I’ve been thinking to build my own “music concrete box” to play live with a new project and I’m looking for inspirations and real examples. I’ve found this video which is pretty cool and I’m aware of the field kit by Kima Elektronik but I was wondering if there’s anyone here who has made his/her own box, I’d love to know more about your experience.
The Make Noise Tape and Microsound Machine paired with the 0-Ctrl covers a lot of territory between concrète and more modern microsound techniques. I think a lot of the videos focus more on the granular aspects of the Morphagene but you can do some cool spatialization pairing it with the QPas and Mimeophon. You can also use longer splices within the Morphagene paired with the Mimeophon’s longer delay settings to implement layering of sounds over a long period of time. The 0-Ctrl really helps you tap into the live sound aspect and gives you completely physical control over the sound. I’ve been really impressed with how much flexibility the system provides. You might also look at the Ciat-Lonbarde Cocoquantus, a completely different approach, but you can also do a lot of layering and live pitch variation. The Quantussy gives you access to a lot of wild, raw electronic sound sources too.
Tore Honoré Bøe of Origami Republika has been making acoustic laptops as he calls them for a while - I met and got to know him at the Avant Garde Festival in Germany in the 2000s, and they were intriguing things to see him play:
I’ve made several such ‘concrete’ boxes over the years, as I really enjoy having concise instruments, rather than a bag of loose bits. My best suggestion is to start exploring with two different bases at the same time: one a simple length of 2x4" lumber (~2 to 3ft long) and, if you can manage to find one, a repurposed hardwood box (old jewelry boxes work well). Lighter woods such as basswood, cigar boxes, or crafting plywoods, are challenging as they tend to sound very thin and hollow, and so does the sound transmitted through them. Heavier/denser woods tend to transmit a wider frequency range, which is a particularly nice starting point when you’re using piezo mics. It is a good idea to isolate these bases from work tables with a thin layer of foam or synthetic felt, so you avoid unwanted surface feedback/transference, especially if you’re working in spaces with larger speakers, or other musicians.
Once you have these two bases in front of you, explore different positions for the piezo mic (again if that’s the route you’re going versus directional mics) to see where it sounds best on both, just by rubbing or tapping with your hand or using random kitchen utensils. The choice of mic amplification will also play a role. It really depends on your personal sonic goals…these homemade instruments can sound as clean and detailed as an acoustic guitar, or as dense and overdriven as you want, with the right choice of mic, and/or addition of effects (pedals, or DAW-based).
From this point forward, it is exploring what different materials and objects sound good to your particular needs. This might be using eyelet screws with suspended wires and hanging objects (wooden clothes pins, metal washers, etc), or varied textural surfaces such as sandpaper or gravel that you move objects across. Contrasting approaches offers more flexibility than a tight group of similar objects and materials - which can be difficult to appreciate and distinguish in a resulting recording.
I don’t think there is a better way forward than using your own ears, a microphone, and a pair of headphones to explore what moves you in this particular mode of instrument making. The lack of specific shared end-point means that it can be whatever you need it to look/sound/feel like, whether it is a 2ft piece of lumber with a handful of things screwed to it, or a giant plastic sphere filled with loose objects clanking together.
very much just the beginning of implementing the sound side of things… it will obviously differ from most/all examples here as it will be more of a processor than a bespoke sound maker. really just recently inspired by a book (Women in Concrete Poetry: 1959-1979) and a desire to further explore softcut. (for the former I might have to wait for this update)
thank you so much for all these precious tips! Didn’t think to start with different type of wood but it actually makes a lot of sense.
I will probably use piezos since my aim is to perform with other players and using directional mics might cause some unwanted feedback. What I’d like to focus is textural and mellow sounds rather than harsh and rythmic sources. Sand, rice, marbles, springs maybe. Textural surfaces for sure.
I have been avidly reading this topic and only have one thing to add. If you are searching for ideas on building a “concrete box” a web search on foley or foley boxes may give you quite a few more ideas.