Techno, without all those pesky human producers? Petr Serkin’s Eternal Flow is a generative radio station – and even a portable device – able to make endless techno and deep house variations automatically.
You can run a simple version of Eternal Flow right in your browser:
Recorded sessions are available on a SoundCloud account, as well:
But maybe the most interesting way to run this is in a self-contained portable device. It’s like a never-ending iPod of … well, kind of generic-sounding techno and deep house, depending on mode. Here’s a look at how it works; there’s no voiceover, but you can turn on subtitles for additional explanation:
There are real-world applications here: apart from interesting live performance scenarios, think workout dance music that follows you as you run, for example.
I talked to Moscow-based artist Petr about how this works. (And yeah, he has his own deep house-tinged record label, too.)
“I used to make deep and techno for a long period of time,” he tells us, “so I have some production patterns.” Basically, take those existing patterns, add some randomization, and instead of linear playback, you get material generated over a longer duration with additional variation.
There was more work involved, too. While the first version used one-shot snippets, “later I coded my own synth engine,” Petr tells us. That means the synthesized sounds save on sample space in the mobile version.
It’s important to note this isn’t machine learning – it’s good, old-fashioned generative music. And in fact this is something you could apply to your own work: instead of just keeping loads and loads of fixed patterns for a live set, you can use randomization and other rules to create more variation on the fly, freeing you up to play other parts live or make your recorded music less repetitive.
And this also points to a simple fact: machine learning doesn’t always generate the best results. We’ve had generative music algorithms for many years, which simply produce results based on simple rules. Laurie Spiegel’s ground-breaking Magic Mouse, considered by many to be the first-ever software synth, worked on this concept. So, too, did the Brian Eno – Peter Chilvers “Bloom,” which applied the same notion to ambient generative software and became the first major generative/never-ending iPhone music app.
By contrast, the death metal radio station I talked about last week works well partly because its results sound so raunchy and chaotic. But it doesn’t necessarily suit dance music as well. Just because neural network-based machine learning algorithms are in vogue right now doesn’t mean they will generate convincing musical results.
I suspect that generative music will freely mix these approaches, particularly as developers become more familiar with them.
But from the perspective of a human composer, this is an interesting exercise not necessarily because it puts yourself out of a job, but that it helps you to experiment with thinking about the structures and rules of your own musical ideas.
And, hey, if you’re tired of having to stay in the studio or DJ booth and not get to dance, this could solve that, too.
Machine learning is synthesizing death metal. It might make your death metal radio DJ nervous – but it could also mean music software works with timbre and time in new ways. That news – plus some comical abuse of neural networks for writing genre-specific lyrics in genres like country – next.
Okay, first, whether this makes you urgently want to hear machine learning death metal or it drives you into a rage, either way you’ll want the death metal stream. And yes, it’s a totally live stream – you know, generative style. Tune in, bot out:
Okay, first it’s important to say, the whole point of this is, you need data sets to train on. That is, machines aren’t composing music, so much as creatively regurgitating existing samples based on fairly clever predictive mathematical models. In the case of the death metal example, this is SampleRNN – a recurrent neural network that uses sample material, repurposed from its original intended application working with speak. (Check the original project, though it’s been forked for the results here.)
This is a big, big point, actually – if this sounds a lot like existing music, it’s partly because it is actually sampling that content. The particular death metal example is nice in that the creators have published an academic article. But they’re open about saying they actually intend “overfitting” – that is, little bits of samples are actually playing back. Machines aren’t learning to generate this content from scratch; they’re actually piecing together those samples in interesting ways.
That’s relevant on two levels. One, because once you understand that’s what’s happening, you’ll recognize that machines aren’t magically replacing humans. (This works well for death metal partly because to non connoisseurs of the genre, the way angry guitar riffs and undecipherable shouting are plugged together already sounds quite random.)
