100 cars, 100 sound systems, 100 different versions of the pitch A: Ryoji Ikeda has one heck of a polyphonic automobile synthesizer coming.

The project is also the first new hardware from Tatsuya Takahashi after the engineer/designer stepped down from his role heading up the analog gear division at KORG. And so from the man who saw the release of products like the KORG volca series and Minilogue during his tenure, we get something really rather different: a bunch of oscillators connected to cars to produce sound art.

Tats teams up for this project with Maximilian Rest, the man behind boutique maker E-RM, who has proven his obsessive-compulsive engineering chops on their Multiclock.

And wow, that industrial design. From big factories to small run (100 units), Tats has come a long way – and this is the most beautiful design I’ve seen yet from Max and E-RM. It’s a drool-worthy design fetish object recalling Dieter Rams and Braun.

I spoke briefly to Tatsuya to get some background on the project, though the details will be revealed in the performance in Los Angeles and by Red Bull Music Academy.

The original hardware is simple. In almost a throwback to the earliest days of electronic music, the boxes themselves are just tone generators. Those controls you see on the panel determine octave and volume. Before the performance, details on the execution are a bit guarded, but this sounds like just the sort of simple box that would perfectly match Max’s insanely perfectionist approach.

What makes this tone generator special is, there are a hundred of them, each hooked up to one of one hundred cars.

Yeah, you heard right: we’re talking massively polyphonic, art-y car stereo blasting. The organizers say the cars were selected for their unique audio systems. (Now, that’s my way of being a car fan.) Car owners even contributed special cars to the symphony, making this an auto show cum sound happening, evidently both in an installation and performance.

One hundred cars tuned to the same frequency would sound like … well, phase cancellation. So each oscillator is tuned to a different frequency, in a kind of museum of what the note “A” has been over the years. The reality is, we’re probably hearing a whole lot of classical music in the “wrong” key, because the tuning of A was only in standardized in the past century. (Even today, A=440Hz and A=442Hz compete in symphonies, with A=440Hz is the most common in general use, and near-universal in electronic music.)

That huge range is part of why any discussions of the “mathematically pure” or “healing” 432 Hz is, well, nonsense. (I can deal with that some time if you really want, but let’s for now file it under “weird things you can read on the Internet,” alongside the flat Earth.)

Once you get away from the modern blandness of everything being 440 Hz, or the pseudo-science weirdness of the 432 Hz cult, you can discover all sorts of interesting variety. For instance, one of the oscillators in the performance is tuned to this:

A = 376.3Hz
*1700 : Pitch taken by Delezenne from an old dilapidated organ of l’Hospice Comtesse, Lille, France

Hey, who’s to say that particular organ isn’t the one “tuned to the natural frequency of the universe”?

You’ll get all those frequencies in some huge, wondrous cacophony if you’re lucky enough to be in LA for the performance.

It’s presented as part of the Red Bull Music Academy Music Festival, October 15. (I have no idea how you’d evaluate the claim that this is the largest-ever symphony orchestra, though with one hundred cars, it’s probably the heaviest! If anyone has historical ideas on that, I’m all ears.)

And of course, it’s in the perfect place for a piece about cars: Los Angeles. Wish I were there; let us know how it is!


Photo credit: Carys Huws for RBMA.

  • brian tester

    Cool, but seems like a bit of a wasted opportunity somehow.

    • Space Captain

      Can you clarify? How is it wasted?

      • brian tester

        they will only play one note!

        and nothing against drones, love ’em, but at least you might find evolving texture there.

        • brian tester

          edit: although perhaps something like that will emerge.

        • I actually really don’t know what the piece will sound like, and they aren’t saying. It’s a good question. 🙂

        • The Weary Misanthrope

          I don’t think that’s how it will work. Since they can control octaves, I’d assume they can control pitch as well. The “A” just refers to the tuning of each car, just like in any orchestra.

          • brian tester

            If they play a piece by changing pitches via knob turns, it could get pretty wild. Unless they have 100 ultraprecise knob turners. Could be cool.

  • Gunboat_Diplo

    “ghetto blasting”

    Probably not a phrase you want to employ in 2017.

    • Fair… “car stereo blasting…”

      It’s a boombox holdover, and at the peak of that, I think it was widely used enough as not to generally have any derogatory meaning (particularly when applied to Ryoji Ikeda). But I’ve barely even been in the USA since 2011, so I retract the earlier wording.

      • Gunboat_Diplo

        No worries. I don’t think you’re using it in a derogatory way. but people might give you the side-eye.

  • As soon as they start moving, you’ll get a doppler shift. Just sayin’.

  • Will

    Beautiful. Wonder how low they go? LA, subs, it’s a thing.

  • Max

    Im not sure if dads old Braun electric razor is a design fetish object, maybe I could sell it with hair in it as fetish object.

  • Ben Schmaus

    Reminds me of the flaming lips album zaireeka and their parking lot experiments https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zaireeka#The_Parking_Lot_Experiments

  • Chet Stout

    I own one of the 100 systems providing audio source for this event. It is most certainly not going to be just a bunch of cars playing a note in the range of 432-440hz. Based upon the initial request for participants and system qualifications, the qualifying system will have a balanced full range response with high power provided to all frequencies- particularly those between 50hz and 7000hz. That’s all I am able to divulge at present, but it will definitely be a memorable event! 😉 I encourage anyone who is able to attend to do so!