Music

January Buchla Project: Day 4 – Background

So I’m not intending for this project to be a history lesson so much a forcing mechanism for myself to focus on something and see where it leads. Today I only spent a little time with the easel and that time was more confusing than enlightening so I thought I’d share something I did learn history wise in the last few days. I mentioned that I have one of the “reissue” Music Easels and some of the differences between the new ones and the older ones. When I hear of a “reissue” I tend to think of something that was released and then eventually production stopped and later on someone went back and revisited it. This is what I assumed happened here though I didn’t really understand the scope of the earlier production. As it turns out, only 13 of the original Music Easels were ever made. And of those, each one was made by hand. I spoke with someone today who has seen and worked on 3 of those, and noted that the circuitry on each of the 3 he saw was different, which suggests that of the 13 originals, there are at the very least 3 different versions, though in all likelihood each one was probably a little different. Personally, as someone who has built and released hardware and products, I wouldn’t call that a release. I’d call that a collection of proof of concept prototypes. Or if we assume that 10 of them were the same and the 3 that were observed were the oddballs, I’d still call that a small run not an actually produced unit. But that’s just me. Anyway, that’s only important when you start thinking about differences between “original” and “reissue” without considering the differences between each of the “originals” and what that even constitutes. There are also a handful of unauthorized clones that were produced by various people in the inter-period between when the original idea was shelved and the new one was announced. Unknown numbers and sources, but for sure more than 13. So more knock offs than originals. Anyway… In my BEMI easel (that I have) is the first authorized, produced version of this idea. And kind of shows how special it is.

But that’s just me.

The video above is an album (that I love) by Alessandro Cortini that was composed and performed entirely on one of the original Music Easels (possibly the first one ever made?), and was absolutely the thing that pushed me to get one. In the few years I’ve had the easel I’ve ever been able to make anything with it that sounds nearly this beautiful.

January Buchla Project: Day 3 – The Warm Up

Many analog instruments need to warm up before you can use them, anything with tubes for example needs to get cooking before it really does its thing. The Buchla Music Easel does not have tubes but it does need to warm up. I’ve heard anywhere from 5-20 minutes of just running before it’s in operating range. In practice I’ve never waited that long. Sometimes I wait a few minutes, sometimes I just dive in. This leads to confusion and chaos, as I learned yesterday. The sound of the oscillators drastically changes during that warm up period, I didn’t realize just how much they changed and how important that warm up period is.

Now I do.

January Buchla Project: Day 2 – Complex Oscillator variation

Today’s exploration has me looking backwards instead of forwards. The Buchla Music Easel is essentially two modules perfectly paired for performances and everything you could need in an “all in one” suitcase synth. The 208 module being the “brains” and 218 module as the controller. That’s overly simplified but gives you the main idea. It was originally released in 1973 and reissued a few years ago, I have the newer model.

The new model was promised to be “as close as possible” to the original with some performance improvements, most notably in the 218 (keyboard) module which has 4 presets instead of the original 3, and better layout of CV jacks. The 208 module changes seemed entirely cosmetic to me until some troubleshooting today led me to learn that the original complex oscillator offered a spike tooth wave rather than the sawtooth option on the new model. This also seems to be an improvement as the spike was fairly shrill on it’s own, where as the sawtooth can be quite beautiful. I’ve looked at these panels many times and never noticed that before. So that’s what I learned today.

Original 1973

Modern BEMI reissue

January Buchla Project: Day 1


I decided that I’m going to spend January focusing on my Buchla Music Easel. I lusted after this for so long and when I finally got it I was neck deep in other things and didn’t spend the time with it I should have. Even now, 2 or so years later I feel like I’ve only scratched the surface and want to really get the feel for this instrument.

At Tara’s suggestion I’m going to try and post one thing a day about it, which means at the very least a month from now I’ll know 31 things about it, but ideally those will be things I’ve learned as well. Today I went back and watched Todd Barton‘s excellent MacProVideo series on the easel and I don’t know how I missed this before – with the slower ambient stuff I do I often use the full 10 second pulse CV from the pulser, but I somehow missed that the Envelope Generator could self cycle as well, giving the potential for a 30 second CV (10 attack, 10 sustain, 10 decay). This seems silly but I was really excited and my head started racing with all the things I might be able to do with that kind of CV time.

I’m posting this series on Instagram first, though I don’t think I’ll keep it there, so I’m cross posting here to my own blog as well for archival purposes. Hopefully this is interesting for some of you.

Covert To Overt

[This is a forward that I wrote for the book “Covert to Overt: The Under/Overground Art of Shepard Fairey” which was released today. Shepard has been a trusted friend of mine for close to 20 years now and he remains someone I have unmeasurable respect for – I was honored to contribute something to this book. I though I’d post what I wrote here in case some people didn’t see the book but might enjoy it – though I fully recommend grabbing a copy for yourself regardless.]