But two, the fact that sample content is being re-stitched in time like this means this could suggest a very different kind of future sampler. Instead of playing the same 3-second audio on repeat or loop, for instance, you might pour hours or days of singing bowls into your sampler and then adjust dials that recreated those sounds in more organic ways. It might make for new instruments and production software.
Here’s what the creators say:
Thus, we want the out-put to overfit short timescale patterns (timbres, instruments, singers, percussion) and underfit long timescale patterns(rhythms, riffs, sections, transitions, compositions) so that it sounds like a recording of the original musicians playing new musical compositions in their style.
The reason I’m belaboring this is simple. Big corporations like Spotify might use this sort of research to develop, well, crappy mediocre channels of background music that make vaguely coherent workout soundtracks or faux Brian Eno or something that sounded like Erik Satie got caught in an opium den and re-composed his piano repertoire in a half daze. And that would, well, sort of suck.
Alternatively, though, you could make something like a sampler or DAW more human and less conventionally predictable. You know, instead of applying a sample slice to a pad and then having the same snippet repeat every eighth note. (Guilty as charged, your honor.)
It should also be understood that, perversely, this may all be raising the value of music rather than lowering it. Given the amount of recorded music currently available, and given that it can already often be licensed or played for mere cents, the machine learning re-generation of these same genres actually requires more machine computation and more human intervention – because of the amount of human work required to even select datasets and set parameters and choose results.
DADABOTS, for their part, have made an entire channel of this stuff. The funny thing is, even when they’re training on The Beatles, what you get sounds like … well, some of the sort of experimental sound you might expect on your low-power college radio station. You know, in a good way – weird, digital drones, of exactly the sort we enjoy. I think there’s a layperson impression that these processes will magically improve. That may misunderstand the nature of the mathematics involved – on the contrary, it may be that these sorts of predictive models always produce these sorts of aesthetic results. (The same team use Markov Chains to generate track names for their Bandcamp label. Markov Chains work as well as they did a century ago; they didn’t just start working better.)
I enjoy listening to The Beatles as though an alien civilization has had to digitally reconstruct their oeuvre from some fallout-shrouded, nuclear-singed remains of the number-one hits box set post apocalypse. (“Help! I need somebody! Help! The human race is dead!” You know, like that.)
As it moves to black metal and death metal, their Bandcamp labels progresses in surreal coherence:
This album gets especially interesting, as you get weird rhythmic patterns in the samples. And there’s nothing saying this couldn’t in turn inspire new human efforts. (I once met Stewart Copeland, who talked about how surreal it was hearing human drummers learn to play the rhythms, unplugged, that he could only achieve with The Police using delay pedals.)
I’m really digging this one:
So, digital sample RNN processes mostly generate angry and angular experimental sounds – in a good way. That’s certainly true now, and could be true in the future.
What’s up in other genres?
SONGULARITY is making a pop album. They’re focusing on lyrics (and a very funny faux generated Coachella poster). In this case, though, the work is constrained to text – far easier to produce convincingly than sound. Even a Markov Chain can give you interesting or amusing results; with machine learning applied character-by-character to text, what you get is a hilarious sort of futuristic Mad Libs. (It’s also clear humans are cherry-picking the best results, so these are really humans working with the algorithms much as you might use chance operations in music or poetry.)
Whether this says anything about the future of machines, though, the dadaist results are actually funny parody.
And that gives us results like You Can’t Take My Door:
Barbed whiskey good and whiskey straight.
These projects work because lyrics are already slightly surreal and nonsensical. Machines chart directly into the uncanny valley instead of away from it, creating the element of surprise and exaggerated un-realness that is fundamental to why we laugh at a lot of humor in the first place.
This also produced this Morrissey “Bored With This Desire To Get Ripped” – thanks to the ingenious idea of training the dataset not just with Morrissey lyrics, but also Amazon customer reviews of the P90X home workout DVD system. (Like I said – human genius wins, every time.)
