Onyx Ashanti is a musician, performer, programmer, and inventor of the Sonocyb, a continually evolving, malleable interface of prosthetic synthesizer controllers that Onyx 3D prints at home and uses to articulate electronic sound in conjunction with bodily motion. Growing up playing jazz saxophone in rural Mississippi, Onyx was swept up by rave culture in the 1990s and transitioned to playing wind controller, with which he collaborated with Marshall Jefferson and Soul II Soul, performing in nightclubs around the world. Onyx’s creative curiosity led him to, first, develop the Beatjazz controller as a music-making device for hands and mouth, before studies of cybernetics and an epiphanic discovery of free jazz ushered in his current devotion to Sonocybernetics.
A neologism that for Onyx represents an empowering turn away from the shackles of entertainment towards an ontology of becoming, Onyx uses the construct of Sonocybernetics to feed sonic and technological questions into a network of perpetual self-programming. Calling himself a “patternist” after the work of Afrofuturist science-fiction writer Octavia Butler, Onyx believes in the potential of granular sound to herald a new age of communication beyond the cumbersome limits of spoken language. Using the Sonocyb, Onyx translates the gestural body language of his hands, feet, and head into fractal emissions of synthesized sound reminiscent, at times, of the more eccentric, privately released strains of late ’70s and early ’80s French musique concrète. But Onyx doesn’t make records, preferring to document his daily experimentations, street performances, and sonified grocery shopping via his blog, social media, and YouTube.