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Remembering experimental idol and Pan Sonic founder Mika Vainio

Finnish musician Mika Vainio is likely an inspiration to anyone who loves the sensation of electrified sound in its raw form – bare, exposed, vibrating, voltaic. Mika Vainio is a thread running through so much of experimentalism in the past three decades of electronic music – noise to industrial to techno. News reaches us today that he died at the age of 53. If now electronic music’s dark underground vein has become popular, then his fingerprints are all over that transformation. I can see just how many people he’s touched and how deeply moved they’ve been by his work just …

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KOMA’s Field Kit, connecting contacts pickups, and motors, is now reality

So much of the idea of signal and the definition of an audio “mixer” is fixed, we’ve begun to take these concepts for granted. Microphones plus line level, into some faders — that’s what a mixer is. But why does it have to be that way? By creating a new instrument around connecting to contact mics and electromagnetic pickups, and even making output to DC motors and solenoids, KOMA Elektronik leapt out of the mainstream – and turned the concept into a runaway hit. Here’s a beautiful video showing how one artist is making use of the instrument: The artist, …

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Enter the wondrous world of Walter Giers’ electronic sound art

Few people could make circuits into art quite like Walter Giers. He made them into visual objects, into aesthetic and design statements, into loud and even “annoying” performative constructions, into instruments. They aren’t simply utilitarian means to an end, but imaginative medium. Electronic Beats takes a look into Walter Giers’ mind this week in a new film, featuring interviews with family members that reveal some of his way of seeing the world. Off to Schwäbisch Gmünd, we go: The featured works here: 00:20 – Weisser Vulkan (1979) 1:08 – Erotischer Zyklus (1975) 1:14 – Hänge-Kugellautsprecher (1968) 2:14 – PE II …

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John Cage.

Two hours of video covers over a century of history of sound art

And hello, spring semester. Here’s an exhaustive (and fascinating) lecture on the history of sound art – by a philosopher. Philosopher Christoph Cox traces the history of sound art from the invention of audio recording in the late 19th century to the genre-bending compositions of John Cage to the explosion of sound installation in the 1960s. Cox surveys a range of sonic practices, revealing how they resemble and resist approaches in the visual arts. The film comes to us from the Barnes Foundation, the superb arts institution in Philadelphia.

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Volnovod is a robot sculpture that uses wire to make sound visually

Muscovite sound artist slash mad scientist vtol (aka Dmitry Morozov) has been at it yet again. This time, inspiration struck when his iPod earbuds tangled. (Good thing he hadn’t upgraded to wireless!) And the result was a new visual interface for music, embodied as kinetic sculpture. Volnovod, sounding for all the world like a long lost Soviet lunar probe (or, um, sounding like “waveguide” if you happen to speak Russian), is an installation / controller / instrument built on the idea. And it comes from the artist just as he’s fresh off a rich Berlin exhibition full of ingenious inventions. …

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Photo: Aoki Takamasa. Courtesy the artist.

raster-noton’s elusive Grischa Lichtenberger on creative sound

Grischa Lichtenberger is working with felt and stencils as well as sound. He’s speaking in hyperlinks, and misusing gear and feeding computers into other computers to form feedback loops. In short, he’s finding a unique and creative materialism in everything he does – and that means we really have to talk to him. So we sent Zuzana Friday to join in a delightfully esoteric conversation with the raster-noton artist. -Ed. Grischa Lichtenberger is a German musician and sound and installation artist, known for his releases on raster-noton. His immersive live performances oscillate between abrasive, aggressive compositions and intricate structures of …

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FEEDBOXES are autonomous sound toys that play along with you

We live in an age when we can jam along with machines as well as with humans. And maybe it’s about time that they fed us some clever grooves instead of, you know, fake news and stuff. Our friend Krzysztof Cybulski of Warsaw, PL’s panGenerator shares his FEEDBOXES. They’re “autonomous” sound objects, capable of responding to audio inputs with perpetually-transforming responses. It’s all thanks to elegant use of feedback loops – meaning you can toy with these techniques yourself. Now that’s a better kind of echo chamber. It also makes use of the awesome, free PdDroidParty by Chris Mccormick, which …

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A piano, played by clouds and sky

We can reinvent the instruments we already have; we can try to steer a pathway to something new. Or we can sometimes imagine a known instrument in a new context. This new short film covers a robotic piano that’s got an unusual angle. Using image analysis, those mechanical fingers transpose patterns of cloud and sky onto the keys. This poetic take on cloud gazing comes from media artist David Bowen. It’s a nice take, I think, on sonification, in that it isn’t just about a stream of data that’s abstracted from its source. It’s really as though the drifting clouds …

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Micro-ritmos turns bacteria and machine learning into spatialized sound

In the patterns generated by bacterial cells, Micro-ritmos discovers a new music and light. From the Mexican team of Paloma López, Leslie García, and Emmanuel Anguiano (aka Interspecifics), we get yet another marvel of open source musical interface with biological matter. Micro-ritmos from LessNullVoid on Vimeo. The raw cellular matter itself is Geobacter, an anaerobic bacteria found in sediment. And in a spectacular and unintentional irony, this particular family of bacteria was first discovered in the riverbed of the Potomac in Washington, D.C. You heard that right: if you decided to literally drain the swamp in the nation’s capital, this …

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The mash-up of an 808 and the US elections no one asked for

I’d wager at this point 100% of you would rather think about drum machines than the American elections. But somewhere, vintage voting machines – they of the hole punch and hanging chads – await retirement. Here, they get a second lease on life. Instead of gloomily voting for Trump or accidentally for Pat Buchanan, they can produce sliced-up audiovisual jams. (Hey, if you’re going to have to watch debate clips ad infinitum, why not turn it into something you can dance to?) Maybe beat box voting machines would be the answer to get Millennials to the polls. So, basically what …

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