I had long had a bitter taste from such fairs, because of poor sales at the event, and also a certain loudness in the bazaar that is due to competing demonstrators. For this reason, I would only go with a radical, experimental mentality, almost performative. Also, due to the scholarly funding, I could adopt a researcher's attitude towards the technology, akin to Georgina Born's ethnography of IRCAM. Thus, my tack and proposal was to research the current culture of modular synthesizers, through the aesthetics of booth (beeth?) presentations, and any techno-shamanic folklore passed around by participants at these events.
Part of my strategy at these events, was to be aloof to the competitive sales atmosphere, by trying to present the radical ideas that my business has been known for over the years. Paper circuits as experimental prototype formed the throat of this thrust. I have been working for several months on a new line of euro-rack modules, and since this is exactly this format that predominates at modular fairs, I focused on a paper display for the new pieces.
Euro-rack is a standardized format for modular synthesis, using mono-mini plugs and cords, a "4U" height, and most importantly, a bi-polar power supply of +12 and -12 volts DC. My other two businesses, Ciat-Lonbarde and Shbobo, are based on uni-polar power supplies of 9 volts and 3.3 volts respectively; the 9 volts is for analog from a single battery or wallwart, and 3.3 volts is a USB digital device. In porting concepts over to the euro-rack specification, I decided to create a new business, named "Ieaskul F. Mobenthey". All these names come from a single drawing from 2002, titled "Stores of the Mall", that I hope to display proudly on the release of the new modules. It is really a format for a bantam business; the Stores of the Mall is a 'tent' that generates new sub-stores, rather than trying to maintain a single aesthetic at the locus of a singular business.
To manifest "Stores of the Mall" in physical form, I decided to build some conceptual synthesizers out of cardboard boxes and extremely fine, Japanese "washi" paper, provided by my mother-in-law at her business, Tapiro Creative, LLC. Each box represents a separate business; Ciat-Lonbarde and Shbobo are finely lettered signage on wonderfully textured earth-tones. However, it is the box for Ieaskul F. Mobenthy that received the most attention, because it is the most hypothetical at the moment. I used bright green washi to wrap a box about the size of a small euro-rack cabinet. Then I rendered the current working designs of Ieaskul's designs, and printed them on cards that were affixed to the front of the box, thus making a virtual, paper modular for display at my booth. Also on display was a working paper circuit prototype of the innards of one of these designs, further enhancing the radical paper motif.
|Stores of the Mall: the radical washi synth|
|Tokyo Festival of Modular|
|Stores of the Mall @ Tokyo Festival of Modular|
|Kirito at the Little Bits station|
Each station, representing a store or manufacturer or other vendor of synthesizer modularity, would normally be setting up some sort of "jam" consisting of sequenced pulses. The use of sequencer modules is predominant. Some of the more interesting stations, however, focused on idiosyncratic, non-linear and un-striated sound assemblages. I chose to focus my attention on the first island, a grouping of four stations, three from America and one from Russia.
Another research area was an esoteric Soviet synthesizer, the Polivoks. Scott worked with the designer Vladimir Kuzmin to bring back the "bizarre, agressive, and entirely unique character" in euro-rack format. The filter, for example, uses no external capacitors, and relies solely on the non-linear and contingent capacitance inside the silicon components. It looks like Scott is skilled at compartmentalizing his business into unique sub-groups with strong identities.
Each of the participants from afar, due to baggage restrictions, brought only a small suitcase worth of modules, about one typical segment of a euro-rack system. Thus they chose only the most important modules, and it is a comparative analysis of each distillation that proved most insightful. Harvestman's aesthetic is uniform in color, with orange knobbage over an aluminum background. However, there is a certain pragmatism in the layout, reflecting the idiosyncratic nature of the modules themselves.
