Number 10

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Number 10 was built immediately after Number 9 as an attempt to expand and develop aspects of the box, albeit with a little more research, experience and financial backing applied to help smooth out a couple issues encountered with it’s predecessor. For those just tuning in, Number 9 was my first attempt at a passive ring modulator, that, while operational under certain circumstances, was severely limited in form and function due to a less-than-optimal pairing of silicon diodes and audio transformers. Simply put, the voltage thresholds on the diodes was a little too high to work in a passive environment. I was able to get a few interesting sounds out of the box by cranking the gain before and after the box, but given that scenario, what’s the point of assembling a passive instrument, especially when it introduces a fairly good deal of noise into your signal chain? So with Number 10, the first parts to go were the silicone diodes, which I replaced with a set of exponentially more expensive germaniums, which would actually be more in line with the components originally used in passive ring modulators from the ’60’s. Ideally, this should have done the trick, however, similar to the silicone diodes, the generic, off the shelf audio transformers I was using were also intended to carry a much more amplified signal than line level tones and guitar noodles, so there was still a pretty noticeable volume drop with this box – not as much as the last one, but eh, progress and the like. To be honest, I was pretty impressed, if only for the fact that I managed to troubleshoot and improve a box in a scientific fashion in spite of still being fairly green at understanding electronics outside of a “cross wires and see what happens” kind of approach.

However why stop there? Looking to improve my wiring skills, I decided to attach a filter section to the ring modulator, borrowing aspects of Ciat-Lonbarde’s Ultrasound Filter, which turns out to be a fairly versatile resonant filter when removed from it’s intended purpose as an output module on an analog drum machine. Considering that this particular filter was a dual filter in design, it only made sense to use one section as a filter for the carrier input and the other for the modulator. Not to mention that each filter also contained an amplification section, which could be used as crude preamps for whatever sound was going into the ring. On top of this, I managed to coax a couple tweaks out of the resonance section of the filter, allowing a small degree of self-oscillation under certain circumstances – which created strange heterodyning sounds when paired with the proper inputs.

But what were the proper inputs. Akin to it’s predecessor, I originally tested the box in a no-input circuit, which actually worked quite well, especially since it’s carrier could be modulated by it’s own feedback, creating odd, rhythmic gurgles. Interesting, sure, but somewhat lacking considering I was attempting to use this box while playing with the Pink Canoes, who were known for several things, with rhythm not being one of them. I think I played one or two Canoes shows with this box and then shelved it, waiting for the opportune time or experiment where I could properly employ this box in a more opportune setting. Fortunately, that setting came quickly. I forget the reason, but somehow at around this time, John Hensel and I were discussing radio technology and after a series of conversations, we stumbled upon the concept of slow-scan radio, which utilizes radio waves tuned to the audio spectrum to render images, whose origins are mostly derived from either deep-space or the basements of hamm radio operators. Considering that this utilized strange sounding modem-noisey audio signals and strange, roundabout ways of producing imagery, it seemed right up our alley.

Our first test were fairly disparate – first using segments from my Vslkast piece as audio sources, which created pixelated fields of black, for the most part – what can I say, multi-hour, low frequency drone pieces don’t sit well for radio imaging. Later, we tried using recordings from a couple earlier synths, considering the excerpts were a.) shorter b.) more dynamic and c.) much higher-pitched than the first tests. The results were better, but using chaotic oscillator as an input for an experimental medium is never good while testing – something about dependable results and all that. Then it hit me – why not use the ring modulator? After all, both radios and ring modulators operate on the concepts of intertwined carriers and modulators – it only made sense. But once again, it was a matter of inputs. At the time, Pau and I were living in a house of dj’s, artists and noise musicians, with a constant rotating cast of musical house guests, so we had the pick of the litter ala input for this project, including our compost pile, which had recently been upgraded with a series of contact microphones from a recent installation, as well as a couple hundred earthworms, also derived from said installation. It seemed only natural that an amplified worm box would make an interesting installation to this, well, installation. Little did I know I was on the verge of something here.

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