Or there’s Dylan mixed with negative Yelp reviews from Manhattan:
And maybe in this limited sense, the machines are telling us something about how we learn. Part of the poetic flow is about drawing on all our wetware neural connections between everything we’ve heard before – as in the half-awake state of creative vibrations. That is, we follow our own predictive logic without doing the usual censoring that keeps our language rational. Thinking this way, it’s not that we would use machine learning to replace the lyricist. Rather, just as with chance operations in the past, we can use this surreal nonsense to free ourselves from the constraints that normal behavior require.
We shouldn’t underestimate, though, human intervention in using these lyrics. The neural nets are good at stringing together short bits of words, but the normal act of composition – deciding the larger scale structure, choosing funnier bits over weaker ones, recognizing patterns – remain human.
Recurrent neural networks probably won’t be playing Coachella any time soon, but if you need a band name, they’re your go-to. More funny text mangling from the Botnik crew.
My guess is, once the hype dies down, these particular approaches will wind up joining the pantheon of drunken walks and Markov Chains and fractals and other psuedo-random or generative algorithmic techniques. I sincerely hope that we don’t wait for that to happen, but use the hype to seize the opportunity to better educate ourselves about the math underneath (or collaborate with mathematicians), and see these more hardware-intensive processes in the context of some of these older ideas.
If you want to know why there’s so much hype and popular interest, though, the human brain may itself hold the answer. We are all of us hard-wired to delight in patterns, which means arguably there’s nothing more human than being endlessly entertained by what these algorithms produce.
But you know, I’m a marathon runner in my sorry way.
Well, congratulations – you’ve survived another April Fools’ holiday. At worst, it can be unfunny and confusing. At best, though, it raises a different question – should we actually start dreaming up and making more ridiculous ideas?
Okay, I don’t necessarily want to be the grinch of April Fools’. And maybe now is not the right time to raise this – like, someone might say that it could have something to do with the fact that I attempted a product launch on the holiday, uh, yesterday. (What? That was me? Oh, yeah – it was. MeeBlip geode is not a joke. We are really making it. And um… yeah, that did wind up hitting some confusion, even though there’s nothing particularly April Fools-y about geode.)
While it’s had some glimmers of clever parody, the collision of April Fools’ with an attention-starved Internet has led to a noisy confusion of a bunch of people deciding to write parody press releases and videos, and the ideas can get repetitive. And it can confuse everyone about real news – not just ours. This year, the date came between two of the bigger synth and electronic music events of the year – sandwiched not more than 24 hours apart from Synthplex in the USA and Musikmesse in Frankfurt, Germany. (Yes, Messe is again a thing; even with Superbooth in Berlin stealing away modular makers, there’s a lot of musical instruments business outside modular, a lot of distributors in Germany, an entire industry around lighting tech, the music education business in Germany, and a competitive Messe organization slashing rates on booths, so expect it to stick around.)
But about the fake products we wish were real products … sigh, again.
Biggest culprit: KORG.
Yeah, okay, it’s probably not terribly practical for KORG to make a cassette volca. On the other hand, it’s not just the Rickroll video that’s tonedeaf to 2019 – lots of us have repurposed our cassette decks. I have a Yamaha multitrack sitting next to me in the studio wired up. People are making tape loops with Walkmans. There are tape labels. Bastl Instruments and Teenage Engineering, among others, have made digital decks that reimagine tape loops and tape playback. And having seen weird tape players show up on Amazon, I expect it’s not impossible to make new hardware that includes mechanical tape playback in it.
So the joke’s really on KORG here. Instead of getting pranked or sharing this because it was funny, literally thousands of people jumped on the idea of a KORG volcasette. (Obviously the biggest clue in – using KORG’s volca series nomenclature, it should have been KORG cassette or KORG tape. Just sayin’.)
The proposed features of this thing already exist on multitrack tape recorders, but the mind reels with other possibilities – looping, sampling, strange custom tape echoes…
And yes, of course there was the Ableton’s ReChorder – maybe the one amusing part of the parody there was, the awful music at the end does kind of remind me of some terrible demos of unusual instruments over the years. This one we can at least leave out of the instances of products people would want.
