Third Eye | Dark Circuits Concepts

Third Eye / Dark Circuits concepts were developed to facilitate open form compositions. They originated from a Bitches Brew workshop at the 2004 Sound Symposium Festival in St. John’s, Canada (example here and here). It was there that I first jumped off stage, to arrange the form in real time. However, I did not work with my own material until a year later.

For my own open form pieces, the different units in the score are fully notated. The conductor arranges the units horizontally (one after the other), and stacking them vertically.

Currently I use flash cards to indicate the units, and three or four self explanatory hand signs to conduct the piece. I have used other conducting techniques as well, and for one of the smaller ensembles I use a remotely controlled lighting device to arrange the piece. In fact, any technique that allows for indicating one out of numerous units would work.

Third Eye Orchestra

"Everything about Third Eye Orchestra... indicates mastery and control" (Howard Mandel / CD Liner Notes)

The Third Eye Orchestra is a chamber ensemble that plays in NYC since 2006. Its predecessors were an ensemble on the Jazz Nad Volgiy Festival in Yaroslavl, Russia; and another one in Kassel, Germany, both for which I wrote evening length pieces in 2005.

The NYC Third Eye Orchestra consists of string quartet, wind quartet, two pianos, two voices, guitar, bass and percussion, with the occasional guest on a different instrument. One important component is the live sound processing of individual players or of the whole ensemble, to juxtapose the acoustic sounds with its electronic counterpart.

The units are fully scored, in traditional music notation, arranged through the entire ensemble. Individual improvisations as known from Blues, Jazz or Rock, as well as the electronic sound processing are used to connect the units.

Stylistically the ensemble includes, as one writer correctly observed, “sections that resembled classical contemporary, to avant jazz, blues, rock and electronica”. The writing heavily borrows from Charles Ives’ polytonality, Steve Coleman’s rhythmic complexity and phase techniques, and Karlheinz Stockhausen’s organization of sounds.

The ensemble released a CD of a 2006 Roulette performance as “Antecedent / Consequent” on the Innova label.

More information here.

Dark Circuits Orchestra

Dark Circuits Orchestra at Eyebeam June 2014. Photo: Emilio Vavarella

The Dark Circuits Orchestra is performed by an ensemble of contemporary electronic instrument practices such as circuit bending, no-input mixers, laptops, turntablism, analogue circuitry, network sniffers, live coding and soldering, and more.

The units are scored as graphical notation and written instructions. However, creating the score was preceded by an extensive research period, in which each performer’s setup had been thoroughly examined for me to understand its full potential.

The concept grew out of two laptop orchestra workshops in 2005 in Bulgaria – one on Bolshevik Island, the other in Sofia. Since then there have been numerous workshops under the “Third Eye” moniker, the all-electronic “branch” of the concept has been renamed Dark Circuits since the founding of the regular ensemble in 2014.

From the outset in 2005, the whole idea of a “laptop” orchestra quickly became stale. One of the exciting elements of contemporary electronic music practice is that we are still developing our own instruments. Herein lies immense potential, and the Dark Circuits Orchestra employs performers who developed their very own approach to electronics.

More information here.

Dark Circuits and Lights

Inspired by the Dark Circuits Festival performers that used lights to create audio, I create works for an ensemble of audio-visual performers, in that I integrate the performer’s visuals directly into the score. Invited by Eric Drasin’s Round Robin and CultureHub in 2014 and 2015, we were able to utilize CultureHub’s 7-channel video system. While the first performance 2014 used two scores (one for audio, one for visuals), in 2015 I was able to combine both.

Third Eye Electric Band

zavoddouglassThe Third Eye Electric Band (at some point called “Zavodniks”) is a smaller version of the chamber ensemble, and its instruments come mostly in pairs: two voices, two horns, two keyboards, two drummers, etc. The concept also includes lots of small electronic noisemakers (similar to the idea of the Art Ensemble’s “little instruments”), that performers are free to play at any time.

The material is fully scored, although it concentrates on shorter units to allow for more flexibility. Performer groups are free to choose which unit they play, and a friend built me a lighting device to remotely “conduct” the ensemble, since I am busy playing, too.

More information here.

Iron Foundry

Hans Tammen's Iron Foundry (Extended String Quartet: Sarah Bernstein – violin, Jason Kao Hwang – viola, Thomas Ulrich – cello, Jonas Tauber – contrabass with Satoshi Takeishi – percussion and Hans Tammen – string quartet live sound processing, binary conducting): 06-04-13 INTAR

This is Third Eye Orchestra’s string quartet plus percussion. The score consolidates tightly woven rhythms and sonic dissonances of string quartet plus percussion with the alien world of bizarre textures emerging from the electronic live sound processing.

The acoustic instruments provide fiery and energetic ensemble passages mixed and mingled with extended solo cadenzas, which are in turn electronically captured, and processed into radically contrastive and fascinating noises emanating from the interactive software, originally written for the “Endangered Guitar”. 

More Information Here

Third Eye Chamber & Jazz Ensembles

TEO RussiaThere have been several one-offs of the Third Eye Orchestra concept with ensembles of variable sizes, starting with the original Third Eye Orchestra in Russia 2005.

I wrote an evening length piece for “in process”, Germany’s premier ensemble devoted to minimal music, in 2009. In 2006 and 2012 I worked with two large ensembles in Kassel, Germany. In 2013 I was invited on a 6-day tour through Russia, and wrote an open form work for an 8-piece Jazz ensemble. In the same year I wrote a work for a “Third Eye” ensemble in Tel Aviv. Plus, there also have been workshop ensembles.

More information here.

Dark Circuits and Third Eye Workshops

tammenI run all-electronic ensemble workshops under the name “Third Eye Orchestra” since 2005, and they are now called “Dark Circuits”, while the chamber / jazz ensemble workshops are still running under “Third Eye”. Workshops have been with all-star festival ensembles, student ensembles, or with circuit benders on New York’s Bent Festival and MakeMusic New York. At CalArts, an evening-length performance came out of a week-long Max/MSP course. Workshops have been presented in Mexico, Bulgaria, Russia, Ukraine, Israel, in the US and even online.

More information about the various workshop options are here.

littleBits Orchestra

littleBits Quartet


The littleBits are tiny synthesizer modules connected via magnets for quick changes in the signal chain. They are not only great for teaching synthesis, you can use them as a fully working synthesizer to play with.

littleBits Orchestras have been playing at the MakeMusicNY Festival in 2014 / 2015, the Dark Circuits Festival 2014, and I did a littleBits workshop at NYU 2015.

The score for the littleBits Orchestra consists of a littleBits combination on top of the page, and then various units below that make use of that combination. The score uses graphical notation, or instructions.

More information here.