It was an immense pleasure to head back to my alma mater Oberlin College to attend and perform at the TalberTronics Festival to honor the career and retirement of John Talbert from/within the Oberlin Technology in Music and Related Arts (TiMaRA) program.
I had spend my first three years finishing my BA in Psychology, playing drums in various bands, and studying Contact Improvisation, and buying/using modifying guitar pedals (for samplers, drum machines, and vocals, as I didn’t play guitar).
However, it all changed in my senior year, when met John Talbert to take his class “Analog Circuit Design for Audio.”
I had simultaneously just been able to join the Oberlin Student Union Concert Sound crew, and started learning and working live sound under John Miess.
The best part was that boss John Miess and friend/coworker/bandmate Reed Brooks jumped into Talbert’s audio-circuitry class with me (along with TiMaRA student and eventual band-mate Philip Raath), so senior year became a comprehensive theory-and-practice intensive to drive all my “hobby” level interest (and bullshit) into a set of skill and knowledge that drive my career, my hobbies, and my music to date.
Thus, John Talbert was a huge influence on my life and career. His classes were an exciting blur, with a LOT of emphasis on enough theory to help us figure out the exciting stuff on our own, if we cared to. He was also a peacefully-forceful instructor.
In the years since graduating, I’ve increased my tinkering into a full-blown creative pursuit, and I have John to thank for planting rich seeds.
It was an honor to finally get to catch up and (try to) thank him.
We had to fly (to Cleveland) and drive (to Oberlin) to get to the festival, so I had to pack light. I was able to fit all the instruments I needed to perform two pieces into one carry-on bag
- Korg MicroSampler MS1
- Mackie 803 mixer
- “Left HandShake v3″ a photo-theramin I designed and built from two CD4046 chips (as VCOs) and a CD4070 (XOR gate as ring-modulator)
- “Right UpperCut,” a squawk box I designed and built from CD40106 (shmidt triggers acting as 4 oscillators), a CD4011 (quad NAND gate for tremolo) and a CD4070 (XOR gates for ring-mod).
- DI box and footswtiches (for MS1)
TiMaRA professor Tom Lopez sent the following footage below, shot and edited by his department.
When I told Raath about the festival, he was bummed he couldn’t make it, but I encouraged him to at least let me bring his work to contribute. He sent me “Repeater, Slow,” an 11-minute miasma of guitar-loops time-stretched-down-to-near-frozen.
The raw recording lacked the glitching, granular shimmer-stutter that was (to me) a signature of Phil’s earlier (college-era) work, so I chose to honor that (and our history of collaboration) by “remixing” the playback live on my (modified) Korg MS1 microSampler.
For the 3rd concert of the series, I “remixed” Phil’s drone-piece, by which I…
- filled all 16 patterns on the Pattern Sequencer with a set of drum-beats on the first 2 octaves of keys (following the traditional MIDI drum-map),
- cleared the drum sounds from the sample slots, leaving the patterns to play empty buffers, or whatever might be sampled into those key-slots.
- played the drone-track through the MS-1, touching keys while in Key-Gate sampling mode to sample/replace incoming drone/tone into that key’s audio buffer
- let the Pattern Sequencer run to trigger playback of those sample slots, thus creating “melodies” or “arpeggios” made of small samples from the passing drone
- continually replace the key-slots to follow the tonal evolution of the source droning source-material
- switch patterns (using Pattern Select dial) and throttle the tempo (with foot-switch) to add human dynamics.
I could not have performed this without the inspiration and source material from Phil, so I made sure to record the applause he deserved (seen from my perspective here).
The sound-collage portion of this performance comes from back in 2010. While finishing my MS in Electrical/Computer Engineering at Drexel, a lab-mate gave me a recording he made by placing a phone-mic on the stomach of his sick-at-the-time pit-bull Gus. I was fascinated by the gurgling, squishing noises. I started editing and warping these sound, and others…
- a hung-over college room-mate letting me record him throwing up into a toilet.
- a toilet flush vocoded with cell-phone feedback
- 60 Hz line-noise…time-stretched and pitch-shifted into an ascending tone
…into a surreal-but-visceral sound collage, called “GusTation” at the time.
The synthesizers played live come from a series of “square wave noise boxes” I’d built back in 2011, which used digital logic gates (AND, NOR, XOR, etc) to get simple square waves into even nastier timbres. Since my college-course with Talbert not only about the concepts of amps and filters in “analog” circuit design, but also about binary logic in “digital” circuitry, I was excited to share and perform with these.
These synths series started in 2010, when I was in Wormrider, and keyboardist Dan asked if I could build something like his EF102 Photo Theremin or his EF101 Dual Oscillator from noise-box maker Electro Faustus.
After a quick study of the EF circuit boards, I designed The Left HandShake, a box with 2 knob-pitched VCOs (4046 chips), each with adjustable-depth pitch control from respective photo-cells.
The wide-sweeping pitches and two-oscillator timbres of the early draft can be seen in the “progress report” video below.
I gradually iterated and refined the design of TLH to be more robust and more expressive pitch control, bringing V 3.2 which was used on this performance.
Along the way in 2012, I made a one-off experiment in combining 2 knob-pitched square-wave oscillators (From a CD40106 chip) with switchable routing through NAND gating and/or XOR-based ring modulation, with a 3rd knob-controlled oscillator re-gating each two-oscillator. The resulting synth was an absolute mess of wires between board and panel, and it had a unique tendency to only make noise in limited crashing pitch-sweeps triggered by switches in the oscillator routing, suggesting the oscillators were always eventually locking into phase and stopping each other.
While I’d built the synth to set drones and adjust wave-timbre proved to only respond to violent switching, so I replaced the toggle switches with push-buttons, and it became a “slap at it and see how long it cries” box, dubbed Right UpperCut.
As I was tweaking and building the above synths, I was reminded of the squawking, shrieking, and gurgling noises from “GusTation,” and would sometimes “practice” with these noise-boxes by trying to imitate sounds of that recording.
Thus, to perform for TalberTronics 4th concert as a solo act, I edited GusTation into a longer form with some low-points, into “GusTutorial”
My live setup here had the 2 noise-boxes and the phone (playing the .WAV) into a mixer, routing to echo effects and slow-down/reversal sampling on the Kaoss Pad.
While the piece was conceived in the dry headspace of headphones, it was fun to improvise in the washy reverb of Fairchild Chapel.
…Thanks, Questions ?
I you have any questions, feel free to comment below or at my YouTube page(s).