But even silly April Fools’ products can go viral – perhaps because we live in a world where brands are doing such strange things already, it’s not clear how you could make a joke that was any more absurd.
So, a HYPERX CUP MIX-IN pair of headphones shaped like two Cup Noodles containers and a fork had some of us … wanting instant ramen … and others actually wanting to try to buy the product. (Various blogs even picked this up assuming it was real.) I have a pair of Beats by Dre headphones in white that I suddenly want to mod to actually do this.
Useful? No. Possible to DIY? Yes. Tempting? Oh, indeed. (I’m sure some sort of ramen container housing could work.)
Then there was this USB-C hub covered in legacy ports. Except… yeah, I definitely would buy something like that. (SCSI for old drives? Actual analog video? Tons of extra ports, or card readers?)
Sure, this is … not totally possible. But parts of it are and … you know you want it. Their ridiculous specs, though take any subset of these and you might be happy.
Thick, heavy, substantial styling.
Built-in 100Wh / 27000mAh airline-safe battery pack
2-in-1 speaker and space heater using the same front air vent holes (temperature depending on the number of active connections)
USB-C hub with a total of 40 ports
9 x USB-C
9 x USB-A
2 x microSD
2 x SD
1 x 3.5mm Audio Jack
1 x HDMI
2 x DisplayPort
1 x Mini DVI
1 x VGA
1 x Ethernet
1 x Modem RJ-11
1 x Optical Audio “Toslink”
1 x Firewire 400
1 x Firewire 800
2 x RCA
1 x Parallel Port
1 x Serial Port
1 x PS/2
1 x AT Port
1 x 3.5” Floppy Disk Drive
Hey, there is a lot of bandwidth on Thunderbolt 3. I think this particular device might catch fire. But it is possible to have more ports.
Part of the reason this isn’t a joke: a friend urgently needed to pull files off a SCSI drive. I wound up looking back at Apple machines from just around the turn of the century, which in fact had every port you could imagine. The bronze keyboard PowerBook G3 Series, for instance, includes both USB and SCSI – and since it runs used for $200, you can actually buy that entire laptop to transfer data from legacy drives more easily than you can buy a modern SCSI adapter. (The adapters appear to be both more expensive and more scarce than the entire computers.)
Or for a more extreme example, consider the PowerMac G3 Series. This machine was everything Steve Jobs stamped out at Apple – boxy, with a beige slightly curved-out ID design language that mostly evolved under CEO John Sculley. But it sure had ports. Photo (CC-BY-SA) Miguel Durán.
Maybe you’ll rescue the legacy devices, but I do miss analog video – badly. And the notion of professional machines where you might actually connect various hardware, that bit still seems relevant. I love compact and friendly devices, but I also love choice.
And of course the only real joke is trying to figure out how to buy a USB-C device or cable … ahem … (to say nothing of those Apple cable prices).
Maybe the bottom line here, though, is that one person’s joke is another person’s dream. Some of the best, most creative ideas start as jokes. April Fools’ as far as I’m concerned in tech just needs to go away – it’s a day that adds noise and confusion to media that don’t need more of that, ever. But here’s another approach: maybe we should be willing to dream up absurd ideas the other 364 days of the year.
See any April Fools’ jokes you wish were real – and anybody up for actually making it happen?
Time to pick up a Walkman at the next flea market and start hacking; that’s for sure.
Trade shows can be a strenuous onslaught of noise, cost, and crowds – but then it’s often the weirdest stuff that makes it worth it. And no one finds strange quite like Barry Wood and his annual NAMM Oddities.
Barry impressively tracks every kind of freakish appearance at the enormous US music instruments show, and it’s worth digging through his whole NAMM Oddities guide category by category ($1.2 million-dollar guitar straps and all). I’ve taken the liberty of picking some of my favorites from this year’s haul. Some of it is genuinely useful and cool – some will just make you shake your head and mumble, say wha?
