This is a very enjoyable trip to Bastl instruments in the Czech Republic. Host Cuckoo is a charming interviewer and Bastl instruments showcase a people-oriented business.
My anticipation is that we’ll meet a lonely Eastern European modular maker, but what unfolds is a robust community has grown dramatically. Includes the boss describing how to avoid “poop face,” a woman modulating with a baby strapped on, Bastl’s boutique coffee plans, and a business where everyone is a musician. No really, it seems like *everyone* is a musician at Bastl.
Best part of the video is a chance to get some perspective from Peter Edwards (Casper Electronics) a circuit-bending scientist whose website has inspired a lot of people, including myself.
I continue to learn about digital noise-making. I’ve been soldering and bread-boarding synthesizers and noise-boxes for the last year. Along the way I’ve found a few cool motivations and inspirations.
1. I found Peter Blasser and his musical wizardry through an essay he wrote about making electronic instruments for a small child for econtact. At first I thought he was mocking the reader, and then I realized that the essay was deeply creative, fluid and inspiring. I spent as much time exploring the links as reading the text. This led me to Peter’s astounding limited edition home-made instruments: Ciat.lonbarde.net
Here is Blasser with a workshop about his Shnth I found enjoyable.
Blasser offers some really interesting DIY projects at his website: Peter B. I’m collecting the parts to make some paper circuits. I find his approach, openness and creative inspirational work to be sublime.
2. Since I’ve been making my own instruments I often run into disappointment. I finish something and plug in a battery and it doesn’t work. Finding motivation to keep creating when projects flop takes a little intellectual inspiration. I often turn to look at the pictures and read the notes by Chris Beckstrom. As he puts it:
My admittedly lofty goal was to build a modular synthesizer, from scratch, using basic components (no kits), with zero electronics experience. Turns out, it’s possible! I’m sharing circuits, designs, pictures, and code to help other folks realize their dream of building a modular synthesizer for themselves.
I really like that uses bolts as cheap connections instead of the costly cables for most systems. I appreciate that he lists that some of his modules aren’t working at the moment. At points where I struggled to move forward it is really gratifying to see a home-made system that seems accessible. In fact seeing creative people who aren’t deterred by lack of money or parts is helpful as I put together my machines.
I’ve been making my own synthesizers for the last few months. It started with a challenge from my friend August. August pointed me to the $25 Sythrotek Atari Punk Console kit at makershed. Prior to this I had been messing with Arduino synthesizers (primarily using the under-respected Mozzi library). We ordered some noise box kits and when they arrived, started awkwardly soldering.
My favorite thing is that I’m learning an astounding amount every day. I think that is how it goes whenever you dive into something that you didn’t know much about!
Shout out to Synthrotek and Dr. Bleep. I started with some kits and am now building my own little noiseboxes inspired by the kits (and any number of fine internet peeps). Here are a few photos from the early builds including a my finished APC kit in the DIY wooden box.
Kyle Swenson has an excellent write up on Valerie Bozeman in the Broward Palm Beach New Times. Bozeman was convicted of drug charges and received federal mandatory minimum penalties. She was pardoned from her life sentence by President Obama after 23 years in prison. This is an excellent read complete with a sympathetic protagonist, grimy drug kingpins, incompetent defense attorneys and a guilty judge.
Swenson does a good job explaining how low-level offenders were getting astounding sentences.
But as anxiety over crack grew, the statute was hijacked. The use of “851 enhancements,” as they came to be called, became a huge prosecutorial hammer. The marching orders for federal prosecutors were for no mercy.
In 1989, then-Attorney General Richard Thornburgh ordered U.S. attorneys to “charge the most serious, readily provable offense.” Victory in the courtroom was “measured by the length of sentence you could get if you secured that prosecution,” explains Price. So 851 enhancements — which could trigger a life sentence if an individual had two prior felony convictions — became an easy way for the government to notch a heavy win.
“It was a time when we turned our backs on rehabilitation and support, and our criminal justice system and sentencing law became much more punitive,” Price says. “We were locking up people who we didn’t like and were afraid of. But we were also locking up a lot of people who really didn’t deserve the lengthy sentences we were doling out.”
