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This one threw the modular world for a loop yesterday. UK-based modular maker and artist Martin Howse announced his newest module, the ERD, through his company micro_research. Essentially a distortion module, the ERD caught the attention of technology fans across the world with the method by which the distortion is generated: Dirt. The ERD sold out extremely quickly, garnering attention from major technology and electronic music blogs. Thirty units remain and orders will be waitlisted.
The ERD is extremely simple, relying on the electromagnetic and atmospheric conditions around the dirt to trace a chaotic path for the input signal to flow. This idea (and perhaps the presentation) seemed to irk quite a few people in the modular community. Some commented that the idea was pretentious and ridiculous. However, the idea of generating voltage and signal from dirt is not new, certainly not to Martin Howse.
Getting voltage from the earth is actually not entirely groundbreaking, on it’s own. A quick Youtube search reveals countless examples of at-home scientists making “dirt batteries”, simply by compacting dirt into a container (much as we see here with the ERD) and connecting two leads. The produced current depends on the conditions around and in the dirt as well as the makeup of the dirt itself, producing a chaotic but not exactly random result.
Howse harnessed this concept into his module, seemingly after years of experience working with alternative energy sources. Reminiscent of the work of Planet Mu experimental artist Mileece, who uses plants to generate compositions in real time (and who is presenting a new installation in LA this week), Howse has gained a reputation for his avant-garde approach to instrument design and composition. Conducting performances and workshops that focus on Earth-based composition techniques, he has carved out a very personal and unique niche for himself.
One of the events organized by Howse is the Earth Code Workshop, an adventure into the woods to learn to create Earth-based instruments and composition tools.
The workshop examines the following wide-ranging questions:
How can the earth as a process be tempted to compose software?
What signals can be transduced from the earth, using equipment of the earth, revealing hidden process and how can these signals be exposed and converted to brute code?
Finally, how can a dark interpreter, a shadow substrate be constructed as an experimental situation, enabling earthy instructions to re-code and give voice to that same landscape?
The whole earth process is embraced in attempt to approach these questions through the construction of a series of experimental situations.
Going to explore using dirt as a voltage source? We’d love to hear about it in the comments!
Want to learn how to make music with a modular synth before you go digging in the dirt? Check out our Modular 101 Course!