- Distorted RF Lullabies
Sound examples related to this article are available at <www.archive.org/details/cr05RottedOrange>.
All places have different sounds; a silent night in one place could be interpreted as a cacophony of sound in another. When I moved to the United States 5 years ago, I was shocked at the dead silence I found at night. I realized that in my homeland, Puerto Rico, to experience a "silent night" means to sleep tucked in bed by the orchestral lullabies of countless grasshoppers, pets and/or stray cats and dogs, distant or nearby traffic and coquis (tiny tree frogs whose singing is normal to the Puerto Rican ear; Hawaii, however, has recently found itself with so many—as a consequence of Puerto Rican immigration—that people are hired to exterminate them). So many elements create the soundscape of a Puerto Rican night. All have influenced me in my performance and selection of the sounds I extract from the transistor radios I hack. I tend to make a single unit explore a wide range of frequencies, from insect-like sounds to the roar of heavy machinery that creates (or destroys) a town.
The transistor radio I cherish the most, the one with the most expressive sounds, is my "compu-radio" (Fig. 8). When I made it, everyone around me was doing laptop-based work, but I was not able to buy a laptop at the time. So I went on a used-toy hunt and stumbled upon this transistor radio: very small, compact, analog and cheap, with a miniature personal computer shell. It was just begging for me to buy it and transform it into its own unique self. I placed photocells on it for a more natural sense of control of my variations of charge resistance in its circuit board and for more active engagement while playing it.
Using photocells makes my interaction with the instrument more fun for the audience and me. It looks more as if I am playing a drum than just concentrating on a controller that no one can understand. For high-frequency chirps I added a nickel and connected it to a spot on the radio's circuit board. When I touch the nickel, my body creates the resistance necessary for reaching insect-like high pitches. While [End Page 36] I play with those high frequencies I have also added the option for sudden change in tone by adding a button that raises the pitch a little more and a knob that changes the timbre slightly; this last knob was not really necessary, but I got carried away with the hack. Add to those the tuner that allows me to use radio signals to modulate almost any of the instrument's output or to add random sound bites, and the volume knob, which now also works as its own oscillation-distortion controller. As a result, I now have added to my collection of circuit-bent toys and hacked transistor radios an instrument with numerous charismatic noisy phrases.
The compu-radio appears on Rotted Orange's debut recording .
César Dávila-Irizarry is a sound artist who works on sound art installations, sound design for animation, film and video. He also creates electroacoustic and musique concrète pieces. He received a bachelor of fine arts degree with an emphasis on sound from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago.