Human skin’s electrical conductivity is at the core of Russian DIY sound artist and musical tinkerer Sergey Kasich’s new experimental instrument, FingerRing. Inspired by sound artists from the past, Kasich uses the human body as a high-resistance wire, together with audio cable grounds (the tip-ring-sleeves) and various audience sources, to create a multi-channel sound collage instrument.
“The core of any router is just a conductor, which changes directions,” Kasich tells The Creators Project. “So, if the body is a movable conductor then it can become a router itself.”
Though FingerRing grew out of an epiphany where Kasich joined some cable grounds, he was also inspired by a range of other musical instruments, hacked audio interfaces, and simple human movements. He looked to folk acoustic instruments, the theremin, and noise music, where the lack of standardization and abundance of system instability force the player to compensate with “hand-to-ear” adjustment during live performance.
Kasich also found inspiration in the hacking approaches for music interfaces by pioneers like Nickolas Collins and Michael Wisheviz. Body conductivity techniques also influenced FingerRing, particularly the work of Japanese artist Ai Wade (with whom Kasich performed last year at Takamatsu Media Art Festival).
To create a FingerRing, Kasich explains that all that is needed are sound sources that have electrical output, such as a headphone out for a smartphone or radio. Then, plug suitable cables into the outputs and place their free ends on a table, joining the grounds with either crocodile clips or wires, while holding them down with sticky tape. From there the sound can be taken in any number of directions, amplified through speakers with analogue inputs.
“This is simplest FingerRing setup—the ‘first level of interface,’” says Kasich. “It costs nothing, but has the weakest and dirtiest sound. To make it more controllable you can use a mixing desk with auxiliary or subgroups if you have one, but you can get on without it as well.”
Kasich says only source, direction, and volume can be controlled in this setup. To reduce hiss and a 50-70 Hz hum (due to body volume and high resistance), he says users can go to the “second level of interface” by buying a cheap pre-amp that can be placed between the sound sources and finger. The third level involves building custom conductive panels (showcased here) for more reliable design, along with better cables.
“You should always be careful though, because even if it is very low current and electricity you include yourself into the electronic schematics,” Kasich cautions. “And there's just several transformers between you and deadly 210-240 V. There's no insulator between you and the scheme.”
“So, for example, if you would use a powerful amplifier between the sound source and the first hand, you will have a danger of some light electric shock,” he adds. “It’s a very vital way of playing electronic music. You really sometimes can feel how electronic sound flows through you.”
Kasich hopes that other experimental musicians and sound artists will join the FingerRing exploration protocol “FingerRing Party.” For this, they build a FingerRing, invite local sound artists, shoot video of the performance, and then send it to Kasich. The first FingerRing Party is set for today at the Accademia di Belle Arti di Brera Milano, Brera 2 in Milan, Italy. There will also be a London performance next week, and one in Moscow this December.