Taming Electrons

As part of my Sanctuary 2015 commission, I built a series of light reactive synthesizers that are ‘played’ by light (either their frecuency, amplitude or both). The piece wil be ‘played’ by a combination of projected visuals and/or the the interruption of light and use of torches by members of the audience.

Sanctuary 2015: Taming Electrons

I find a real beauty in the simplicity of (mis)using the CMOS 40106 IC Schmitt Trigger as a musical device. By varying the resistance between points, the amount of time an attached capacitor takes to charge and discharge, subsequently flipping the switch gate, we can easily derive some form of frequency control. A single chip is packed with 6 switches allowing for up to 6 independent (or cross modulating) oscillators to be created.

In these devices, the majority of them use light dependant resistors (LDRs) to vary the frequency of the oscillators, larger value capacitors increase the period between charge and discharge pushing them into lower frequencies and rhythmic clicks.

When designing for this commission, a problem was trying to find a suitable and sturdy way of mounting the LDRs to a casing, particularly given that they would primarily be used in a field in the dark and the damp and there would be absolutely no provision for field repairs.   The use of jars that allow the light to pass through meant I could solder the LDRs directly to the circuitboard without having to run complex panel wiring and have points of exposed weakness.

These synthesizers can be interacted with, but there is something quite beautiful in their primitive and unpredictable nature, they will behave as circumstances cause them to and, while we may interact with them by shining or projecting light onto them, they are largely autonomous.

The series of devices will be connected to a mixer and processed and mixed together in an attempt to combine and shape the chaotic source material generated by projecting black and white kaleidoscopic film over them.

This series comprises of the following:

  • 5x jar synths with between 3 and 6 oscillators whose frequency is controlled by LDRs
  • 1x flat, rhythmic generator with 3 oscillators, each has it’s frequency and amplitude controlled by a set of LDRs
  • 1x Drone box with 3 oscillators that are tuneable via potentiometers but whose amplitude is controlled by LDRs
  • There are also included in this set, a pair of percussive, jar based instruments, these are not synthesizers but rather are fitted with piezo electric contact microphones and 100 M3 nuts and a silver dollar respectively allowing for the amplification of the sounds caused by their agitation.

Statement: Sanctuary 2015

So, next weekend this is happening:

BrokenLight – Broken20

 A multi-platform participatory ensemble work

Never willingly making life easy for themselves, Broken20 return to Sanctuary 2015. Expanding upon last year’s epic and slightly deranged 8 hour long continuous improvisation “An Unbroken Circle” (which you can read an unreliable account of here http://erstlaub.co.uk/dfportfolio/tdo.html) the experimental record label turned inadvertent art collective will take up residence in an 11m x 11m covered space presenting a curated programme of performances, workshops, screenings and improvisations across 10 hours, from 4pm on the 26th September through to 2am the following morning. Broken20 will be eschewing the long-form driving away of the Dark and instead paying tribute to the Light and embracing its absence. Over the 10 hour duration, there will be screenings of new film work; a performance by 24 oscillators controlled by the light; an evolving, generative chorus of drones controlled by webcams with no human required; a camp-fire round robin courtesy of out-of-sync dictaphones; a meditation on our place as a speck in the cosmos; interrupted and modified radio signals; and the opportunity for passers by to join in, pick up an instrument or box, and contribute to the digital hearth-side. At the end, as darkness becomes complete, all the disparate parts will combine in an improvised, collective performance, embracing any and all of those who’ve stopped off along the way to participate.

BrokenLight has seen literally hundreds of hours of soldering, coding, filming, editing, patching, processing, recording and writing take place in preparation, with new solo works created and new ideas for group pieces being formed; it is worth the trip alone to see how much diverse and experimental material a group of individuals can extricate from the relatively open brief on the idea of light and dark.

In addition to screenings of some of the experimental film works released via the label, a new film work by Brian McGovern will be premiered with a live score improvised by members of the collective.

Dave Fyans ‘Taming Electrons’ sees an array of handmade oscillators, built to react to light being wrestled with as constantly evolving, geometric mandalas are projected through them and the randomly generated pitches captured and treated into a chaotic and fluid soundworld in an uncomfortable discourse between generative and edited processes. Fyans will also lead an improvisation workshop, open to all; See HERE this requires no previous experience, instruments or ability. Just bring your body (and your portable radio) and work together through a series of simple scores and along the way, explore the dynamics, thought processes, endless possibility and fun of experimental improvisation.

David Coyle expands on the poetic notions of the digital campfire raised last year and presents a new sculptural work using multiple looping dictaphones. Phasing and beating against itself, the piece will slowly devolve throughout the event as each discrete element succumbs to entropy and environment.

Dialogue: #8 by Dave Donnelly involves the reading of specially prepared texts, the collaborative intervention of a light sensitive robot and his trademark, stripped back sine wave based electronics.

Ruaridh Law presents two new participative sound performances using self-made software interfaces; the first, ‘Something That Reminds Me Of You’ develops ideas originally used in his recent commission for the University of Manchester’s “Burroughs at 100” event to stretch voices in real time to unrealistic proportions, forcing pitch and time to contort in a chorus of harmonics, all generated by the voices of participants, artists, friends and family musing and meditating on the ideas of light and dark (and with the audience being able to record their own contributions live and layer it themselves into the mix); whilst the second, ‘4 Windows On The North-Western Wall’ uses a battery of webcams to draw on both light sensing and motion capture to control and shape banks of oscillators, producing a droning, pulsing orchestra of tones that will respond to the fading outside light and the movements of the audience.

BrokenLight will be bookended by two sprawling improvised sessions with the collective which will pull in as many elements from the full programme as possible; throughout these (and many of the other parts of the programme), public participation is encouraged and there will be many instruments, homemade boxes and interactions to be experienced, chats to be had and joyous noise to be made. Come on in, the light is murky.