Solar Sounder Workshop / Communal Instrument Build

"The sun energizes a solar panel on a box, with an analog synthesizer in it, to sound out a speaker. Without batteries, the box reacts to gestures of shadow on its face, and full darkness silences it. It sounds different on hazy days, cloudy days, sunny days. Outfitted in a thick-wall cardboard box, the acoustic object plays itself. I call it a solar sounder.

Besides their solar panels, the boxes have no other playing interface such as knobs or switches; the art is not in the action of playing them, but placing them in the sun and listening. I think of these not as musical instruments, but installation tools. Instead of offering a universal palette of sounds, the circuits focus on specific acoustic sounds. In this work, the analysis of three “voices,” begins the task of emulation. Consider the sound-making apparatus of each- a throat for the monk and the bird, and a horn for the train. The three acoustic studies and their circuit emulations ask compositional questions: “how closely to imitate?” “how far 'off' can the imitation stray so as to evoke only a poetic allusion to the original?” These questions inspire synthesizers in this piece, to excite a “hackerspace,” enthusiastic for the many and varied implementation possibilities. Here, we are not hacking an object of technology, but an existing idea for a sound. Solar power is a compositional constraint for these boxes; without batteries or a “stiff” voltage source, the circuit components can bend the sounds. The result reveals idiosyncrasies between designs and even between “exact replicas.” The shadows of trembling leaves makes the sound rise and fall in the wind, and wilt when a cloud passes over.

In a solar sounder workshop, participants build and customize bird, monk, or train circuits. The resulting ensemble reveals the unique properties of each piece; leveraging their differences, they paint a spectral smear around the emulated voice. A performance gesture arises from their response to sun and shade with sound and silence. In the workshop, participants customize the sound of each box by changing capacitors, which set frequency and timing characteristics. In this way, the emulation alludes to the breadth of variation in virtual voices. For example, an electronic bird calls mournfully slow, beyond the physical capabilities of its living counterpart; the physical choice and placement of components restricts each box to a certain range and mode of recitation."

Workshop Leader: Peter Blasser, tubist since 4th grade. In high school, unallowed to purchase ethnic instruments, he began making them in the basement out of wood. Later, in college, he discovered electronic circuits, and their possibilities for infinite tunings, infinite timbres. He made a career out of electronic modulations, and making these intangibles touchable through nodes, case flexure, and radio fields. His company:, sells these devices to musicians around the world.

You can read the whole solar sounder white paper here

WHEN: Tuesday October 11, 7pm
COST: Free
RSVP: Please email to reserve a place in this workshop (limit 12)