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

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).

Junto Project 0467: Toolbox Show & Tell [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 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

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.