Bozeman got a life sentence and learned about the 851 (mandatory minimum) penalties that sent her to prison only years later. Note that the ‘old timers’ — the prisoners who are sentenced to life became a legal research unit under the direction of Bozeman.
In between chores, Bozeman shot off urgent letters to court-appointed lawyers, like SOS messages stuffed in bottles and pitched into the ocean. Most were ignored. Eventually, she received a letter from Judge Ungaro patiently explaining that Bozeman had been sentenced to life because of a statute known at “851 enhancement.”
With that phrase in her mind, she began visiting the prison law library, where she finally began to unlock what exactly had happened to her.
Soon, Bozeman called together the old-timers. Bozeman had a one-question pop quiz. “Do you know why you got a life sentence?”
Blank looks bounced back at her. One by one, Bozeman sent the women to their cells for their sentencing paperwork. Together they bushwhacked through the legalese until they found it: 851. “The ladies didn’t understand why they were sitting there with a life sentence,” she says today. “They just didn’t know.”
The essay is also ripe with some terrifying statistics about the drug war and incarceration. In particular the use of the federal 851 statute (mandatory minimums) to coerce suspects to admit guilt.
Between 1980 and 2013, the number of drug defendants incarcerated in federal custody had exploded from 4,749 to 100,026 — a 2,006 percent uptick. Fifty percent of all federal inmates were serving time on drug charges.
Not only did mandatory minimums put small-time dealers in prison for long periods but 851 enhancements also had another harsh effect. Because the decision to file rested solely with the prosecution, it could be used as a threat: If you go to trial, we’ll file an enhancement.
A study by Human Rights Watch showed that in 2012, “the average sentence of federal drug offenders convicted after trial was three times higher (16 years) than that received after a guilty plea (5 years and 4 months).” When sentencing enhancements were in play for defendants with prior convictions, defendants “who went to trial were 8.4 times more likely to have the enhancement applied” than those who pleaded guilty.
New York Federal District Judge John Gleeson noted that use of 851s had gotten out of control. He wrote in an October 2013 decision that they brought on “the sentencing equivalent of a two-by-four to the forehead.” As a result, so many people chose to plead guilty rather than take chances at trial that a federal criminal trial was “on the endangered species list,” he said. “The government’s use of [851 enhancements] coerces guilty pleas and produces sentences so excessively severe they take your breath away.”
Proof was in the data: In 1980, only 69 percent of defendants in federal drug cases pleaded guilty and took plea deals; by 2010, 97 percent did.
This essay is a worthwhile read and a thoughtful reflection on the drug war. Thanks to Longreads for the suggestion.
Tavis Smiley invites Killer Mike for two sincere discussions on PBS. Killer Mike does not pull any punches and the topics are legit. Righteous, respectful and thoughtful. I can’t figure out how to embed, but these are both worth watching.
1. Thanks to Feministing for the best framing of the uprising in Baltimore. I appreciate the foregrounding of gender, class, and the juxtaposition of Wholefoods feeding the National Guard and community members organizing (through technology) to feed local kids.
2. The New York Times seems to think that activism documented through the internet focusing on police violence is a new thing. It isn’t, but Jay Caspian Kang’s write up of the radicalization of the leaders of this movement is a useful connection point. Here Kang outlines the articulation of long-standing injustices into first-person experiences of tear-gas saturated outrage in Ferguson.
Mckesson was radicalized that night. “I just couldn’t believe that the police would fire tear gas into what had been a peaceful protest,” he told me. “I was running around, face burning, and nothing I saw looked like America to me.” He also noticed that his account of that night’s tear-gassings, along with a photo he took of the rapper J. Cole, had brought him quite a bit of attention on Twitter. Previously, Mckesson had used the social-media platform to post random news articles that interested him, but now he was realizing its documentary power. He quickly grasped that a protester’s effectiveness came mostly from his ability to be present in as many places as possible: He had to be on West Florissant when the police rolled up in armored vehicles; inside the St. Louis coffee shop MoKaBe’s, a safe haven for the protesters in the city’s Shaw neighborhood, when tear gas started to seep in through the front door; in front of the Ferguson Police Department when shots rang out. He had to keep up a steady stream of tweets and carry around a charger so his phone wouldn’t die.