One Synclavier knob. Built-to-order, $399 – half of which you owe as a deposit. This is evidently for people who are esoteric rich people, but with a fraction of the money of really rich crazy people. They … I don’t want to use the word “explain” as that would imply I understand who this is for, but they describe how this four hundred dollar knob is historically accurate:
The weight and feel of the knob are identical, as we have used the exact measurements and a balanced spring arrangement. The two-inch diameter knob is milled from a solid bar of instrument-grade aluminium (yes, we were doing this long before Apple). The interface software and hysteresis algorithm are taken from Synclavier II.
Full hammer action, in any quantity of keys. This is actually a great idea – Piano de Voyage is a hammer action keyboard broken into modules. Want just 2 octaves? Get just one module. (I always wondered why people want a full 88 keys in electronic contexts, actually.) Or if you do want as many as 8 octaves, you can break down the modules so they fit in a bag – unlike a usual full keyboard. No word on pricing or availability, but there’s a sign-up. https://pianodevoyage.com/
A food pedal that looks like it was prototyped in Play-Doh. Effigy Labs Control pedal is what it’s called, and the makers promise unique expression in a foot controller. (This was evidently a big hit at the show, too!)
Color sensing rings. Sphero Specdrums are wireless, optical, color sensing rings. (The idea of having musical rings just keeps coming.)
Giant panda piano. The piano section at NAMM and Germany’s Musikmesse always has something unusual, but this Seiler upright – out there. And if you figured something weird and panda-related came out of Asia, you’d be wrong – Seiler started in Germany, is now a US brand, and recently was bought by Nashville’s Samick Music Corporation.
Remember, never say no to panda.
A light-up uke.Solo Music‘s Lighted Ukulele should qualify as this year’s strangest use of RGB LEDs (though I know given what controllers look like these days, we can’t really make fun of ukelele players).
And basically everything from Game Changer Audio. Need a sound source that’s got spinning discs with optical sensors and electromagnetic pickups? Or 3000 volts of plasma for distortion? Game Changer is all over new ideas; we’ll have reviews of their stuff soon.
Anyone can clone an 808. Not anyone can make a machine inspired by the 808 out of repurposed lighter springs, motors, and … oh yeah, flaming butane gas. Koka Nikoladze’s beat machines are going viral, and their demented, quirky sound tells you why.
So, sorry NAMM – this may be the coolest gear we’ll see in January 2019.
And not only is the concept novel, but his wacky tunes make for some toe tapping, eyebrow-raising good times, too.
I always wanted to build something using fire. Here is my first attempt. The small prototype works.
Releasing tiny bursts of butane gas on an open fire source sounds pretty much like a kick. By adjusting the distance and the pressure, it can get very close to 808. This is just a tiny model. I’m going to build a BIG Koka’s Fire Kick unit for live shows.
The rest is quite simple, I used a brass tube as a hat and some springs extracted from empty lighters, in a wooden box — as a snare; oh yes, and a DC motor that I managed to bring back to life by rewinding coils.
I’m dancing closer to the idea of setting up my first proper dance music production. Not necessarily the type of music from Beat Machine demonstration videos, much more complex and sophisti.. .. well, never mind. We’ll see what happens. I’ve already discussed this with an army of hyper-incredible artists willing to collaborate.
Only if I manage to get hold of Snoop Dogg in addition, maybe, some day :D. Ok, joking aside, wouldn’t it be amazingly surreal? Snoop with a small tight beat machine and a symphonic orchestra behind. I’d play the bass, and dance.
We’re seeing a growing trend in not analog, not digital, but kinetic – mechanical – physical instruments. It’s still tech – it’s just back to doing things with mechanics and physics, perhaps still informed by the lessons of code and circuits. On the fire side, of course, this is also kind of a miniaturized take on pyrophones, flame-powered organs and other instruments.
