Post-classical ambient minimalism for crepuscular airports

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, 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.

Derrida’s Dilemma

Suss Müsik created a little video using the Artiphon INSTRUMENT1, six simultaneous MIDI channels, two Moog analog processors, three electric piano chords, the occasional burp of a grain synth module, and ever-increasing dollops of harmonic reverb.

Here’s the description of process:

Deconstructivism is a philosophy once taught by Jacques Derrida, who believed that absolutes were confining and that multiple meanings cannot be reconciled within a singular work. Think of it as a way of discovering hidden meanings within a structure intended to subvert them.

Deconstructivist architecture is designed to give the impression of fragmentation within a wholly composed building. The style is characterized by non-linear shapes that appear to distort predictable forms into controlled chaos.

With this in mind, Suss Müsik tested the Artiphon INSTRUMENT1. The intention was to see if a complex polyrhythm of interwoven phrases could be built up, broken apart and played in real time. Each phrase is built around a variation of a simple F chord, their timbres and timings controlled manually.

A total of nine component phrases (each with its own voice and notation) were looped with slight variations in the base chord fingering. This allowed subtle phasing between 3-note and 4-note sequences on the Artiphon.

Eventually the pieces dissolves into an ambient wash, signifying the release of absolute structure. When the parts are reassembled, a glitch filter and two Moog processors distress the remaining bits — a semblance of fragmented reminders.