All of Harvestman's aluminum face-plates are manufactured in Cincinnati. To some collectors of euro-rack modules, a consistent aluminum appearance is very important, harkening back to the earliest days of Doepfers. Since I am considering using other materials in face-plates, I always ask makers' opinions on material. Scott finds the company in Cincinnati very convenient and cheap, but says that he personally has no problem with alternative materials. There are about three reasons to use alternative materials in the face-plate: simply to introduce a new color and instant recognition to one's brand; because aluminum is conductive, some touch sensitive surfaces need to be implemented as circuit boards; circuit boards as a material are lighter, and I would say more immanent in that the circuit is its own container...
For more thoughts on manufacturing, I looked across the table to another resident of the Pacific Northwest, this time from Portland:
Josh is president of Malekko Heavy Industry, which makes some guitar pedals, and many euro-rack modules. Josh is skilled at networking with other designers, to license and adapt modules for a maximum variety under one roof. In fact, his main business now seems to be the Dark Space manufacturing center, that offers its services to all synthesizer designers to assemble their product, and even ship it for them. Thus skills in integration are what makes his business tick.
A glance at the Malekko distillation yields a sense of uniformity, whilst representing many different lines. Each different line, or sub-brand of Malekko, is differentiated by subtle appearances of changing fonts, knob size, or most importantly, layout decisions. A foremost example is the layout of Wiard modules, which segregate knobs on top from patch points below, whereas many other designers choose to integrate knobs and jacks, so that functionality flows smoothly from manual control to patching.
A look at Cyrus' suitcase sized rack shows many different kinds of modules, constructed of different materials (clear plastic, circuit board, as well as traditional aluminum), some with enigmatically sparse legend and thus an intuitive demand on performer. In representing a divers forum of synthesynthesists, a most pragmatic look is achieved, and also the sense that Cyrus may find sublime new connections due to the overlapping philosophies.
For those makers who chose not to build euro-rack modules, there are more options, in enclosure shape and size, besides those already mentioned choice of faceplate material, font, and other legend features. Here's a synth maker to watch out for, from Peru, Atomosynth:
My own brand is marked by a pronounced lack of candy, although there is good wood, sauced generously with tung oil. However, I do not have a business card, and although some triangular poster cards still exist from previous days, I was lacking any paraphernalia, so when constructing washi paper circuits at Tapiro Creative, LLC, I re-purposed some fancy calligraphy cards from the trash. My mother-in-law had experimented with layout of a phrase, "learning the sound of rain," and although she wished the world to not see her failed calligraphy, i found the black brush strokes fertile ground for ballpoint insertion of circuit diagrams:
|business card for ciat-lonbarde|
Here's some more happenings at Tokyo Festival of Modular
|5G, a Tokyo Modular store, brought a wall!|
|Hikari, nice vintage 50s looking cases|
|I think this is "JMT," a Japanese Analog/Noise Booth|
|My wife and son jamming little bits n' Korg|
|Headliner: Keith Fullerton Whitman|
|A fine threesome of electronic performers...|
|Synth T-shirts: Merchandise about merchandise|
Modular event number two was the Control Voltage Fair, held in Brooklyn, on June 21, 2014. The specific location was Ten Eyck street, a real portal Hague of the new world, crammed in between an oily river and a bunch of Chinese merchants, it also contained many nose-rings and kindly death metalists, as well as other fuzzy burlap berets and various accordion toters... Brooklyn, on a cool day, during a "river to river" music festival was a great place to have an open door to a dark warehouse spilling out loud modular sounds. In all of the following pictures, note the completely different light, it being a natural, blue-sky day. Super Deluxe in Tokyo, a basement at night, had great spot-lighting, but the warehouse in Brooklyn had no artificial lighting at all, just skylights and garage door.
|old industrial Brooklyn: site of Control Voltage Fair|
|Brian Moran/Adam Kendall, video processing modular|
The film-maker I was speaking with hinted me on to Meme Antenna, a store in Brooklyn who sells the “Lio&Linn-wood+metal-," a fine walnut case for euro-rack modules. I met the owner and had a wonderful chat with him. The store seems to be tucked into a cute hipster/loft "mini-mall" in Bedford, judging from the tin ceiling.
|an omen of the future: steady state rhythms|