And while obviously part of the battle here is to be one step ahead of everyone else on the quirk factor, topping social media, I suspect there’s also potential in a scene around this sort of music. Physical music fests? We’ll see.
I am definitely not collecting affiliate revenue on this if you buy it, but I wouldn’t really have the heart. If you buy it, and I meet you, I will buy you a couple of rounds. Just try not to drop it on my foot.
Taiwanese manufacturer Midiplus, normally known for perfectly reasonable and utilitarian low-price MIDI gear, has gone off the rails. As part of their “fancy” series, they’ve fashioned an audio interface as an mock eyeshadow palette, literally dubbed MIRROR.
I feel obligated to write about this just to stop all the people sending it to me, so – against my better judgment, here we go.
The ad copy and the way this is marketed? Sexist. The design? Yeah, I want one. So Midiplus, make up for the “designed specially for females” error here by sending me one to review for CDM.
The absurdity of saying this product is “SPECIALLY DESIGNED FOR FEMALES” is self-evident; there’s no doubt this is horrific and offensive. But let’s not let the sheer sexism here distract us from just how weird this thing is. Under the hood, it’s a perfectly normal audio interface – it’s a 24-bit, 192kHz audio box with mic in (with preamp and phantom power), and two headphone outs (apparently independent). There’s also a guitar input and something labeled “phone” – which seems to just be a minijack in.
No. And “for females”? Just… really, really, no.
It’s the case itself that gets odd, along with the profoundly strange, broken English ad copy. As a makeup kit, the device is sadly non functional: those are just dials in the shape of eyeshadow palettes, not actual eyeshadow. (Opportunity missed.) But the mirror at least works, flipping open and lit by an LED lamp (5500K, say the maker).
But yes, be ready for more of this sort of weirdness from OEMs as manufacturing costs plummet and designers get … creative. At a recent Musikmesse there was a manufacturer hawking audio interfaces covered in fake fur, a pricey sequined backpack kit, and a sales guy dressed as a magician.
The MIRROR isn’t along in the “fancy” line Midiplus are unleashing on us; there’s also a VINTAGE model. That one at least is absent the sexist ad copy, but crosses visual cues from a cassette tape, a practice amp, and a radio, and has some sort of live waveform display.
The other “fancy” model.
Anyway, all this gets me thinking. See, I may have to respond to MIRROR by making my own CDM jetlag/tour emergency kit. Mirror and LED, yes. But I’m also imagining some cover up for the dark circles under my eyes, a bit of hair pomade, and a built-in USB hub with various Rekordbox-formatted USB sticks, plus a Raspberry Pi running a looper/effects unit so if my luggage gets lost I can still do a live PA set.
I’m only half joking. I may have to actually make this thing. I’m slightly fatigued of being confused for an extra from The Walking Dead each time I travel more than two hours. So, with actual working makeup (which MIRROR lacks), my product will help me to LOOK AT THE BEAUTY ONE IN THE MIRROR. Oh, hi there.
As for Midiplus, the only line that rings true is this one: “DISCARD THE COMMON THINKING FLOW.” Yeah, you did that.
Mirror, mirror, on the wall, how did this misogynistic design trainwreck happen?
Curse if you must the fact that modern DJing requires managing social media accounts, navigating scenes, understanding the dimensions of cool. But some DJs will mix all those things as adeptly as they do records – and hold up a mirror to the rest of us.
Well – or at least Leipzig’s Vincent Neumann has made a killer Magic: The Gathering parody with techno.
First things first: let’s here acknowledge that Vincent is a brilliant musical selector, as well as social media satirist. Closing sets at Berghain can turn into ponderous marathons of endurance, but whether there or in (briefer) outings mixing and DJing, Neumann is a deep digger, consummate nerd of eclectic selections. Listen to the mix at bottom. This is to say, while he can keep the fashionistas dancing, the guy is not simply a flavor of the month.
