Music is deeply tied up with motion; seeing that in a machine is somehow satisfying. Soundmachines, from the enigmatically-titled Berlin studio TheProduct*, is an interactive physical installation made from optical turntables. By moving the “tone arm” – really in this case an optical sensor attached to an extended mount – you can change rhythms and sound sweeps.

We’ve naturally seen many visualizations, tangible and digital, that make loops into wheels. But it’s worth noting the particular connection to a kinetic experiment by The Books’ Nick Zammuto from the film earlier this week. In fact, my one criticism of this piece is that the rhythms are so regular. Some syncopation in a machine like this would be not only pleasing, but immediately visible to the eye and therefore understandable. Perhaps even decoupling the wheels from the motor could allow a user to experiment with sound. That doesn’t mean you have to go from minimal techno to irregular chaos, but there’s quite a lot in between.

That’s not to take away from the impact of this piece, and in particular, the beauty of its installation. The presentation in an iconic object is a message in itself. And the circle remains the ideal design for a looped rhythm, embedded as it is in the repetition we perceive in our world.

More details:

Three units, which are resembling standard record players, translate concentric visual patterns into control signals for further processing in any music software. The rotation of the discs, each holding three tracks, can be synced to a sequencer.
The Soundmachines premiered on the Volkswagen New Beetle stand at the IAA motor show in late Summer 2011. In cooperation with the sounddesigner/producer Yannick Labbé of TRICKSKI fame, we developed three unique discs, each controlling one track of an Ableton Live Set exclusively made for the Event. The show was supported by a set of realtime generated visuals, running on a 25m wide LED wall.





Vok Dams, Hamburg

Sounddesign/Producer IAA
Yannick Labbé

Special Thanks

Matt Karau
Andreas Schmelas

(See also a compelling-looking visual collage. It’s supposed to be set to John Cage’s “First Interlude,” but because of copyright concerns, is instead (arguably) set to Cage’s 4’33”. Let’s hope they don’t get sued for that.

  • Fun piece of physical art & Interesting take on the "whats old is new again". Not many alive will have seen a music box

  • jhhl

    Looks nice, has precedents:
    Jacques Dudon: photosonic disks
    Mattell: Optigan
    Optical tree ring player:

  • Bjørn Nesby

    While we, as used to it as we are, can appreciate the vinyl record, this is something else. The lack of abstraction makes it a much more immediate thing. I love the idea. 

    But hand those discs to a bunch of kids, and I'd be much more interested in the results…

  • confused

    huge amount of effort for ….what exactly?

  • I wish their would have been more modalities in the interaction. It appears like a well-executed, hi-tech finished product and of course the design is appealing, but in a musical sense I think the work is lacking severely. As a musician I would demand deeper thoughts on the interactivity and (thus) representation.