Baby Bot Synths, Photon Blasters and more from Moon Armada
For the uninitiated, Moon Armada is much more than just equipment brand. Its founding artists, Honest Kevin and Appias Albina, actually describe it as an “audiovisual art project focused on creating abstract musical instruments that emphasize experimentation, orthodoxy and esoteric aesthetics. “. And that they do.
While most of us would at least passively agree that instruments can be as beautiful and artistically creative as they are functional, it is usually function that is considered in the first place. But Moon Armada muddies the waters in an unmistakably fun and inventive way.
We recently had the chance to speak with Honest Kevin of Moon Armada about some of these projects they’ve built, from functional rhythmic noise generators built from Legos to fully functional synthesizers housed in recycled doll bodies. Unconventional materials paired with unusual designs are really as fun to see as they are to use.
Visit the Moon Armada Reverb store to see what wild and wonderful treats await you.
Let’s start with the Marbles of Misfortune, which is a way to generate random signals (or sequences) that can then trigger any number of external synths / instruments. How did you come to this idea ?
This was originally inspired by sound artist Zimoun, who has a lot of works that use simple mechanisms to generate delicate sounds, multiplied on a large scale to make beautiful clouds of noise and the like. I wanted to do something like this my own way, and I finally got the idea of ââjumping marbles. Originally there were only dozens of solenoids and snapping balls to make a meditative setup.
After spending a year making several prototypes with various materials, I was still not satisfied with the aesthetic I came up with, nor how different the whole thing was from my pre-existing style. So I rethought the overall concept and decided that it would be more in my own vein to include an audio synthesis aspect. Hence the idea of ââthe trigger / sequencer, which actually came to observe the action of the balls for so long and to imagine ways to exploit these movements.
My wife, who I partner with on a lot of these projects, suggested scaling down the idea and using Lego, which turned out to be a really good idea. It took me a long time to figure everything out and put everything in place, but I am happy with the result and am already working on a spiritual successor.
Marbles Of Misfortune: a chaotic movement sequencer
How do signals and sequences work? Do you have to choose between triggering from individual bead hits or taking the signal from the sequencer? Or do both work simultaneously?
Each marble track / sequencer has its own trigger and sequencer output, so each sequencer / track combo has its own trigger and sequencer output. You can route these outputs wherever you want. For example, you can use a sequencer / track to play a note on a ball hitting the top, while the sequencer determines the pitch of the note. These outputs can also be combined for even more value combinations.
The Marbles of Misfortune are partially created with Legos, which you also used to build the Photon Blaster. Why Legos?
As I mentioned before, the original idea to use Lego came from my wife, Zhenia. There are a number of reasons it got stuck, both creative and practical. Most importantly, Lego fits very well into the esoteric toy art motif that I have already established. And Lego pieces are available in such a range of parts and colors these days that it is possible to use them to create all kinds of sculptures and contraptions.
On the practical side, Legos are very easy to obtain, both here in Europe and in the USA (my country of origin, where I also spend a lot of time) which eliminates many of the usual headaches to make things to from scratch.
Lego synthesizer n Â° 1 – The photon blaster
How does the Photon Blaster actually produce sound?
The Photon Blaster uses a fairly simple, noisy synth circuit that uses logic gates at audio rates to create square wave oscillators that modulate each other.
The “Photon” part of this comes from the light sensors that control the frequencies of two of these oscillators; the “blaster” part comes from LFO controlled LEDs used to play these light sensors, which are designed to look like some kind of sci-fi light cannon
Will these new Lego machines be available for sale? And will you continue to create more in the line?
Yes, I make a handful of things available. I have a delay effect, a new drone synth, a few more Photon Blasters, and a few unique pieces. I’m probably going to make more elaborate and unique instruments and effects with Lego and fewer sets of stuff.
Many people will know Moon Armada from your Baby Bots. Will you continue to make Baby Bots, even if you create new instruments?
From now on, I plan to keep doing them, although I can’t really say for how long. I have a lot of new projects going on, and at some point it may be necessary to move on to have time for other things.
Baby Bot 301 – Analog Rhythm Effects Synthesizer
Where do you get your baby dolls? Do you have a dedicated supplier at this point or do you just buy used dolls wherever you can?
I used to buy them everywhere and when I could, mainly in thrift stores. Now I have a few stores here in Vilnius that help me get some. They know the qualities I’m looking for and it saves me a lot of time and hassle.
Why is it important for you to create instruments with such unorthodox designs? Why not house the circuits in more standard boxes?
I don’t really see myself as a “musical instrument maker” in the proper sense of the word; I think what I do more like making functional art objects. I’ve always taken a lot of inspiration from the independent toy maker scene, guys like Killer Bootlegs, Pendragon, and Lab Monkey Number 9 (who I’ve collaborated with a few times).
What I do is of course a little different, but stylistically I took a lot of inspiration from this world. Overall, I’m just looking to do things you won’t come across anywhere else.
In more recent instruments, there also seems to be an emphasis on the use of chance as a source of music. Is it intentional? If so, what attracts you about the randomly generated sound?
I would say I’m more drawn to using external stimuli as a generative source than to chance / chaos in particular, although often these things go hand in hand. I really try to focus on things that are visually concrete, whether it’s kinetics or light. That is to say: things that have a strong and elaborate correspondence between what you see and hear.
How do you see artists using your instruments in their own work?
I have a lot of my own practical applications for them, but I guess more than anything else, I hope artists and others will appreciate them as quirky and inspiring objects that challenge conventions and boundaries, and encourage them. to do the same, just like countless other jobs have done for me.