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Archive for January 2011

The crackle box designed by Michel Waisvisz in the seventies was probably the first commercially available portable ‘non-keyboard’ analog audio synthesizer with an inbuilt loudspeaker. Crackle boxes are still sold by STEIM and are regarded nowadays to be the archetype of ‘glitch music’ or ‘circuit bending’.

Original cracklebox

Since the new cracklebox has been released by STEIM in 2004, various performers are playing this instrument like Mouse on Mars and Coil. Old crackleboxes have become collectors items. I happen to own a limited edition “2nd release” cracklebox from 2003. Being a “second” and not a first release I don’t know if this also classifies as a collectors item, but that’s beside the point: it still makes an awful lot of noise!

Old and new cracklebox

With the renewed interest in analog electronic music the humble crackle box has generated quite a lot of offspring. A world-wide cottage industry has emerged thanks to the web and e-commerce of small “noise box” manufacturers. Sites like Analogue Haven and NoiseGuide are the trading places and outlets for these builders. Brand names are Audible Disease, Bug Brand, Electro-Faustus, King Capital Punishment etc. Links to the sites of some of these manufacturers are listed in the Links list of this blog.
Usually these builders combine pure analog noise boxes of synthesizers with boutique guitar effect pedals in their product catalog. Being a guitar and synth player and not too fond of playing keyboards, I am always interested in their new product offers.

I own Audible Disease Dementia DM-1 “ultra noise synth” for instance, which although controlled by knobs instead of a touch surface is a direct descendant of the cracklebox to me in terms of sound (noise).

Moody Sound’s BabyBox noise generator is both a noise box and a guitar effect pedal, enabling me to manipulate the noise with my guitar:

A class of their own are the electronic instruments made by Arius Blaze and Ben Houston, a.k.a. Folktek. These devices are genuine sound artworks, also accompanied by the hefty price tags usually associated with art pieces…
But in their “Symbiotic” series of touch based instruments Michel Waisvisz’ crackle box concept and look and feel is still reminiscent IMO, albeit in a far more elaborate design.

So if you are interested in generating spontaneous analogue noises, you now have a wide range of devices to choose from, starting with a simple STEIM cracklebox to a unique and expensive Folktek sound art piece, all depending on your requirements and budget.

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Found a funny video on the Synthopia web site today: the development of electronic music from John Cage to Aphex Twin in 3 minutes.

Although the selection of artists is questionable and not at all complete (where is Kraut rock apart from Kraftwerk, Brian Eno and ambient music, industrial bands of the ’80/’90s?) and a lot of emphasis is put on HipHop and Dance music as the drivers of electronic music, it is still funny to watch 50 years of electronic music compressed into this short video sequence of 3 minutes:

The video was posted on the YouTube channel of R41N570RM.

Another original take on the timelines of electronic music is Ishkur’s Guide To Electronic Music. This Flash app uses contemporay Dance styles (House, Techno, Trance etc.) as entries to map the development of styles and substyles from the seventies onwards, providing sound fragments of each substyle in the map. A very useful tool to get acquainted with the numerous sub-genres available in todays electronic music scene.

I watched a Chris Cunningham VJ performance at the last STRP Festival and wasn’t that impressed by it. Thought it was too much of a paste-up of older music video’s, a bit like the trailer below:

But today I accidentally stumbled across this video annex remix of a Gil Scott-Heron song (remember “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised“?) on his website and this really is impressive, both as a 6 minute video and a song. This remix is actually telling a story, instead of just being a sequence of random image and sound fragments.
Apparently this “New York is Killing Me” video/remix was shown on 3 screens in the MOMA somewhere in September, 2010 as part of the PopRally program.

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