Sufi Plug Ins, currently on display at the Istanbul Design Biennial, are touching down at the Aicon Gallery in New York City! This Thursday is the opening for the ‘Fact|Fission’ group show and you are invited to come catch Bill Bowen & I performing a 25-minute drone (using our DRONE plug-in, naturally) as live soundtrack to a new video by artist Nitin Mukul. Come melt with us! If you can’t make it on Thursday, the Sufi Plug Ins prints & ‘how-to videos’ will be on view for the duration of the show, and the drone audio will be incorporated into Nitin’s video piece.
This Thursday, November 29th, I’m presenting SUFI PLUG INS at a special session of Wayne Marshall’s Harvard course on ‘Technomusicology‘. Taking this unusual sound-software-art project to Harvard University! Amazing – thanks to Wayne for the invitation.
I expect we’ll cover a lot of ground, from Morocco music research stories to interface politix to considerations of software-as-art and the relationship between non-western knowledge systems & creative expression in our digital era.
The two-hour afternoon event is free & open to the public, so come along and let your Boston/Cambridge art-sound-tech friends know. Check out Wayne’s post for background on the class, and head here to read more about (& download, for free!) Sufi Plug Ins.
[screenshot: Sufi Plug Ins Bayati synthesizer]
Music 190r: Technomusicology presents… SUFI PLUG INS a conversation with Jace Clayton (DJ /Rupture)Arts @ 29 Garden (corner of Garden and Chauncy Streets) Harvard University Thurs, Nov 29, 3-5 pm.
Tomorrow I’m off to Beirut for the Share Conference, “a weekend-long public, free and non-commercial hybrid event blending an Internet culture and technology related daytime conference with dynamic cutting-edge music festival by night.” I’ll be doing double duty: a daytime artist talk on Sunday October 7th, and a conference-closing DJ set that night. First time in Lebanon, looking fwd!
From there I head to Istanbul for the opening of the Istanbul Design Biennial, where we’re taking over a room to install Sufi Plug Ins & John Francis Peters’ Morocco photographs. Beyond Digital by the Bosphorus! Last time I was in Turkey was a dozen years ago, touring with Wax Poetic & Norah Jones before she was (the) Norah Jones. Everyone says the city has changed more than any other in this time, turned ‘hip’, skyrocketed.
Tonight, Thursday September 20th, I am participating in a free event at Williamsburg’s Public Assembly. DRONEWORLD! is “a multimedia conversation” presented by Motherboard.tv & the ETC festival. Our drones switch on at 9pm.
The FB invite contains bios of the participants in this “late night chat about our robot past, present and future, with detours into Peruvian archeology, Marilyn Monroe, remote taco delivery and more. With surprise unmanned cameos and the whir of new software — all set to luscious drone tunes.” I will be talking Sufi Plug Ins, ‘playing the stock market’, audio drones’ relationship to architecture, & more. Coder-wizard / microphone handcrafter Bill Bowen will be on-hand to demo our ‘Drone’ Sufi Plug In.
I enjoy events that get different types of people talking & relating to each other — call it interdisciplinary, call it being bored by the same type of similarly open-minded music fans shouting at each other in the same old rooms. This should be a lively night. Plus it’s free!
To get amped up, here are some vids. The first comes courtesy of fellow panelist Rahel Aina, who tweeted “as gender+surveillance goes, there’s also cryptodrones in TLC’s ‘unpretty’ video, c 1999”. It’s incredible. I would say that this TLC video is more exciting than the entire internet in 2012 — much of whose DNA seems to come from it, especially Tumblr. Check it out:
Next is the Instructional Video for our Drone Sufi Plug In. I believe that all software should come with clear, concise directions as to its use:
And last but not least, a new hit from Pakistani singer Sitara Younis, whose viral success in our Anglophone media bubble is due to a translation of its chorus: My gaze is as fatal as a drone attack. As the Guardian reports,
Maas Khan Wesal, a Pashtu music veteran who wrote the accompanying music, said the drone reference had nothing to do with politics, but simply the fact that the “eyes of a beautiful dancing girl are so powerful they are like a drone, they can destroy men”.
[screenshot from Sufi Plug Ins’ clapping drum machine, PALMAS]
This Thursday evening, Bill Bowen & I will present SUFI PLUG INs at Public Enemy producer Hank Shocklee’s Advanced Ableton Users meetup in Manhattan. Free with RSVP, live streaming. 7:30-10pm.
& on Friday Lamin Fofana and I are heading up to perform at Boston’s Institute of Contemporary Art, where will be joined by DJ Rizzla for a night of ‘DJs on the Harbor’, throwing down at their lovely waterfront space. Come through!
Yesterday NPR’s flagship news program, All Things Considered, aired a piece on my Sufi Plug Insproject! One minute it’s drivel from Mitt Romney’s camp, the next my crew is talking about weird synthesizers and love song maqams.
People keep asking me if I plan to sell SPIs. The answer is no. They’re free, always will be, and we’re gonna build more – VST versions are the next priority. In order to make the Sufi Plug Ins exactly as they needed to be, the whole thing was self-funded (I can always eat less) & the entire team – Bill & I here in New York, Rosten in LA, and Maggie & Juan in Madrid – volunteered their formidable skills.
