Todd Barton

music, composition, buchla synthesis

6 — Gestures: Sculpting Energy

Let’s briefly recap the past few Buchla Blog entries:

Buchla Architecture: there are two main types of modules in the system:

Sound Producing (oscillators and preamps to bring sound into the system from the outside) – these signals are carried by tinijax audio cables.

Sound Modifying (cv processors and function generators) – these voltages are carried by banana cables.

Inflection: You are only as expressive as your Control Voltages (their shape, strength, recurrence and terrain).

Spectrum: the path to creating more complex and expressive sounds is by exploring and exploiting the full range of audio signals and control voltages.

Dynamics: can get our attention and bring interest, shape and drama to the sonic terrain.

Now let’s look at gestures

Like a conductor whose physical gestures shape rhythm, dynamics and phrasing …

… we as synthesists can translate imagined physical gestures into control voltages: a wave of a hand, a punch, a squiggle, a slash, a beckoning. . .control voltage gestures can take any shape or form and then be applied to any parameter of a modular synthesizer.

And here is the audio alone so that you can hear the panning and shape variations:

If you are interested in this specific patch I will post a picture of it at the end of this blog entry.

In the 60’s in high school and college the operative definition of music was: melody, harmony and rhythm.  And music theory was summed up by the tension/release chord progression of V(dominant) to I (tonic), subsequently years were spent learning all the different and cool ways to get from V to I.

However, I began to hear of the “new” definition of music coined by Edgard Varese in the early 1940’s: “organized sound”.  A much broader definition accompanied by a more open “theory” which embraced timbre, density, sub-sonic, hyper-sonic events, noise, etc.

As time has passed, my new personal definition of music has become even broader: “sculpting energy”.  This is most likely due to decades of experimentation and exploration revealing to me how control voltages can shape and express sounds.  As I work and create sound pieces I literally have the feel of sculpting sounds with control voltages.

I’d like to suggest that control voltages are indeed gestural.

Originally the Buchla system was conceived by both Don Buchla and Morton Subotnick to take advantage of gestural CVs: freed from the mindset of the black-and-white keyboard and thus as flexible as one’s imagination.  In fact, listening to Subotnick’s recent raw footage interview on I Dream of Wires Box Set (  he mentions that he came up with the concept of

“…energy melodies (he gestures wildly in the air with his hands and produces dramatic mouth and facial shapes) which had no sound… but could be [applied to] changing timbre, [panning, pitch, filtering etc].

Subotnick: energy melodies

Subotnick: energy melodies
with permission from IDOW

Subotnick points out that such a complex envelope or energy melody functions as a “controlling object” which could then be applied to all imaginable parameters. He continues, “and in so doing you also wanted to process that voltage, you wanted it at the same time (as the original voltage) but you didn’t want it to do exactly the same thing, so you would invert it and have that go forward here and backward there (he gestures) and further invert it to have it go up and down here (gestures), then scale it so that it only makes a little shift (in range) and send it to pitch for instance.”

Control Voltage processing, in its many shapes and guises, IS the HEART of the Buchla Paradigm!

Later on in the interview Subotnick emphasizes this when he says that “Don was brilliant and fabulous: he came up with [the idea of] using banana plugs for control voltages which allowed him to multiply [i.e. duplicate] a voltage and to go to various places [pitch, duration, timbre, panning, etc.]”

Here is a short video containing two parts–first part: a sinusoidal CV used to control panning, timbre, pitch and modulation.  And, second part: a more complex CV envelope.

Here is audio of the above: sinusoidal gesture

more complex gesture

I hope my simple explorations will serve as a springboard for your creative ideas and explorations.  Stack ‘em if you got ‘em!

Here’s my “sculpting energy” patch:
sculpting energy sm

Be sure that section A and B of the 281e are in quadrature and that the A & B OR’s are going to panning.

Here’s a detail of the 281e and 292e:

sculpting energy detail




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