Twiddling & Tweaking


John Bowers kicks the discussion off with a summary of the one knob idea and his own work. Infra-instruments, the Victorian Synthesiser (that features in Nicolas Collins’ Handmade Electronic Music … ) and Ohm-My-God (a mixing bowl full of electronic components that explores random sound circuits) feature. More information on this work can be found at his suborderly blogspot. Bowers is particularly interested in extending the idea of improvisation into whole work/research and the liminal state in between instrument and rubbish. Within the argument lies an over arching theme of reductionism with references to the work of Ryan Jordan and Bowers’ pieces the Earth Synthesiser and Rock Harmonium (with Tim Shaw). Some thoughts on code are also presented. Bowers confesses his ‘live code envy’ and demonstrates fractal knobbing through a series of PD patches. Special knobs and knob theory conclude his discussion. Slides from presentation OKTRTAintro-bowers.

Neal Spowage takes up the conversation by focusing on interpolation and the presence of the knob. He whips out a rubber band to wrap around multiple knobs on a mixing desk to create a simple pulley system where one knob controls many (… them all). When one knob is turned, the tension of the band produces interesting interpolations of the movement/data on other knobs (a simple idea produces complex results). The idea of controlling a no-input feedback system in this way is put forward. Levers, belts and pulleys are highlighted as a method to prepare the knob and exaggerate gesture and John Richards’ Ribbon & Strings, that involves an instrument performed through a pulley system, is cited. A grubby plastic container with a collection of knobs is passed around the group. They are handled and inspected. It is the ‘dressing’ of the potentiometer, the knob itself, that is a pre-occupation for Spowage. Dancing with knobs sums up his approach. Dimebag Durrell traction guitar knob gets a mention and a broader discussion on prepared knobs follows.

Spowage’s curios/objects

Jim Frize presents the Hyperpot. There’s video and a knob to play/control some sounds set up in Ableton.

Could there be such a thing as a virtuoso knobber? With a Hyperpot yes! Frize reflects on the practice on knob twiddling and on how it is here to say. The added dimension of the knob is created through capacitance sensing. Frize discusses how this can be done with a standard pot and an Arduino Nano. There is a full description on how to make a Hyperpot here. A conclusion follows on how the Hyperpot could be used and combined with some of Bowers’ PD patches.

Jim Frize’s adapted pot for capacitance sensing

Tim Shaw emphasises his interest in public making and exploring installation environments. His work Fields with Sébastien Piquemal is shown. There’s a full description of the work in the paper Fields: An Exploration into the use of Mobile Devices as a Medium for Sound Diffusion. Some of the group join a local network and before long their mobile devices are taken over and controlled by Shaw as a distributed network for sound diffusion. Shaw goes on to discuss how he views the development of a system as composition. The piece Fields has had many performances, and he reflects on the reaction of participants to the piece, particularly the unnerving feeling of having their own personal device invaded. From this in relation to One Knob to Rule Them All, Shaw considers a work with the title One Nation Under a Knob. The strange twist, nightmarish combination, of Afro-futurism plus fascism comes to mind.

There are synergies between the work of Tim Shaw and Steve Jones. Jones is a mobile media artist whose research is concerned with portable technologies and applying the ‘Carry Principle’ to sound and performance: small, personal, communicative, multifunctional, battery operated and always connected (even in a standby state). Much of Jones’ work is presented through his blog the carry principle. Steve Jones’ work is also about developing performance eco systems with limitations imposed by the necessity of mobility. He finds himself favouring a system based on singularity: one knob, one input, and one output. The discussion turns toward reductionism and the results of adopting constraints. Bowers brings up Georges Perec’s La Disparition in which Perec writes the entire novel without using the letter e.

Will Edmondes jumps in. There is a strong sympathy emerging within the group for a work that is embedded in daily operations. Edmondes is “… a performer, composer and multimedia artist working with recorded media, digital sequencing, samplers, 8-bit Techno, voice and mixed media. He performs and releases material under several character ‘brands’, most frequently as Gwilly Edmondez.” He talks about performances recorded and filmed in ad hoc locations, the routine of everyday life and the need to always have something nearby or that can be grabbed to make sound. This, he argues, is why he is drawn to the voice and portable technology such as the Dictaphone. He finishes with the statement: “The knob that no one can control”. Example of his Dictaphone and voice performance below.

Before lunch, Amit Patel talks about his visions of a new instrument and downsizing. He reveals a round beer mat and places a square knob in the middle. He asks “One knob? Why not just a volume control?” Patel considers listening as a primary goal and ‘internalising’ sound. Virtuosity in a reductionist world is also brought up. Ideas such as listening through making and making through listening are discussed amongst the group. Later that evening in the pub, Richards and Shaw consider that in their work there is often a focus on the act of listening as a form of virtuosity, something that can exist outside of ‘instrument’.

Amit Patel’s one knob vision

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