Post-classical ambient minimalism for crepuscular airports

Junto Project 0531: Noise Sculpt [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.

Among the themes Don DeLillo explores in his excellent novel White Noise is the miasma of uncertainty: a deep foreboding that eclipses human existence like a noxious cloud. The genius of the novel, which some argue to be DeLillo’s best work, is represented by moments of dry humor and domestic banality that poke through its chemically worrisome haze. Consider this passage by the story’s narrator:

I opened the refrigerator door, peered into the freezer compartment. A strange crackling sound came off the plastic food wrap, the snug covering for half eaten things, the Ziploc sacks of livers and ribs, all gleaming with sleety crystals. A cold dry sizzle. A sound like some element breaking down, resolving itself into Freon vapors. An eerie static, insistent but near subliminal, that made me think of wintering souls, some form of dormant life approaching the threshold of perception.

This is the intention Suss Müsik took with this week’s Junto assignment. The goal was to create a “cold dry sizzle … insistent but near subliminal, approaching the threshold of perception.” A disquieting yet enveloping calm. Various forms of white noise were recorded and altered using VCV Rack modules, with an external Chase Bliss Dark Worlds pedal adding extra tones.

The piece, titled DeLillo, was recorded live to 8-track and mastered quickly.

It must be mentioned that, as of this writing, the world is undergoing significant trauma. Suss Müsik is reminded of another passage from White Noise that feels oddly appropriate: “War is the form nostalgia takes when men are hard-pressed to say something good about their country.”

May peace be with us all.

Junto Project 0530: Minimally Viable Music [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.

Minimal Viable Product (MVP) is a development and commercialization practice in which a new concept is introduced to the market with basic features. The intention is to maximize the amount of learning, in order to assess product fertility, while minimizing the amount of resource investment.

The general template of an MVP consists of listing the key characteristics of the product that customers will deem essential, usually in the form of questions. These are then coupled with elements that can be designed and manufactured within aggressive time and cost guardrails. Subsequent iterations of the MVP render an offering of increasing maturity, ideally and hopefully, before it transforms the market for which it’s targeted.

Suss Müsik took an MVP approach to this week’s Junto project. The primary questions regarding viability might be interpreted as: to what extent do acoustic and electric guitar fragments, when pressurized under certain constraints, no longer render themselves as inherently musical? At what point do these fragments cease to offer acousmatic value to the listener? And to what extent would an audience be willing to subject themselves to that experience?

The responses to these inquiries, as with all instances of MVP concept testing, are subject to input from a respective target audience. In this case, that audience is you.

The piece is titled MVP v.1 and was recorded live to 8-track in February 2022. The image is a schematic overlay of an actual instrument prototype.

Major thanks to Saga Söderback for having come up with this project.

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.

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.


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.

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.

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.