Breathing Voltages

 
 

(currently in production)

This CD consists of five electronic music compositions that I created between 2014 and 2016. All are examples of hardware-based electronic music with a particular emphasis on modular synthesis. The aesthetic is buzzy, warm and retro. Click on the titles below for detailed information about each piece.

1. North Loop
2. Chamber of Mechanisms
3. Breathing Voltages
4. Murmurations of the Krell
5. Rotational Asymmetries

These pieces grew out of a significant change in my compositional activity, centered around my work with analogue modular synthesizers. What follows is a discussion of how this change has been made manifest. 

It's as though I've awakened from a dream. I've been involved with electronic music to one degree or another since the 1970s. My path followed the development of the technology, starting with analogue synthesizers, then digital synthesizers and samplers, MIDI sequencing and on into the seemingly inexorable logic of the all-in-one-box computer-based electronic music vortex.

Back in 2013, I became aware of the phenomenal resurgence of hardware-based analog modular synthesis. This is something that I had been completely unaware of. Oh, I'd heard of small companies trying to make a stab at reintroducing analogue modular’s by offering do-it-yourself kits or flakey approximations of the Moogs of yore, but I had no idea that in more recent years, there had been an explosive, if somewhat underground, renaissance in the development of this technology. There are currently over 200 companies building analogue synthesis modules. These are mostly small companies – usually just a few people. They're creating these modules because they're passionate about what they're doing, and this is what I'm sure will be a very temporary and intensive flowering of creative output by these small companies. Most of them probably won't be around all that long, if for no other reason, because the electronic components used to create these analogue modules are going out of production and are disappearing world wide.

I'm now exploring this exciting new world as though I were exploring a garden filled with fantastical flowers of every description – some familiar – some bazaar and alien – each unique and beautiful in it's own way. This process of discovery has reawakened something in me that I don't think I can put into words. It has changed the course of my work. To say that it has been stimulating would be an understatement. Quite frankly, I didn't know that I was still capable of being this strongly stimulated by anything when it comes to my art, at least in terms of technology and process. 

It's kind of like going back in time and forward in time, at the same time.  Forward, because of the explosively creative hardware developments I've mentioned above.  Back, because these developments are being spurred by a longing for something that has been lost. Of course, analogue modular synthesizers have their roots in the 1960s when Moog and Buchla developed the first commercially available instruments. These instruments were prohibitively expensive and primarily the province of Rock stars and major educational institutions. Over time, synthesizer technology underwent numerous major advancements, but with each "advance", something was lost. These were usually considered insignificant losses compared to the new capabilities afforded by the latest advancement, but eventually, synthesis technology had advanced so far beyond it's origins, that those seemingly small losses amounted to something truly substantial. 

Those of us who had hung on to one or two of our old analogue synthesizers, began to develop an increasingly strong appreciation for their somewhat idiosyncratic sonic characteristics. It's a case of what is sometimes referred to as "lost technology". Quality vintage Moog instruments are now highly prized and sought after by electronic music aficionados around the world. I am the proud owner of two such instruments, which, much to my amazement, I am now rediscovering anew as I directly inter-patch them with the new generation of modules that I have been gradually acquiring. A combination of the old and the contemporary, quite literally working together synergistically as one to create something new. 

One way in which my work has taken an unexpected turn as I explore this new/old technology, had to do with a new interest is patterns. I've never been one for looping or even using repeat signs in my conventionally notated material. However, when I added a sequencer to my modular rig, something unexpected happened. I started doing music with short repeating patterns that evolve over time. This is kind of "old fashioned" sounding to me in a way, but it's also new for me, seeing as it's something I've avoided in the past. I'm now doing work that shows a strong minimalist influence, without being truly minimalist. I'm also finding that there is a deep ocean of possibilities to explore in the realm of hardware-based sequencing, through the implementation of techniques on purpose-built modules designed to interface with these sequencers, (including random voltage generators, which extend the prospects for variability into the infinite). 

Another aspect of working with this technology that I find strangely compelling is it's inherent ephemeral nature. It's not like working on a computer. You can't really save anything. You might spend hours or days developing a patch, and if you want to capture that sound, you have to record it. I've heard of people spending weeks or even months developing complex patches, and then listening to it for a while but not recording it, before completely unpatching it. Very much like creating a sand painting. It seems a little crazily counterintuitive to find this kind of thing attractive in this age of computer-based work with multiple backups of everything and complete documentation of all aspects of our work on the cloud, but I kind of like it. I know I'll never get the same thing twice. Even if I were to completely recreate the patch exactly the same, it would be different, because the slightest differences in voltages resulting from small variations in resistance due to contacts in the jacks or the slightest of differences in knob settings, will result in the patch behaving/sounding differently. So, when I get something I really like, I DO record it.