Steinway Model D. Photo courtesy Steinway & Sons.

These piano breakthroughs changed music forever

Yesterday was Piano Day – a day recently christened by composer/pianist Nils Frahm in order to celebrate that ubiquitous keyboard instrument. (It’s held on the eighty-eighth day of the year.) There are concerts, marathons, project, releases – and unlike Record Store Day, this event won’t clog the ability to produce piano music. With that day as inspiration, I thought it was a good moment to look at some of the technology of and around the piano, to understand what has made this instrument special. That includes both strictly acoustic innovations as well as design features and breakthroughs that either inspired …

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Spinning Optical Drum Buddy and the Wild DIY Punk World of Quintron and Miss Pussycat

Deep in the Ninth Word of New Orleans lies the workbench and studio of one Mr. Quintron, the inventor-organist who has applied his DIY mad-scientist sonic production to a unique flavor of insistent punk. Mr. Quintron was this week in my home neighborhood in Berlin, accompanied by his wife Miss Pussycat – maraca player (maracaist?), vocalist, and puppeteer behind Flossie and the Unicorns. There was a puppet show. It was about cake – demon cake. There was the debut of a new inflatable puppet. Shirts came off. Sounds were made. It was hot. It was loud. Just as these puppets …

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Watch Mechanical Techno, Dance Music Made Organic, Physical by Graham Dunning

Even in hardware, the repetitive patterning of dance music remains invisible to the eye. Sure, you might get a blinking light here and there, but otherwise, the process is virtual, whether the sound process is analog or digital. Graham Dunning’s Mechanical Techno project is different. Every pattern is made physical and tangible, every machine rhythm mechanically constructed rather than abstract. As such, the UK-based experimental musician, composer, and sound artist makes sounds that evolve organically from the devices that make them. As contact mics brush against physical objects, those rhythms are often slightly imperfect, emerging from a kind of kinetic …

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Light Into Tones, in an Optoelectronic Hurdy-Gurdy With Rotating Wheels [Video, Images]

This isn’t like any Hurdy-Gurdy you’ve seen or heard before. Derek Holzer’s optoelectronic Tonewheels Hurdy-Gurdy is a combination of mechanical, optical, and electronic elements, part sculpture and part instrument. It recalls vintage mechanical and optical instruments, but with a sound that is decidedly modern and strange. In the translation, something wonderful happens: this becomes a serious punk instrument, producing surprising, hard-edged sounds. The wheels turn, and the gizmo rocks. Combining disciplines in this sort of design also means merging different skill sets, so it’s telling that input for the instrument has come from other artists, including friend-of-the-site circuit designer Eric …

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Mission accomplished. Photo (CC-BY) Thoth God of Knowledge.

Create (Really) Analog Music: Music Video Made on Historic Edison Wax Cylinder

The miracle of recording is somehow no less extraordinary in this digital age – the ability to capture sound, the revolution that transformed music making worldwide, for better and for worse. In fact, if anything, the abundance of digital music is causing some people to rediscover the recording techniques that preceded it. Andy Deitrich of Chicago’s Mucca Pazza writes to share the experience of returning to that means of recording. I love the saturated quality of the sounds you get: it’s really evident how much the medium here colors the sound. Andy writes:

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Mechanical Motion: Drawing with Turntables, Phasing with Film Projectors

Speaking of mechanical motion and machine drawing, in the work of Robert Howsare, vintage equipment becomes part kinetic sculpture, part machine artist. In “Drawing Apparatus,” two turntables become a generative geometric drawing machine, Spirograph-style. (See some really lovely-looking renders by this machine on the artwork project page. Via Today and Tomorrow, hat tip to portable.tv and Cool Hunting.) The revolution of the records create drawings that serve as a markers of temporality. The drawings also speak to the idea of the editionable print through their ability to be replicated using domestic materials. IV Phases is a hypnotic work involving phasing …

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PocoPoco, Kinetic Music Control Gone Whac-a-Mole, and Our Tactile Future

PocoPoco is a delightful, fanciful device that takes music control into the realm of kinetic sculpture. Normally, the relationship of music controller is primarily about the operator making physical actions. With PocoPoco, the hardware itself moves. The essential musical structure is familiar: it’s the grid of light-up buttons, with strong similarity to the ongoing interaction design of Toshio Iwai in the 90s and (Tenori-On) past decade. Even aesthetically, there are similarities – perhaps not coincidentally as this team is also Japan-based. But adding in the element of solenoid-powered cylinders popping out of the grid adds a major element of surprise. …

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Half-Minute Theater: Pavel Pogudin, Gypsies, Cutout Characters, Mechanical Ballet

It’d be silly to write a long post about an (extremely) short film, so I’ll just say this. Sometimes, I open my inbox, and I see an email that says nothing other than this: Hello! Just want to show some gypsy motion graphics Thanks! — Best, Pavel I won’t make any further introduction. Gypsy motion graphics. See top. The Vimeo and Behance pages actually says a bit more – enough so that it’ll take you longer, perhaps, than the 20 seconds that it takes to watch the film: Inspired films by Emir Kusturica and music by No Smoking Orchestra. Thanks …

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Exquisite Sonic Sculptures, Made with Motors and Cardboard

Granular synthesis, as described by Iannis Xenakis, imagined sound as constructed from elementary elements. In the work of Zimoun, elementary sonic grains are physical. An undulating wall of cardboard rubs surfaces against one another to form a chorus of sound. Cotton balls roll against boxes in throaty clouds of sound. Wires wriggle like some sort of insect antennae. Below, the newest video of his work, in which cardboard petals form an animated wall of rustling noise. The results, powered by simple DC motors in kinetic musical action, recall some kind of natural, organic colony. Assembled in structures sculptural and architectural, …

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Circles and Euclidean Rhythms: Off the Grid, a Few Music Makers That Go Round and Round

Loopseque on the iPad. Courtesy the developer. We continue our 3.14 celebration with a round-up of circular logic. There’s no reason apart from the printed score to assume music has to be divided into grids laid on rectangles. Even the “piano roll” as a concept began as just that – a roll. Cycles the world around, from a mechanical clock to Indonesian gamelan, can be thought of in circles. Imagine an alternate universe in which Raymond Scott’s circle machine – a great, mechanical disc capable of sequencing sounds – became the dominant paradigm. We might have circles everywhere, in place …

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