1985 was a rough year for me. At home, at school. The fact that my recently divorced family had just moved across the country to somewhere in rural Texas, and had started using an assumed name didn’t help things. What did help things was a tutor that a teacher suggested I spend some time with after school. The tutor was a kid from a few grades above who seemed equally excited about the situation. We actually clicked right away. This was noteworthy because I’ll be the first to admit that I didn’t quite fit in with the other kids. Not saying that I didn’t get along with them, I did, they were just into things I couldn’t really get excited about. I often felt like more of a spectator, just kind of watching things play out around. At that time I didn’t know any better and assumed I was just weird. Not that I’m not weird, but that’s a different story. Anyway, this tutor and I were supposed to work on my math and Latin (yes, Latin) skills which were sub par apparently, though they didn’t get any better during our lessons. Thing is, he didn’t teach me any math or latin, but he did clue me into everything awesome in the world.

The people you can point to in your life who had a significant impact are rare, but this guy, whose name I don’t even remember, introduced me to both Monty Python and the Circle Jerks, among other things. If you know me today you can see how much credit is due this one guy. On his suggestion I snuck home his loaned cassette copy of Group Sex and within seconds of putting it into my walkman I had an overwhelming feeling of “Finally!” Until then music had been one of two things for me – either the slow, mopey and depressing stuff that my mom way constantly playing at home, or the stuff on the radio that people were always dedicating to each other. One psudo-father figure who used to hang out around my house was a big Casey Kasem fan and was always listing to the weekly Top 40 countdowns. I found all of this to be terribly boring. Conversely, this cassette was exciting and scary.

This resonated, and made me excited about what else was out in the world that I didn’t know about. I dove in deep and had similar reactions upon hearing Minor Threat, Sex Pistols, Public Enemy, Beastie Boys, Suicidal Tendencies, Black Flag, Run DMC, Gorilla Biscuits, NWA and Sick of It All not long after. I’d found my people, and even if they weren’t right there with me physically, knowing they were out there in the world somehow made things better. Knowing that these people who weren’t happy with the way things were and wanted to make a change could do something –even if it was just to sing about it. This was incredibly powerful and meaningful for me to learn at such a young age. Unconsciously these bands became my social litmus test, I could gauge right away where new people I’d meet fit in my world view. Were they people who would accept things as they were, or were they people who would try to change things for the better.

I had a similar experience with art. Growing up I’d been to museums and found them largely boring. I know now that was as much due to what I was being taken to be see as anything else, but as an angsty teenager I really didn’t give a shit about the old masters. Eventually I stumbled onto the likes of Bosch, Darger and Worhal and I got it. Just like the bands I was now obsessed with these artists were commenting on the society surrounding them, and not everything they had to say was roses and sunshine. Even if sometimes it was.

A decade later a friend who I’d been exchanging letters with for a while but never met – a penpal as we used to say – came to visit in Chicago. We spent the entire night of his arrival driving around the city in a borrowed pick up truck, blasting NWA and talking about the drive to have a hand in shaping the future. We talked about small actions that can have huge impacts. Writing a song. Telling someone about a band. Creating an image that makes people ask questions. Simple actions that can change the world. As sun rose we called it a night, having accomplished our goal of installing huge images of a sunken eyed figure looking out over the city commanding people to OBEY.

Or perhaps challenging them to resist such orders.

Like A Prayer

(Excerpted from something I sent to my mailing list, you should subscribe)

The other day I was hanging out in a local coffee shop with Rips (my 5yo son for anyone who doesn’t know) when Madonna’s “Like a prayer” came on the sound system, he started dancing in his seat and said he really liked the song. I’ve been trying to take note of what music he reacts to and encourage it when I can. Since I bought him a record player for his birthday, I pinged my friend who has a record shop near by and told him I needed to get that record. He only had “Like a virgin” in stock, but tracked down “Like a prayer” for me in a few days. I bought “Like a virgin” too just for the hell of it. When I got home and gave them a listen I remembered one of the formative moments of my childhood that I’d long since forgotten. I suppose everyone has a point growing up when they realize their parents/family aren’t flawless, and maybe they are actively misleading them. Unintentionally Madonna tipped me off to that.

Mid 80’s, early MTV days. Madonna was everywhere. My very Catholic family was not impressed and took every opportunity to tell me how horrid she was. Unsolicited. She was a blasphemer. She was mocking *our* faith by calling herself Madonna and wearing a crucifix. She was probably a Satanist. Definitely a slut. A hussy. She was certainly trying to corrupt innocent minds. Etc. etc. As a kid, hearing this from authority figures I assumed it must be true. But it had a contrary impact on me, rather than scare me away which was the intended motivation, it made me curious. Who was this lady who would make such a public attack on a group of people. Why would she do that? What was her story?

Once I started digging into it a different story came out, of course it’s much easier to find now, but I learned then that she wasn’t using the name “Madonna” as a slam against Catholics, but rather that was her actual name given to her by her very Catholic parents – it’s on her birth certificate. And her music, her art, was influenced by the imagery she’d grown up around. Like almost every other artist I’d learned about. An anti-climatic end to a story that had been so built up. I have to say, it was a little disappointing. (Luckily I soon found Slayer) But that got me thinking – if nothing my family had told me about Madonna was actually true, what else had they told me wasn’t based entirely in fact? And why would they tell me something like that?

