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.

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 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.

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.

Rubbery Collaborations Using Lines

Another in a series of collaborations with visual artist B.G. Madden, this time using his rendering as a scaled audio map. Larger images with more white create higher frequencies, with the scan following the dark lined pattern. The tiny lines resulted in digital “grit” artifacts. The piece is titled Vincula, which represents a band of connective tissue that holds a ligament together.

Junto Project 0445: Aare Tribute [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 River Aare is notable for its turquoise color, which gets bluer and richer as the weather in Bern gets warmer. Minerals from the surrounding mountains drain into the Aare via melting snow and ice, leaving an exotic cocktail of minerals in the water. Some locals suggest that the blue color has intensified over the years, as more glaciers melt due to overall warming of the earth’s atmosphere.

The color of the Aare was the start of Suss Müsik’s tribute to one of Europe’s most beautiful and overlooked geographies. The piece begins with a blast of “blue noise” generated by a grain synth, sequenced according to conversion maps drawn in the shape of the River Aare.

map of River Aare

The supplied image of the river and surrounding hotspots was then converted to high-contrast, binary tones. The resulting picture was then scanned as a high-resolution audio file and processed into samples. These were sequenced according to the matrix of hotspots as they appear on the original map. What resulted was a series of little blips and blorps in the key of B.

All of these components were then played and recorded live to 8-track.

The work process employed by Suss Müsik is similar to that used for an ongoing collaboration with visual artist B.G. Madden, whose first name coincidentally is Bern.

The piece is entitled Aare. Thanks and kudos to Tobias Reber for proposing such an interesting Junto project.

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.