shinths 2003!!!

funded by the Daniel Langlois foundation, I built some instruments called shinths. I went on tour with them and some guest musicians during November and December: Jacques Perron from the FDL wrote an essay about the project which you can read here.

nov 13: Chicago live on WZRD 88.3, 15 Chicago at Heaven, 16 Detroit at The Lager House, 17 Cleveland at The Hi-Fi, 18 Pittsburgh at Quiet Storm, 19 New York at Deitch Projects, 20 Easthampton at Flywheel, 21 Providence at the RISD Tap Room, 22 Baltimore at 14 Karat Cabaret, 23 Knoxville at The Pilot Light, 24 Nashville at the Springwater Supper Club, 25 Chapel Hill at The Nightlight, 26 Louisville at the Rudyard Kipling, 27 St. Louis at Lemp Arts, 28 Houston at Super Happy Funland, dec 1 San Diego at Che Cafe, 3 San Francisco at The Hemlock Tavern, 4 San Francisco at The Art Institute of San Francisco, 5 Portland at Kingdom, 6 Seattle at The Haunt, 7 Olympia at Lucky 7, 8 Missoula at Area 5, 10 Kansas City at The Bank, 11 Minneapolis at Mala, 12 Madison at 2310 Projects, 14 Chicago at The Empty Bottle...

Fashion Flesh, Twig Harper, me, some shinths (instruments that you touch and send electronic sound thru your body and out via spoon held in mouth), a nabra (rollable and patchable analog brain), an ambrazier, a boombox, and a little car- we got all around the states in one month...

I had asked twig and f.f. to play the shinths with me tagteam style - sometimes we played solo and sometimes we teamed up. they also brought their own devices and dead electronics along. Twig brought some instruments he had made out of toys, spray painted orange and yellow and melted all over. f.f. brought several of his black boxes, which are some sort of remix of simple circuits, with a few unlabeled knobs sticking up...

hear twig play the shinths in missoula

hear twig play the shinths at the SF art institute (1)

hear twig play the shinths at the SF art institute (2)

I usually had trouble explaining how the nabra, the rollable synthesizer works. but I did use it to demonstrate how the shinths work. After a certain point, when there are so many bundles of patches hanging from it, planned routing gives way to intuitive rearranging. I don't know how the structure works anymore, and I'm just listening to the effect of moving patches around, like if you had a palette of pond animals that each had multiple compatable orifices... The interiors of the shinths work this way. They are made up of a bunch of building block analog automata, patched for a while according to some logical connections, and then superpatched into chaos...

This photo is from the installation we did in deitch projects. I didn't play the nabra at deitch - I just hung it up and let it run alongside a few shinths left out for people to play. But at every other show, I played the nabra live, patching it from scratch. Often Twig would play a solo noisy set in the middle of our show, then we would have a break. During the break I would start setting up the nabra, developing feedback control structures, and starting to make small sounds. During this people would usually still be talking, and often asking me questions on what I'm doing. There came an undefinable point, though, where the nabra's sound became active and the audience stopped talking. This was a fun way to perform, to gradually fade from audience to nabra.

hear me play the nabra in olympia

fashion flesh liked to talk the shinthsss - he would lick and kiss and tap the spoon and make syncopated patterns out of his mouth contact with the beast... often it sounded too much like the shinth was saying something so twig and I couldn't help but say something back.

listen to fashion flesh and me shinth-voicing in sf

After we finished a set, we would usually put two shinths out with a stereo and some five-minute blank tapes, so people could make their own mixtapes. People loved coming up and playing the shinths, and they learned to play very quickly. It's a tool that needs no language to learn - there are no labels on it because there is no specific interface. Even people who seemed to not enjoy or understand the show could really get into playing the shinths. We only needed to give one warning - don't touch any metal to the surface. For some people, I took down their names, and confiscated the mixtape that they made, so I could put it up here:

chol in madison played two shinths solo.

Seth and Christy in kansas city played two shinths together. This way, each of the two spoons feeds to a separate stereo channel. So this is a stereo mix. The great thing about two separate bodies playing the shinths is that they can touch two different points on a shinth, and you can listen to how the sounds are related by the shinth's internal processes. Also, they could circuit bend between shinths.

Twig and Victor in missoula. Note the two different styles.

olivia in Houston

the accident is no longer to be identified solely with its disastrous consequences, its practical results- ruins and scattered debris- but with a dynamic and energetic process, a kinetic and kinematic sequence that has nothing to do with the vestiges of objects destroyed, with wreckage and rubble... a way of showing what happens in what crops up out of the blue... It would be a matter of creating a new kind of scenography in which only what explodes and decomposes is exposed. A paradoxical mise-en-scène of the obscene in which decomposition and disintegration would supersede the compositions of advertising and high-tech "design".
-Paul Virilio, "The Accident Museum"

The shinths are intuitive electronic surfaces. They look like the shipwrecked flotsam that washes onto beaches, and they are similar electronically; their original intentions "never existed", and now they can only be used for something else. Like a beachcomber carving a duck out of driftwood, I asked circuit benders to make sound out of the shinth. It was a collaboration: I designed an ambiguous and apparently meaningless electronic system, and the circuit benders created intuitively and spontaneously by bending or breaking the flip side.

the shinth has an interior, which is designed to criteria which are now completely unknown. No one knows in what imaginary machine it worked; no one knows if it was intended to measure or control; no one knows if it supervised navigation, communication, or waste disposal.

To make a shinth, you must eliminate all intentions or hierarchy or goals. In electronic design this is difficult because practicality has overwhelmed the field- there are no wandering paths in it anymore, just straight ones to a well defined goal. This "goal-oriented" design has penetrated the whole field of electronics, so that hierarchical thinking marks every stage of the process; the design process has a hierarchy (plan, test, build), as well as the object designed (input, process, output). In the shinth, there is no heirarchy, or at least none reveals itself, and no one process claims to structure the others. One exercise was to realize a building block I call a shircuit. Designing a shircuit, you get lost; as you experiment with the materials, they suggest their own systems, and you forget why you're doing it in the first place. it's like staring at an object until it becomes a non-object. The shircuits have different flavors, but they do not line up well with traditional synthesizer terms because they are created from their materials and not for their results. They owe their existence to distillations of miniature and myopic design procedures rather than a masterminded plan. The shinth is made up of a web of shircuits: non-circuits make up a non-synthesizer. I made a board of them, and then connected them until I didn't know what was going on, just like with the nabra. when it reached the pond-animal intuitive point, I knew it could be intuitively played, because all parts were reacting somehow but no one knows how.

On the flip side of the shinth plane, any visible structure disappears, and procedure dissolves into intuition. In the intuitive plane, the intentions of the inst do not matter. The shinth will electronically decay on this side- circuit benders might be able to unknowingly break electronic systems. This does not necessarily silence the shinth, but hopefully it will make it richer.

if any metal touches the face of the shinth, there's a chance parts of it could break. at every show where we let the locals play the shinths, we made sure to keep an eye on them to make sure they didn't touch the spoons to the board. every once and a while, though, some people slipped through without the warning to never touch metal to the circuit board. in kansas city, some dude was rubbing the spoon on the circiut board for a few minutes. after, i checked the sounds of the particular shinth. it was broken, for certain, but it still made sounds. as i listened more I noticed that the sounds had mutated to a madder variety than the original ones.