I have been talking about Sufi Plug Ins for awhile now… But before we get to the download of version 1.0, let’s start at the beginning:
What on earth are Sufi Plug Ins?
[screenshot from Sufi Plug Ins’ clapping drum machine, PALMAS]
To understand where the project is coming from, we must rewind a bit: As a DJ, I’ve always been interested in the creative mis-use of technology. The Art of DJing began, quite literally, with kids in the Bronx using vinyl and record players in ways for which they were not designed. The Technics 1200 turntable was built to be robust enough to withstand constant playback at radio stations. Guys like Kool Herc and Grand Wizard Theodore used its toughness and transformed it into a realtime performance tool. Similarly, ‘finished’ songs pressed on wax were treated with a brilliant irreverence (doubling, scratching, blending, etc), accelerated and reshaped to become elements of an improvisational mix.
[Grand Wizard Theodore on left]
The genius of those early hiphoppers remains a huge inspiration. They took devices intended for playback only and taught kids all over the world to think of records and turntables as hackable tools, as fragments of a conversation, as ours to open up and tinker with. This participates in a long tradition of radicality in black American music – but we’ll save that talk for another time. When I started making music with a computer after years of DJing, I approached the software with very much a DJ mentality, that deep impulse to push the gear – as well as ideas about what a song or performance is – beyond its normal limits, to flip and extend the possible. Which brings us to the next stage…
[Nettle: Abdelhak Rahal on left, myself, cellist Brent Arnold]
When I lived in Barcelona, Spain, I worked a lot with Moroccan violinist Abdelhak Rahal. The 4/4 time signature that virtually all music software defaults to was not the norm for Abdel, steeped as he was in the rich polyrhythmic diversity of Maghrebi & Arabic music. I would try to bend the software towards these rhythms and he would attempt to make long, sliding violin melodies make sense over stuff like a looping hiphop beat – ‘monorhythmic’ the way the software intended. It was fun, rewarding work. Here’s an essay I wrote about music-making in those days, more than seven years ago now! I learned a lot about Moroccan music, yes, but I also learned a lot about the many assumptions built into music software, which is written almost exclusively in Germany (Ableton, Native Instruments, Steinberg) and the U.S.
Sufi Plug Ins grew out of those experiences. After more than 10 years of working with music software, I’ve got a pretty good idea of what values the good folks in Berlin, Hamburg, and Silicon Valley believe is important in music software. But what about other groups, people whose music has inspired me from traditions far from the Eurocentric / Western norm?
[screenshot from Sufi Plug Ins’ BAYATI synthesizer]
What if you could make music software with *different* assumptions, limitations, and beliefs built into it? For example, if West African griots were to design music software, what concepts and functionalities would they be most concerned about translating into the digital? Or a Berber muezzin, who performs the call-to-prayer beautifully but frowns upon music – could one make music software for him? This is not a rhetorical question – we did. It’s called Devotion, and it’s one of 7 different plug-ins we built and are giving away for free. They include 4 unique synthesizers, a drone box, and a clapping drum machine. Here is the Instructional Video for Devotion:
So – with all this in mind, let’s return to the question
What on earth are Sufi Plug Ins?
I can offer at least three answers:
The Big Picture Answer. Sufi Plug Ins is a an interdisciplinary project dedicated to exploring non-western & poetic notions of sound in interaction with alternative interfaces. (When we say ‘alternative’, we mean it.) I’m hoping to return to Cairo to do some music software teaching and take requests for further Sufi Plug Ins from some of the talented kids over there. Listen to them, figure out what kind of tool could be useful to their very specific circumstances, then build it.
The Immediate Answer. Sufi Plug Ins v1.0 is a suite of seven free audio tools for Ableton (Max for Live), including include four distinct synthesizers hardwired to North African & Arabic maqam scales with quartertone tuning built-in, a device called Devotion which lowers your computer’s volume 5 times a day during call to prayer (presets include Agnostic, Fervent, Devout), and a drone machine. The interface is written in the Berber language of Tamazigh, using their neo-Tifinaght script. Roll-over info texts provide fragments of Sufi poetry (plus a little Jean Toomer).
The Answer In Which you Find Yourself. As tools, Sufi Plug Ins are what you do with them. We make the synth, you make it sing. Connect it to whatever else you’ve got going on in your toolbox… Plug-ins, by definition, are about interdependency.
The plug-ins themselves have been available individually for over a week, but today we’re doing the full official launch. Ableton Live users equipped with Max For Live, head here to download. Not a producer? Don’t use Ableton? No worries: Even if you don’t make music, you can show your support of Sufi Plug Ins with a nice t-shirt.
White logo on black cotton. $20 for U.S. orders includes shipping, $25 includes airmail shipping to rest of world.
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I also made artist print versions of the Bayati synth and Palmas drum machine plug-ins, available in an edition of 7.
Let’s close with the Instructional Video for Drone. This should explain everything you need to know about this particular Sufi Plug In, and helps voice the project as a whole:
Here’s an image the Bayati Maqam synthesizer I’m working on… Sufi Plug Ins are free music software I’ve been developing with some talented friends. Four of the SPIs are synths hard-wired to north african tuning systems, with everything clearly labeled in the Berber script of neo-Tifinagh. Amazigh apps! We decided to make a nice artist print version too –
Lots more information on the SUFI PLUG INS coming very soon.