My synth project: complete!

Here’s something I thought I’d never see myself do in my own lifetime: build a synthesizer from scratch.

Actually it’s a simple design: 2 555 timers in astable configuration producing square-waves. This means it’s a burst of sound every interval, pretty annoying and not very useful except for maybe starting earthquakes. So to give it a little flavor, I put a low-pass, 2-pole filter on the output of each oscillator, using a traditional operational amplifier.

K2 Schematic

A bit over a year ago it started out as a learning experience for me, I had never gotten into building things with analog circuitry – although I dated a chick in college who was an EE, so I was vaguely familiar with a breadboard. As a result, my design is über simple, and in reality was the design I could “get to work” from the opamp (a weird beast in itself, I will be tackling it again soon enough).

After a lot of experimentation and research on the web (these days a DIY’ers first reference), I came up with a 2-rail power design that provided 9V for the oscillators and 4.5V for the bipolar opamp (just left of the battery in the schematic). Moving left, the 741 opamp (NTE941) provides a low-pass, 2-pole filter to the signal from the 555 timer (NTE955).

completed synthguts

The cutoff frequency of the filter is controlled with a potentiometer, as is the pitch of the oscillator. You can also see my modification in the lower left for a “range” switch, which wasn’t on the breadboard prototype, but made it onto my final PCB because I think it adds a lot more interest and possibilities.

This was an intense project, no doubt. I got some training on soldering little kits that got made into sculpture, and I am a proud builder and owner of a bleep labs thingamakit, and have recently built the wave sheild for my new arduino board (which I haven’t quite gotten to work yet, so I hope it’s my programming skills and not my soldering skills).

As much as I tried to plan out wire distribution inside the chassis where the pots and switches would not interfere too much with the PCB, sure enough I drilled the holes sort of on the wrong end of the enclosure, so the edges don’t match unless I flipped it, and of course I only discover this after everything is screwed into the front. So, fixing it meant pulling all the knobs and switches back out, and removing the PCB from its mount on the inside and flipping it 180 degrees, then re-attaching everything.

In the end it really didn’t make that much of a difference and the whole thing came together fairly perfectly anyway. What I haven’t really done is add any decoration or labels, which I do want to do… inspiration will strike when I least expect it, perhaps it will not only get illustration but also a name, and it will evolve!

i don’t know how to do anything

at times i get overwhelmed by possibilities. the details drag me down, and i lose sight of the path. what causes this?

for instance, what music do i choose to write? do i use electro-acoustic elements, or do i stick to raw sound design? do these ways of working always produce the same results, even though i cannot hear them? do i limit myself by focusing on a working method that could easily shift into tunnelvision? why is it i think like this in the first place, because i hear opportunities of sound in what others are doing? because, hey, that’s a great sound, why didn’t i think of that?

we artists ask these questions. it takes a lot of self-confidence to go out there and sell yourself, but i’m still not sure what it is i do that makes my music what it is. i certainly try to find unique, DIY, individual ways of doing things, but i turn the corner and find someone building it better. some of the electronics instrument/effects building going on around the electronica community blows me away.

but what makes the music change? how does it develop? we’re moving into a world where musical styles – and listening – is more and more splayed, there are almost as many “genres” as there are individuals making music.

there is still something in the music that grabs the mind. it’s difficult to pinpoint exactly what “inspiration” or “genius” a particular piece contains, to different folks these mean completely different things. i usually can’t locate it in my own work, i certainly don’t know where it happens or how to identify it. regardless, it shows up.

so, in a very real way, it doesn’t matter what it is i do, or how i do it, just that it is me doing it, in the most genuine way i can.

New improvisations on SoundCloud

Freely improvised one-takes. Instrumentation includes homebuilt instruments, sampled objects and looping hardware.

This music sharing site is a great tool for posting various non-published tracks, as well as released stuff, and has a nice embeddable player and comment system. Really nice for being able to just slap some stuff up, I have one friend who has recently been doing the same with sessions on his new Serge Modular Creature, and another who posted “in progress” snapshots of a track he is working on.

