How much can you do with a suitcase full of soundmakers? Quite a lot, as it happens.

The 20th Century gave sound two great achievements. One was the successful modeling of filtering in digital software form. The other was the production of the electronic filter, first in quartz crystal form. Today, all of those advancements are available in cheap, often battery-powered devices that fit in the palm of your hand. Spurred by yesterday’s discussion of sonic mobility and battery power, Sasa Rasa points us to the recent work of Chris Carter (of Throbbing Gristle and Chris & Cosey fame).

Chris has built out a set he calls “Chris Carter’s Chemistry Lessons,” featuring a suitcase rig of noisemaking gadgets. Among other devices, this includes a new experimental, DIY noisemaker kit that came out of a collaboration with Dirty Electronics / John Richards. The setup, and accompanying performance, were recently the featured item at an event at Amsterdam’s STEIM, a hub for experimental sound. The contents comprise a veritable guide to what’s useful in mobile music making, without resorting to mobile phones or similar devices, and without, even, any use of MIDI.

Below, one of the setups, combining specialized and custom electronics with some familiar sound objects.

A Bugbrand Workshop Osc Machine and Chris’ creation with John Richards grace a box of toys. (CC-BY-NC) Chris Carter.

He describes a sample set using the rig on his blog, proudly entitling it no MIDI no keyboards:

I generated some rhythms using two [KORG] Kaossilators – going through two mini KPs, and manipulated some bass loops with a Korg KP3 pad. I had a Chimera BC16 synth (the LFO and the ADSR) voltage controlling a BC9 synth and two Eventide stompboxes. I synced and beat matched on the fly using ‘tap-tempo’ buttons on the Korgs and Eventides.

Equipment shown:
Two Kaossilators, two mini Kaoss pads, a KP3 Kaoss pad, a Tom Bugs WOM synth, Chimera BC8, BC9 and BC16 synths, two Zoom PFX-9003 effects, an Eventide Modfactor, an Eventide Timefactor, a Dirty-Carter E.S.G.I synth, a portable Edirol mixer and a Zoom H2 for recording.
No MIDI, keyboards, laptops or desktop computers were used.

Here’s that set recorded to his Zoom H2 mobile recorder:

no MIDI no keyboards by chris_carter

Is there an advantage to working this way as opposed to assembling a similar arsenal of tools in a computer? Not necessarily. But maybe that’s part of the point: whether you assemble a set of hardware sound boxes, some custom circuits and DSP processing in hardware, a Pd or Max patch on a computer, or a set of effects, you’re engaging in what is fundamentally the same process. The fact that you have all of these choices means there’s really no excuse for not finding some set of tools with which you feel comfortable, and with which you can push the envelope of your own performance style.

Not only that, but even the most die-hard computer lover is likely to find something here – the mobile recorder, one or two of the effects boxes – that would nicely complement their rig.

And what I like about Chris’ examples is that, within the “experimental” aesthetic paradigm he’s set out, there are rich compositional and sonic ideas, modeled in the flow of signal betwixt his noise gadgetry.

Lots of great ideas for useful hardware came up in comments on the battery-powered story, so watch for a further compilation.