June 2023 — Music
Kenyan musician Samuel Karugu will undertake a research trip in Neuchâtel, Switzerland from 31 May – 1 July 2023. Together with Swiss musician Basile Huguenin-Virchaux, they will be experimenting with the open-source Pure Data audio programming software to create synthesizer and sequencers for traditional African tunings and rhythms.
The two musicians met through a performance together in Switzerland. Alongside playing saxophone and other instruments, Basile has been using Pure Data over the past 10 years to experiment with new tuning systems (among other things). Samuel, who has been playing in metal and punk bands since a teenager as well as developing electronic projects, came to be interested in traditional Africa music through playing with such musicians. His recent work brings these three musical worlds together. The two artists’ mutual interest in tunings and rhythms outside of the standard tonal system gave rise to their current project.
The artists explain that most music made with computer today is restricted to the European tonal system (12 semi-tones) which tends to alter the original tunings of music outside this range. There has been some improvement in recent times, with for example the middle east collection from Native Instruments that feature traditional maqams (oriental music). However, these libraries are not dynamic and the maqam notes can’t be used for other instruments. Their particular interest is in tunings from sub-Saharan cultures (as seen in balafons, kalimbas, most lamellophones of this area etc.), for which nothing exists as far as they are aware. For the rhythmic aspect of traditional African music, the problem is somewhat similar: one may find a sample of a traditional rhythm section, but without being able to access the rhythmic pattern directly.
Compared with the commonly used digital audio workstations like Ableton and Komplete Kontrol, Pure Data is a highly versatile and free software. The artists intend to take advantage of this to create synthesizer and sequencers that make rhythms, polyrhythms and microtonalities common in African music accessible and free to everyone interested.
Duma is a Kenyan industrial grindcore and noise band comprised of vocalist Martin Khanja (aka Lord Spike Heart) and guitarist and producer Samuel Karugu. Duma was formed in 2018 in Kampala, Uganda, after both members played in various bands in Nairobi (“Lust of a Dying Breed” and “Seeds of Datura”). Their musical style is influenced by electronic music, metal, as well as their desire to experiment with a more electronic version of the metal music they had been making up until that point. The band’s name, Duma, means “darkness” in the Kikuyu language. The duo’s self-titled debut album, “Duma” was released by the Nyege Nyege label in 2020 to positive reviews. Alongside his own music project, Sam is the studio engineer at Nyege Nyege.
Born in Neuchâtel, Switzerland, Basile Huguenin-Virchaux grew up around music. His father being a guitarist with a strong background in Congolese music (her was born and learned guitar in Kinshasa), and his mother being one of the founding members of the first concert venue in town, named «La Case-à-Choc». At 14 he began to take saxophone lessons, and over the years cultivated a keen interest and knowledge of traditional music theories from around the world and learnt to play many instruments (guitar, djembé, oud, kalimba, to name a few). Basile has built a knowledge of jazz, reggae, punk, oriental, Balkan, experimental, sebene, etc., and has taken part in many bands and projects. In parallel to live music, he began to experimenting with electronic music and developing patches and algorithmic compositions using Pure Data for the past 10 years.