ABOUT

 

 

Jen Kutler is a sound based performer, maker and artist. She modifies found objects that are cultural signifiers of power, gender and intimacy to create atypical instruments for her performances. Her current project My Wife is a sound based performance group featuring many of her instruments and a sample based recording project exploring the discrepant experiences of familiar sound environments.

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Sounds

INSTRUMENTS

Touch MIDI Controller

The Touch MIDI Controller generates MIDI CC data from capacitive touch values. You can read more about capacitive touch here. Any contact between the sheets (via human skin included) produces a reading between 0 and 1023 that is then mapped between 0 and 127 as a MIDI CC (Control Change) value. The output is a standard 5-pin DIN MIDI connection. I added a calibration knob to scale readings for sweaty situations that returned values that were too high to be useful (and lets face it, some of us sweat more than others). 

I used an Trinket Pro by Adafruit for this project and made it based on this Schematic:

 

 

Carlos (a partner in crime w/My Wife) and I testing out a version of the Touch MIDI controller that sends very fast Note on/off messages. We had fun flooding a Novation Bass station with too many notes but decided it would be easier to control MIDI CC values mapped to 'tuning' or 'octave' parameters. 

 

Sewing Machine Inductor Synth

The story goes that I was living in Brooklyn with a very talented tie maker. Our rooms were separated by a very small hall and while I was doing sound work in my room, I would hear him toiling away with his huge industrial sewing machines. The sound of these big universal motors droning started to really influence the way I heard the pieces I was working on and I started experimenting with motors. The result is this monophonic inductor synth that does't just play MIDI notes but continues to function as a sewing machine. 

I used a Teensy 2.0 which was appealing because of the USB MIDI functionality that is built in. (This was before I discovered the wonderful and amazing Arcore by Ralph Kistner which has since become a staple in many of my projects. Thank you Ralph!) 

My original version was with a small NEMA 24 motor that really couldn't generate the force I needed to get the sewing machine working although it should be mentioned that it sounded beautiful. I upgraded to a NEMA 34 stepper powered by a generic 24v power supply with an ST-M504 Microstep Driver and I had more than enough power. I used a 5 string electric bass pickup as a transducer since I knew I was interested in lower frequencies and I could get the kind of audio compression and EQ I wanted from a bass amp. 

The code I used was a very slightly modified version of Randolph Voorhies' midimotor code available here

In My Wife Carlos plays it with a capacitive touch Toe Piano to keep his hands free for sewing.

 

MIDI Umbrella 

Here is a MIDI controller project using piezo discs as umbrella transducers. They are connected to the Adafruit Trinket Pro and their values are mapped to MIDI note on/off messages. Larger and more forceful drops generate lower notes. I'm working on an updated version of this using a Teensy 3.1 and PJRC audio board with the Teensy Audio System Design Tool to have a simpler interface (because I might be the only person who walks around with battery powered pocket MIDI synths).

This schematic gives you an idea of how its put together. The 1M resistor can change depending on what sort of piezo disc you've used and what kind of response you're looking for. I've also seen versions of this with capacitors to prevent multiple triggers from one hit. 

Check back soon for 'rain music' group walks around NYC and the Hudson Valley.

 

SquIDI

SquIDI is a theremin style MIDI controller which generates four channels of MIDI CC data via USB. I was looking for something I could use with my Ableton Live setup for ease of assigning MIDI devices to different FX parameters. I actually use it more with Max/MSP these days. I used a Sparkfun Pro Micro for this project because it was the most cost effective MCU I could find that was still compatible with Arcore by Ralf Kistner. The main components here are the HC-SR04 ultrasonic range finders of which there are four. You can have a peek at the code on I used here on Github. The code requires Ralf Kistner's Arcore available here. I used CC channels 102-105 because they are typically unused but of course you can change those to whatever you want.

This was also my first experience of designing PCB and having it made. I was recommended OSH Park by a friend and I am very happy with the results (though admittedly I have no basis for comparison and very little experience with PCB manufacturing). The PCB just connects female header pins for the Pro Micro to the appropriate HC-SR04 pins. There are no actual components mounted on the PCB itself. I used Fritzing at first to create my design but I was let down when my first PCB came and all of the pins were connected to the copper fill. I tried the same design but with EagleCAD and had much better results. (I don't necessarily blame the software for the problem but EagleCAD was easier for me to be precise with.)

The enclosure design is also my first 3-D printing project. Again, I started with TinkerCAD and had some real trouble entering precise values. Afterward, I got hooked on FreeCAD and I haven't looked back. It is especially buggy on OSX since none of the developers actually own a Mac but I was still able to create the enclosure I needed after several tutorials and a little help from the forums. I was particularly happy to have a 3/8 "threaded insert on the bottom which served as a microphone stand mount.  

I am excited about squIDI because it is the first instrument that I am selling online and at performances. I have plans to sell it as a kit as well. It is especially useful to me when working with dancers who are interested in interactive sound or video environments for their pieces. Its honestly very easy to make at home. The challenge is mounting the distance sensors at an angle in which they won't interfere with one another. The PCB serves much more as a mounting solution than an electronic solution. The 3D printed enclosure also helps. You can check it out in the My Wife shop

 

Analog Light Theremin

This is a basic photo-theremin that generates a square wave from a 555 timer, light sensitive resistor and 9v battery. I use them in My Wife embedded in clothing, hats and attached to glasses for flashlight interrogation fights and general abrasive sound needs.

While this was a fun little project, I am really looking forward to reworking it as a MIDI project for more flexibility. I could also see the argument to add several more LSRs. 

 

I have more instrument profiles coming soon!

listening devices

Bite Phones

Bite Phones are dental bite plates with tactile transducers mounted on them. The ones pictured have Dayton Audio transducers but the second batch I made (photos coming soon) have Teconic Elements transducers instead and the quality is far better. 

I made these for a collaborative performance with choreographer Kate Asson called Butoh Striptease. It was part of my Penetrating Silence series at Spectrum Gallery in NYC. I accompanied her dance performance with music which could only be heard through the bite plates. The harder you bite, the louder the sound is, especially the lower frequencies. I myself am a teeth grinder, especially in stressful situations so it seemed appropriate for the nature of the choreography.

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PERFORMANCES

04.21.16 NYC Underground Performance Festival @ The Paper Box - 7pm - 17 Meadow St. Brooklyn, NY

05.27.16 Disorient Presents: Country Club VI - Catskills, NY - More info & tickets here

09.30.16 My Life In The Bush Of Ghosts - New Paltz, NY - More Info TBA

10.25.16 My Life In The Bush Of Chosts - 35 N Chestnut St, New Paltz, NY - More info here

12.03.16 My Life In The Bush Of Ghosts - 35 N Chestnut St, New Paltz, NY - More info here

02.04.17 My Life In The Bush Of Ghosts - More info here

02.18.17 Benefit for SBK Social Justice Center @ MLBG New Paltz, NY - More info coming soon