Feel free to download and remix, just give the proper attribution. 🙂

Coming soon… Craque on Audiobulb

So my new full-length album, Supple, will be released by Audiobulb in March of 2009. Ain’t that awesome! It’s a real honor to be joining in the ranks of Autistici, HeCanJog, Ultre, Calika, and so many others.

Months have gone by (actually, no, YEARS) where I have absorbed things, seen new parts of the world, learned new techniques, sought out what’s further; and this album evolved alongside me. The entire work has grown from single tracks and loose groupings to continuity and connection through thematic reverberation, it’s been fun and full of discovery. There are parts which stand alone but don’t feel complete without the context, it’s a “large work” in every sense of the word. I even managed to squeeze a few vocal bits in there – yes! my voice! real melody!

Look out for it in March, 2009. Craque: Supple.

Craque: Gamma out now on Test Tube

Photo by Kamaco

October brought many exciting things for me, including not only a new job, but also a new album that I’m very excited about. The Test Tube netlabel is featuring this new release, called Gamma.

Six tracks, mostly beat-driven, of downtempo styled expressionism ripe with electro-acoustic improvisation; acousmatica for the brainwaves.

I was also honored to have Matt Mercer (of Microfilm) write up the release on Under the Lens, here’s an excerpt from the full article:

Craque [is] a project of highly abstract instrumental electronic music that often defies easy categorization. He’s not afraid of melody or traditional rhythm, even at times can lay down a healthy groove, but most of his music is characterized by heavily processed and manipulated sounds derived from everyday objects. Typically, though, these sounds are far removed from the source and take on a weird, synthetic life of their own.

Also from the release page:

…Craque assaults our senses with an eclectic amalgam of rich rhythmic patterns that derivate from dub, hip hop, techno and other urban languages, but instead of driving us straight to the physical emotion center, they drive us to the ‘braindance’ center… Excellent and extremely elegant electronic music.

Infinite Jest Project @ .microsound

The .microsound community recently embarked on a new project to honor the life of writer David Foster Wallace, known widely for his intelligently sprawling novel Infinite Jest.

Instructions were to take one of the films attributed to the protagonist’s father and create a soundtrack. I was attracted to the surrealism in the description of Baby Pictures of Famous Dictators and almost immediately had an image of what the film would be like.

Not having read this novel yet, the source of my inspiration was the description itself:

“Baby Pictures Of Famous Dictators” – Year of the Tucks Medicated Pad. Poor Yorick Entertainment Unlimited. Documentary or uncredited cast w/ narrator P.A. Heaven; 16 mm; 45 minutes; black and white; sound. Children and adolescents play a nearly incomprehnsible nuclear strategy game with tennis equipment against a real or holographic (?) backdrop of sabotaged ATHSCME 1900 atmospheric displacement towers exploding and toppling during the New New England Chemical Emergency of Y.W. CELLULOID (UNRELEASED)

I took 45 minutes as my guiding point and imagined the film was a tableau, a “moving still life” of sorts. It’s a 45 minute long game, a slow motion still life of a disaster reflected in the childsplay of fooling around with physics.

We see a setting that never changes, of innocent children (we assume the same as in the pictures referenced by the title) against a backdrop that is ever changing, sharing an appetite for control. They become the embodiment of the Famous Dictators, playing games, like children, with adult toys of power and war.

A chemical emergency could imply this is related to nuclear power or physics. Are the children playing a game that caused the emergency? Are they blissfully unaware? Or are they working to solve the problem by a series of complex nuclear games? It’s unclear if we will ever know.

The soundtrack is not a reflection of the action seen onscreen, but rather the literal voice of each proper name. As their structures compost, weaving as they play the game, new forms are illuminated.

These nine names were used to drive various parameters specific to each person’s voice, guiding things like frequency, filters, delay effects and envelope (in each case, the longest, most familiar version of the English proper name was used):

  • Adolf Hitler
  • Iosif Vissarionovich Stalin
  • Benito Amilcare Andrea Mussolini
  • Mao Zedong
  • Ho Chi Minh
  • Francisco Franco Bahamonde
  • Fidel Alejandro Castro Ruz
  • Saddam Hussein
  • Tojo Hideki

The analysis of the text file containing the names was done with perl, which wrote out various ChucK files. The entire piece is one large ChucK session recorded to a file, then normalized.

