Techno has become folk art, popular music idiom. Yet it’s still often viewed through the machines that first made it. What if you could give it some sort of physical, mechanical form?

That’s what Graham Dunning has done with Mechanical Techno. And in a new video (produced by Michael Forrest), he shows how it’s done.

Cut-up records on turntables stand in for samples and synths. Electrical contacts produce buzzes of sound as wires touch copper. Cowbells become kinetic, robotic sculptural elements.

Basically, every rhythmic element is mapped into physical space, into locations on discs.

Oh yeah, and be sure to enjoy what happens at the end as optical sensors go nuts with additional objects.

It’s like what would happen if you commission Rube Goldberg to build your new music studio, or if we entered an alternate universe where Roland never existed but the pianola was adapted to make dance music.

And, incidentally, even the modern drum machine really does have similar mechanical results. See Darsha Hewitt’s SideMan 5000 video Project. The world’s first commercial drum machine, while hardly a huge success, itself used mechanical discs to generate rhythms – very much related to what you see here.

I like to say that the repetitive patterns in techno are related to physical motion in the body, perhaps even the body’s internal rhythms. But here is another way to imagine it – that these rhythms can emerge from real or hypothetical physical processes. The musical is mechanical.

This project was a research project; details:

Mechanical Techno Demonstration by Graham Dunning
Video produced by Michael Forrest.

Made at Lime Wharf Machines Room as part of
Rhythm & Drone // Research & Development
residency, September 2015.
https://rhythmanddrone.wordpress.com/

Supported using public funding by the National Lottery through Arts Council England

And Graham has been nice enough to share some behind-the-scenes images with us, as well.

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  • Deja vu!

    I’m going to have to pull my turntaballistics project out of archive one of these days (soon). Circa 2000, I made a series of turntable based ‘instruments’, the rhythm section based on cut up records, some with steel plates or acrylic spliced in. I also made sequences in Logic and transferred them as cuts onto acrylic, and ran them through a gate triggering a synth. My work was much more subversive and abstract in the spirit of Cage, Voicecrack and Neubauten, but with a sound closer to what Pole was doing. At least the principle (and fun) of seeing the electronic music happening physically is very similar. Of course people like Christian Marclay were doing such work at the time (an influence of course): there was also a french outfit doing crazy stuff like running high voltages through the stylus but I can’t remember their name at the moment …

    Well, I’m more inspired to get the project back off the page where it has been developing and mostly back burning for the last 15 years. Thanks.

    Really rough video grabs attached (beside bodgy DIY mellotron, TT guitar)

  • Deja vu!

    I’m going to have to pull my turntaballistics project out of archive one of these days (soon). Circa 2000, I made a series of turntable based ‘instruments’, the rhythm section based on cut up records, some with steel plates or acrylic spliced in. I also made sequences in Logic and transferred them as cuts onto acrylic, and ran them through a gate triggering a synth. My work was much more subversive and abstract in the spirit of Cage, Voicecrack and Neubauten, but with a sound closer to what Pole was doing. At least the principle (and fun) of seeing the electronic music happening physically is very similar. Of course people like Christian Marclay were doing such work at the time (an influence of course): there was also a french outfit doing crazy stuff like running high voltages through the stylus but I can’t remember their name at the moment …

    Well, I’m more inspired to get the project back off the page where it has been developing and mostly back burning for the last 15 years. Thanks.

    Really rough video grabs attached (beside bodgy DIY mellotron, TT guitar)

  • Krzysztof Cybulski

    Very nice, especially the “sampling” part. Although I’d argue it’s not fully mechanical, since some of the devices are only triggering electronic sounds. Still, cool stuff.

    For mechanical, or rather acoustic techno, this is my favorite solution so far: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PJ7yrISdzfM

    • Darri Sigurvin

      Nice find, I like this version in the video. Her debut album was kind of “housey”. With looping samples and such, static beats seem to be close to a lot of people.

  • Krzysztof Cybulski

    Very nice, especially the “sampling” part. Although I’d argue it’s not fully mechanical, since some of the devices are only triggering electronic sounds. Still, cool stuff.

    For mechanical, or rather acoustic techno, this is my favorite solution so far: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PJ7yrISdzfM

    • Darri Sigurvin

      Nice find, I like this version in the video. Her debut album was kind of “housey”. With looping samples and such, static beats seem to be close to a lot of people.

  • Robert

    Proof that just because it CAN be done doesn’t mean it SHOULD be done – awful.

    • foljs

      Your comment you mean? I agree.

      • Robert

        Taste is subjective. My meaning should be obvious to most.

  • Robert

    Proof that just because it CAN be done doesn’t mean it SHOULD be done – awful.

    • foljs

      Your comment you mean? I agree.

      • Robert

        Taste is subjective. My meaning should be obvious to most.

  • BC Thunderthud

    I like the variety of triggering mechanisms here but Quintron’s Drum Buddy had a way better video.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3rt-MUx_NLY

  • BC Thunderthud

    I like the variety of triggering mechanisms here but Quintron’s Drum Buddy had a way better video.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3rt-MUx_NLY

  • Kittenfuud

    I like this version as well! Bragging rights: In the early 80s I was working selling Mardi Gras & bar merch at the famous Central Tavern in Seattle, where all the grunge bands got their starts. The Sugar Cubes were in town for a show the next night and stopped by to see the show inside, naturally I didn’t charge them! We talked for quite a while and Bjørk wrote my name down for guest list tix. My BF and I showed up, not really expecting to be on the list. Much to our surprise, when we got there she and the guitarist were waiting for us, made sure we got our tickets, (and here’s the awesome part,) escorted us to our seats, front and center loge!! I’ll never forget what a sweet lady she was, and hopefully still is.

  • Kittenfuud

    Nope. Clear as mud.