Acid house, noise and synthesizers inspired from Kant or Philip K. Dick… Meeting with Ewa Justka, maker artist of outrageous creations.
London, from our correspondent
If only more workshops started like this: a lesson on the acid house movement. The esthetics of this kind of music is based on strange synthesizers designed to reproduce the sound of analog instruments such as a bass, explains Roc Jiménez de Cisneros, part of the experimental techno duo Evol, with a hardcore tendency. He describes his music as “computer music for hooligans”. At the time, however, synthesizer manufacturers faced a major failure, including the Japanese company Roland: the sounds only came close to the original with a lot of imagination. “Machines submerged the second hand market and were purchased by artists at bargain prices.” The said artists discovered that by “adding filters, strange things happened”, says Roc Jiménez de Cisneros with Acid Tracks from Phuture in the background, a pioneer piece of music that gave its name to the movement.
“Acid Tracks”, Phuture, 1987:
We are at Music Hackspace, for the Acid Studies workshop held at the end of April by Evol and Ewa Justka as part of an artistic residence in the hackerspace. There was a lot of talk about machines during these three days. Following an introduction evening on the Friday at SuperCollider, a programming environment that allows you to code live music, particularly used by algoravers, the next two days were dedicated to building Oi, Kant!, infernal drum machine from the Polish experimental noise artist and DIY expert, Ewa Justka.
Oi, Kant!, by Ewa Justka (2018):
We met the artist during the Unconscious Archives festival, where Justka just about knocked us out with her stroboscopic lights and violent distortions. Since March, she is the first resident artist at Music Hackspace.
The story goes back a long way with the music hackerspace. In 2015, she built The Ultimate Headbutting Machine in a workshop. At the end of 2017, it was The Motherfucker 2, a special sound-effects pedal coupled with a sequencer. Early 2018, she launched a 6-week course to teach the electronic circuit production process. “There was a lot of information. This course required people to make things at home. The idea was to explain more in depth how sequencers and breadboards worked. At the end of the course you had your own homemade Pcb and learned the software as well as the hardware.”
On June 9, Ewa Justka led a new workshop to learn to build a Scramble Everything, synthesizer inspired from Philip K. Dick’s Scramble Suit in his novel A Scanner Darkly, an outfit that mixes up the identities of those who wear it. “Reality is changing and has several significations. The Scramble is a bit like that. It’s not only a sequencer. You also have an effect that fuck things up.” The workshop was followed by a concert of acid, lasers and of course a great deal of stroboscopic lights…
Back to the Acid Studies workshop at the end of April where the artist presented her latest creation, Oi, Kant!. “A challenge,” she admits, for herself as well as the participants. “It’s a complex machine, the only drum machine I made.” The board is large and expensive with many components. In order to fit them all on the surface of the synthesizer and accelerate the soldering stage, Ewa Justka resorted to the SMD technique (surface mounted device) that consists in soldering the components of a board rather than fitting components with wire leads into holes in the circuit board. The process is supposed to be faster and the result looks more “professional”, jokes Justka. But the components are now tiny–barely 1mm. For the apprentice hackers, some of whom had not touched a soldering iron since high school, the task was tough. To keep calm, the workshop took place with Hawaiian music in the background.
In a two-day period, Ewa Justka had only a little time to explain how an electronic circuit and her synthesizers worked. Her associate, Roc Jiménez de Cisneros, delivered an express training on the basics of these versatile machines (“you need a sequencer, otherwise it isn’t a drum machine”) and on the story of the most famous among them (the TR-808 gives out the distinctive sound in Sexual Healing), the most cult (Movement MCS-2 that the sharpest connoisseurs will recognize in Eurythmics’ song Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This), or the strangest (Seeburg Rythm Prince and its LEDs).
Demo of the Seeburg Rhythm Prince Analog Drum Machine:
It was also the occasion for Evol and Justka to share their resources, like the article Anatomy of a Drum Machine, written by the electronics engineer Mickey Delp or the Logic Noise series for Hackaday signed by the specialist Elliot Williams. She explains some plans for Roland machines are available online. “But we no longer had access to some pieces, so we had to develop alternatives.” For those who want to get stuck with it, they only have to take the dive… “It isn’t magic. At first glance, one could think it was, but it isn’t that complicated.”