When I started the piece was a lot less “bright” than it ultimately became, but in a strange way I feel like it took on its own character, and mourns both the tragedy of these dictators and the loss of DFW.

The player on the project page is a great way to listen to the soundtracks everyone has done, and allows for direct downloads of the works.

Craque: “Tekuchesti” out now on Constanta

I’m very happy to announce the release of a project I did this summer called Tekuchesti (a transliteration of текучести, which is a Russian word meaning “fluidity”), a piece in shuffle time for listeners and improvisers.

Download the entire work, and remember to listen on shuffle. Weird request you say? Read the liner notes below for more detail…

Please also visit the release page at Constanta and check out the other artists on this new boutique netlabel, which features some unique approaches to the microsound/glitch/experimental/drone genres; beauty through subtlety and simplicity. I personally enjoy op.cit.’s and To4ka.Dna’s most recent releases.

Here is my description and instructions for performance (these notes are also available in Russian through Constanta):

In tectonics, slices of the earth can be reduced bit by bit to their constituents, all in motion consistent with the plate. Below these fractured mantle pieces is a thick world of geology: elemental chemical reactions, intense temperature changes, varying strata of materials. There may be violent upheaval or capitulation of forces, or just still and silent veins of metal. If we could travel as a massless beings through the earth to the antipodal, each layer of Hell opens not a Dantean dream, but a surreal tour of random pockets describing the origin of the solar system.

Tekuchesti represents “fluidity” in physics, describing instability or fluid states. The piece consists of constructions mostly taken from free electro-acoustic improvisations, first recorded to create large elemental plates of experience, and secondly edited and combined into subdivisions of space. There were no structural or material limitations placed on the recording or editing of the improvisations, they simply happened.

Just as there are myriad structures and surprise events, there are the lack of these events, represented by the isochrons; dating scatterplots of history, constructions made from the lack of material to represent that which has passed on. The sonic architecture of each isochron in this piece is taken from relationships found in the five Platonic (or “perfect”) solids, found everywhere in nature, above and below the crust.

This piece is meant to be played in random order, where the slices intermingle anew each time to create an emergent form. Playing it in order will reveal some of the underlying structure, and is a perfectly acceptable way of listening – the shapes of the plates become much more clear, but it is an altogether different listening experience. Improvisers are encouraged to play along as well, but if done in a live context, it must be played on shuffle, as this will give the improvisers less expectation of what sounds will appear.

The work also ties in an immediate tectonic experience: I live only 10 miles from the epicenter of the 5.4 magnitude earthquake which hit the LA area on July 29, just shortly before the album was finalized. It also represents the “solid ground” – both as shared vision and literal Earth – between me and the constanta-label.ru headquarters in Perm, Russia.

Constanta on the web: http://constanta-label.ru
Constanta on myspace: http://www.myspace.com/constantalabel

Craque: “Trolling for Olives” now free download

In 2001 the debut 12″ for Craque titled Trolling for Olives EP was released on Metatron Press, and now it’s available for free on last.fm.

All five tracks are both streamable and downloadable, I figured I’d do them all since the original is still available for purchase on vinyl and it’s got some dope tracks!

And I don’t know how many of my fans actually read this, but here’s the first hint that you can expect several new releases coming up in the coming months. At least three different labels will be hosting new Craque albums, so keep yer ears open!

haven’t i always written techno?

As the summer begins its winddown, I’ve found that I’ve been writing some interesting beat-ful music at the same time I’ve been doing completely abstract sound works. It’s fun! Each opens the doors in the other, it’s pretty interesting the way the cross-over happens, and how: even moreso these days, things are sculptural and dimensional.

For long periods of time, I feel vaguely disinterested by dance music. It’s cyclical, and it makes me wonder what my music sounds like. I’ve never had a singular influence, things always become amalgamations of my experience. I never find myself “trying to do something like so-and-so” and rarely ever have a sonic idea in my head prior to composing (it’s happened, but i’m really more of an explorer/improvisor when it comes to expressing things musically – i just allow my subconscious to do the driving), but I always do seem to have a good sense for how it all goes together.