But hey, if you do need some Instagram fame, Maestro Neumann has found a clever and amusing way of doing so. Techno: The Gathering has become a bit of an ongoing commentary on the techno scene. As Europe’s industry of nightlife churns onward, here’s at least one person not taking things too seriously. The in-the-bubble in-joke here is at least, you know, a joke.
He’s nerd enough that you can see via Instagram stories how he has reflected on color choice and deeper meanings.
Let’s actually print the things out and start playing the game. (Has anyone started doing that, or is everyone too hungover from the weekend to bother?)
But seriously, go behold one of the best things on Instagram:
And Vincent’s normal DJ account, which is, naturally, the best Instagram account name ever:
Do you love the THX Deep Note sound – that crazy sweep of timbres heard at the beginning of films? Do you wish you had it in a playable synth the size of a calculator? Deep Synth is for you.
First, Deep Note? Just to refresh your memory: (Turn it up!!)
Apart from being an all-time great in sound design, the Deep Note’s underlying synthesis approach was novel and interesting. And thanks to the power of new embedded processors, it’s totally possible to squeeze this onto a calculator.
Enter Eugene, Oregon-based professional developer Kernel Bob aka kbob. A low-level Linux coder by day, Bob got interested in making an audio demo for the 1Bitsy-1UP game console, a powerful modern embedded machine with the form factor of a classic Game Boy. (Unlike a Game Boy, you have a decent processor, color screen, USB, and SD card.)
The Deep Note is the mother of all audio demos. That sound is owned by THX, but the basic synthesis approach is not – think 32 voices drifting from a relatively random swarm into the seat rocking final chord.
The results? Oh, only the most insane synthesizer of the year:
Whether you’re an engineer or not, the behind the scenes discussion of how this was done is fascinating to anyone who loves synthesis. (Maybe you can enlighten Bob on this whole bit about the sawtooth oscillator in SuperCollider.)
Read the multi-part series on Deep Synth and sound on this handheld platform:
All of this is open hardware, open code, so if you are a coder, it might inspire your own projects. And meanwhile, as 1Bitsy-1UP matures, we may soon all have a cool handheld platform for our noisemaking endeavors. I can’t wait.
What if music were made mechanically, with giant wheels and bellows and valves? The Mammoth Beat Organ makes that happen, using parts from toilets, a hearse, and a treadmill.
Yes, it has balloons connected by tubes and something called a “wind sequencer” with pegs and … it sounds like a calliope that’s gone a bit mental. And it comes with roll-on “modules” so you can add different layers of sound (like mechanically played drums). Watch:
It’s the Dunning Underwood Mammoth Beat Organ, the creation of two wild musical minds – Sam Underwood and Graham Dunning – in their first collaboration. It has the sonic thinking of the Giant Feedback Organ (Underwood) and the mechanical performance approach of Mechanical Techno (Dunning). And accordingly, it’s even meant to be a two-player contraction, involving both artists.
That performance spectacle is really part of the magic, as components are wheeled around and bits and bobs added and subtracted. Having seen Graham’s live show, that performance energy drives things in a way different than you’d get from just an installation – it has improvisation in it.
More on how this works – in particular, still more deep research into historical instruments and the alternative histories it suggests, and how they incorporated the back of a hearse and a treadmill into construction:
This project is just getting going, so it’ll be fun to watch it evolve – especially if we get to see it in person.
It’s worth noting that they talk about the need to have years and years to continue building and rehearsing with the invention. We of course value novelty in tech, but that’s telling, whatever your fantasies are (whether large and mechanical or compact and digital or anything else). So I do hope they’ll keep us posted as they continue developing, and as they use this instrument to spark new creative directions in their own imaginations.
The video at top is shot and explained by Michael Forrest of Michael & Ivanka’s Grand Podcast – well worth a listen: http://grandpodcast.com
I’m not a fan of YouTube and the next videos it plays, but following this with Sir Simon Rattle conducting Chariots of Fire with Mr. Bean sure as hell works. In case you need some motivation for today’s soldering / hammering DIY instruments, have at it.