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Archive for the ‘Instruments’ Category

On YouTube I found this video today on the Ondes Martenot: an electronic instrument of the 1920’s which preludes today’s synthesizer. It is most widely known for its use in pieces by French composer  Olivier Messiaen:

I actually own a high quality software emulation of the Ondes Martenot made by VSTi producers Sonic Couture and use it quite often due to it’s distinct sounds. One of the interesting things about the Ondes Martenot was the ribbon controller demonstrated by Jean Laurendeau in the video.

A similar ribbon controller in a modern plexiglas enclosure now made by Eowave is also part of my synth studio. Here the Blade Runner theme is played on a synthesizer using the Eowave ribbon as a controller:

So although the Ondes Martenot may be almost a century old and is not often used as an instrument on its own, it’s sounds and concepts are still alive today.

More information:

Found through the Binary Heap blog : a short 27-minute Vimeo video documentary about the British Electronic Music Studios (EMS), famous for their groundbreaking VCS3 and Synthi synthesizers.

VCS3 advert

VCS3 advert

This is the synopsis of the video: Post-war Britain rebuilt itself on a wave of scientific and industrial breakthroughs that culminated in the cultural revolution of the 1960’s. It was a period of sweeping change and experimentation where art and culture participated in and reflected the wider social changes. In this atmosphere was born the Electronic Music Studios (EMS), a radical group of avant-garde electronic musicians who utilized technology and experimentation to compose a futuristic electronic sound-scape for the New Britain. Comprising of pioneering electronic musicians Tristram Cary (famed for his work on the Dr Who series) and Peter Zinovieff, EMS’s studio was one of the most advanced computer-music facilities in the world. EMS’s great legacy is the VCS3, Britain’s first synthesizer and rival of the American Moog. The VCS3 was a uniquely British invention, which changed the sounds of some of the most popular artists of this period including Brian Eno, Hawkwind and Pink Floyd. Almost thirty years on the VCS3 is still used by modern electronic artists like Aphex Twin and Chicken Lips.

What The Future Sounded Like uncovers a group of British composers and innovators who harnessed technology and new ideas to re-imagine the boundaries of music and sound. The documentary places the emergence of EMS in the larger context of 60’s post-war Britain, with its focus on “space age” technology and the advent of the counter-culture. A must-see for everyone interested in the history of electronic music and electronic music devices! If you want to know more about EMS and their activities and products after viewing the documentary, check the 2 part article series of Sound-On-Sound on the history of EMS.

And EMS still exists! You can still buy a Synthi A or VCS3 online. Check the website of “The World’s Longest Established Synthesizer Manufacturer” for prices and ordering…

Now in Mu Gallery in Eindhoven, Netherlands: the exhibition Sounds Like Art.

This is an excerpt of the description of the exhibition on the Mu Gallery website:

In the vanguard of music, sound artists are always exploring new ways of creating music. Often the search will not only lead them to the new sounds they set out to find, but also to some unique instruments. Instruments which, besides being functional, can also be seen as works of visual art in their own right. Especially when they combine the aesthetics of craftsmanship with the possibilities offered by the latest in technology.  Usually these works of art perform their humble services exclusively on the stage, where they can hardly be observed from up close. But in the exhibition SOUNDS LIKE ART the spotlight is not on the artists, but on the instruments they create. It has resulted in an exhibition in which we can hear and, most importantly, also see the unique interplay between form, material qualities, and technology of these new instruments.”

The artists participating are the Andy Cavatorta, who created a series of harps especially for Björk, which are played using gravity.

Design for The Inner of Andy Cavatorta  - A music-making machine that uses a human subconscious as a functional component

Design for The Inner of Andy Cavatorta – A music-making machine that uses a human subconscious as a functional component

Other artists in the exhibition include Dutch hardware hacker Gijs Gieskes who compiles new synthesisers from existing electronics, and  musician/artist Tom Verbruggen, better known as TokTek, who creates some ingenious sound-producing sculptures.

 

Just watch these two amazing videos…:

 

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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