Excavating the Sound Bunker

The physicality and inconsistency associated with analog equipment, as well as the vast timbral intricacies that arise therein, has maintained a long-standing sense of curiosity in my compositional efforts over the years.  After earning my MFA in electronic music at Mills College last spring, I looked to STEIM’s Sound Bunker, which contains an eclectic array of analog synthesizers and processing equipment, as a refuge for further defining my focus within this realm of sound design.  Thanks to the on-going assistance of STEIM staff and a generous grant from the Canada Council for the Arts, I was able to undertake a week-long residency at this historic institution.

Among the cavernous nooks of the Sound Bunker reside a number of treasures: a Steiner-Parker Synthacon, a unique monophonic synthesizer conceived by boutique designer, Nyle Steiner (of EWI / EVI fame) in the late 1970s; an EMS DK1 / Cricklewood, the keyboard intended to be used with the British designers’ iconic VCS3 synthesizer; a home-made modular system, which features a circular patching matrix not unlike those of the classic EMS systems; an array of outboard and rackmount gear, including several modules built by the Dutch synthesizer company, Synton; a Buchla Thunder controller, with its innovative ergonomic interface; as well as Roland System 100 modular, PPG 1020, and Korg MS-20 synthesizers.

Sadly, time constraints forced me to prioritize.  My initial strategy was to confine the scope of my explorations to only a few of what I deemed to be the more important or rare instruments – namely the Synthacon, home-made modular, and System 100 modular – so as to come to know them intimately.  Although both the STEIM and Roland modulars provided a trove of sonic surprises, it was Nyle Steiner’s sleek, monophonic gem that captivated a large portion of my attention.  A simple design, based on the three-VCO / VCF / VCA model made standard by the revered Minimoog, yet the timbres slumbering within the Synthacon are quite unlike many other instruments of its era.  To the extent of my experience, anyway, this is due in large part to the instrument’s gloriously resonant high-pass / low-pass / band-pass filter –– spend two minutes sweeping this filter about, and you’ll understand what I mean.  I dedicated two days of my residency to working with the Synthacon, producing a short “etude” of sorts that explores both its delicate and raucous qualities.

That said, throughout the week I did also gather recordings of several hours worth of experimentation on STEIM’s home-made modular system, the Roland System 100, and the Korg MS-20.  And, thus begins the wonderful task of editing!  The aforementioned Synthacon piece, as well as the forthcoming compositions I produce from the material I gathered during my residency at STEIM, can be accessed here: https://soundcloud.com/sarahdavachi.

And, at the end of each work day, I had the pleasure of spending a few minutes staring out over the canal with one of Amsterdam’s many friendly residents:

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