Either they were purposefully trying to deceive me, or more likely someone had told this to them and they’d just accepted it as truth. Or maybe no one told them and that was just their gut reaction having been conditioned to react certain ways to certain things and assumed they had it all figured out – also a very real possibility. Maybe they were so insecure about their own beliefs that they had to proactively attack anything that they felt challenged them in the slightest bit. All options – but regardless, none of those options were reassuring. All of them lead to the inevitable truth that I could no longer accept anything they told me as the truth. I guess that stuck with me more than I realized. Thanks Madonna.

Subconsciously I’ve incorporated that lesson into my own parenting efforts, when my son asks me a question I make sure to answer honestly or if I don’t know, I tell him that I don’t know. Sometimes we look up the answers together. When I talk to him about my opinions I make it clear that people have different opinions and feelings about things, that this is what I think but he’s welcome to think about it and decide what he wants to think. I know I’m setting myself up for him eventually making decisions I don’t agree with, but he’s his own person and that’s his right. And him having his own opinions is far more appealing to me than him someday coming to the conclusion that I’ve been lying to him.

Make some noise

Last month my friend Adrian told me he had an idea, and wanted to know if I’d be interested in collaborating on a project with him. He’d been reading my 30 days of fiction stories listened to some of the synth noise I’ve been messing around with and thought there might be an interesting fusion between those and some footage he’d filmed recently. It sounded fun.

The trick of course is that Adrian lives in Tokyo and I live in LA, so we couldn’t just get together and make it, so instead we started sending bits and pieces back and forth to each other. He’d send me some video, I’d send him some audio, he’d tweak the video and send back, I’d record new audio and send it, etc. It actually worked out pretty well, and the resulting piece of video art is something I’m quite happy with.

You can read Adrian’s blog post about it or go directly to the video hosted on vimeo.

Somewhat related, I’ve been having a lot of fun making this crazy noise stuff recently and think I might do more of it, but it seemed weird enough that I thought it should have it’s own name. So I’m calling it KILLAKEE CAT and I got the domain killakee.cat to house it. It’s a nod to this fun story. You can also follow @killakeecat on twitter for updates on new things whenever there are some.

self confidence and collaborations

I’m not exactly sure when but at some point in my life I started ranking collaborations higher than anything I could do on my own. Of course, I should note, there is value in both. But there was a solid section of my life when I knew that no one wanted to work on anything with me so if I wanted to do it my only choice was to do it myself. And I did. And I was happy with the results. Perhaps due in part to some of those results, people I looked up to started getting in touch, or maybe having some experience under my belt I wasn’t nervous about reaching out to them. Anyway, I’d talk to some of these people and on occasion one of us might propose working on a project together. I was always flattered. Seriously, anyone I’ve ever worked with in my life has been a dream come true for me. At first anyway, but that’s a different story. I’d only ever consider going in on something with someone I already respected, so that someone I respected was down for a collab with me felt great.

I’ve been lucky to work with or build things with a great number of people I think are serious badasses. And I’m incredibly proud of the outcomes of the vast majority of those collaborations. I wouldn’t undo them for anything. Even the ones that didn’t work out exactly as I’d hoped – all still awesome. But somewhere along the way I started second guessing anything that I didn’t have a collaborator to validate. I don’t think this was a conscious shift, at first it was just if a had the choice between doing something on my own or with someone else I’d opt for the joint endeavor because two heads are better than one right? And then as that went on it turned into a feeling that I needed some outside perspective or expertise to shape whatever my contribution was. And eventually that maybe they were the one with the value and I was just lucky to have the opportunity work with them, but without them my piece wasn’t all that interesting. I don’t think any of those are especially productive positions to take, but you know, hindsight and all.

It’s only after years of a slow shift and later a conscious decision to recognize it that I realized how many ideas, projects or things I put off because a collaboration hadn’t materialized. The slightest hint of interest from someone else justified an idea to me, and lack of interest nullified it. It’s like I stopped trusting my own internal gauge of what was worth doing. Similarly, if someone else thought an idea was cool but was unable to work on it with me I made myself believe I couldn’t do it on my own. That I needed that other person to help my ideal materialize. Of course none of that is true and these are just the things doubt fills your head with. The slide into that negative space is so gradual that it’s hard to recognize, so just realizing this is happening is a huge step. Having identified the culprit it’s easy to cast them out.

If I think I have a good idea, it doesn’t become less of a good idea just because I don’t have someone to collaborate with. If I do, great, but if I don’t, no biggie. This is probably a similar feeling to being in a relationship for a long time and when it ends, feeling uncertain about your own choices and quickly looking for someone else to shack up with so you don’t have to face all that on your own. Or choosing to be single for a while and seeing who you really are. So in a way, creatively, I’m trying to embrace being single for a bit. What does that mean? Probably means I’ll be producing and putting out a bunch of garbage that you all will have to sort through. But it also means I might make some things I’m happy with. I think about my friend Jonathan’s theory here – make lots of stuff and some of it will suck but some of it will be great and it’s worth it for the great stuff.