Music, Like Clockwork: Modular Music Boxes with Rotating Wheels, Inspired by monome

Working with music in software means thinking a bit like a music box maker, using sequences to create note and rhythm machines. Nick Rothwell sends a project in which he literally engages the mechanical music box, with rotating electro-magnetic discs and a set of digital devices that recall their 19th-century predecessors. The designs are modular, interconnecting with one another into a little music box ensemble. And in another sign of the influence of the design of the monome, they explicitly nod to that hardware and its community as an aesthetic cue. (I have to admit, though, I’m more envious of …

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K’nex Toy Robot Plays Piano; Instructable Shows You How

Robots may not yet surpass the piano-playing skills of master musicians, but they can at least blow a few piano students out of the water. And the latest musical robots aren’t priceless models out of big corporate R&D departments. They’re hacked together from off-the-shelf toys, use cheap parts, and are assembled with instructions you can grab free off the Internet. Now, what was that about the age of DIY being dead again? (Sorry, Radio Shack; maybe it just moved to Toys ‘R Us.) Behold a programmable robot made of K’nex interchangeable toys. Recently featured on the how-to site Instructables, this …

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The Speaking Piano, and Transforming Audio to MIDI

Austrian Composer Peter Ablinger has transformed a child speaking so that it can be played as MIDI events on a mechanically-controlled piano, making the piano a kind of speech speaker. Via Matrixsynth, the readers at Hack a Day get fairly involved with how this may be working. It seems not quite accurate to describe this as vocoding in the strictest sense, so much as a simple transformation to a (much) lower frequency resolution – that is, the 88 keys of the piano. Ablinger, for his part, describes the events as “pixels.” It’s pretty extraordinary that without a bandpass filter, you …

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A Vacuum Tube Drum Machine: Eric Barbour, Metasonix at RobotSpeak

Drum machines with tubes: from Wurlitzer’s classic SideMan to a new prototype, drum machines can make tubes rock even harder. What happens when adept sonic inventor Eric Barbour of Metasonix makes a drum machine out of clever circuits and vacuum tubes? Well, in the creator’s words: “It makes noise … a lot of noise.”

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Gijs’ Servo Sequencer, Opto-Mechanical Music, Events in Breda + Eindhoven

The Servo Sequencer with its hypnotic-looking optical disc. Photo courtesy Gijs Gieskes. Artists Gijs Gieskes’ sequencers are almost like physical, mechanical software, an expression of musical structure in object form. As such, even as they make strange sounds, they become musical sculpture. His latest Servo Sequencer combines optical and mechanical process, as frequency circles spin on a turntable and tone arms float above them. The Servo Sequencer is built for exhibition use – meaning, yes, he’s brave enough to let you play with this contraption. Sequence the arms using buttons, then adjust the volume mix and placement of each arm …

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What is Digital Game Space? Moving Mario, Mario Bros. Gone Mechanical

Keith, maker of a wearable wristwatch Theremin, sends his Ars Electronica-winning project Moving Mario. Yes, this is just the sort of thing you might think of, but not actually do. He did it:   It’s a gimmick, of course, but I really like the questions it raises. By making Mario’s virtual space physical, you really have to think about the universe the game creates. And as a person interested in the architecture of virtual spaces, it also makes me wonder what else might be possible. (I’m personally still waiting for Mirror’s Edge to hit the PC, though I’ve heard more …

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Videos from the Dawn of Video: Mechanical Effects and Oscilloscope Games

The Digital Worlds blog, an Open University blog, has an excellent look back at the artistry of early video tubes entitled “Oscilloscopy.” There’s John Whitney’s “showreel” from 1961, which shows off the ground-breaking (1961, folks!) possibilities of his “mechanical analog computer,” as appropriated from an antiaircraft gun director. Wait … say that again? Yep, Whitney actually used a mechanical contrivance to rotate layers of graphics. When that technique met up with the power of  It’s an idea that’s just waiting for today’s DIYers to tackle, perhaps mixing modern digital techniques with mechanical ones. Next, also from the above blog post, …

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Robotic Guitars, Lyrics as Art Installation

A beautiful art installation; pray they’re not programmed to play Stairway to Heaven. Saadane Afif’s Power Chords, view of the installation at the Lyon Biennial 2005. Image by Galerie Michel Rein. Maybe it’s something about music making in the digital age, the alienation of music technology. Or maybe there’s just something fun about mechanical objects making sound on their own. Whatever it is, artists lately have been fascinated by mechanical instruments. Here’s yet another one: French artist Saadane Afif makes sometimes-chilly installations out of musical objects, like a minimalist collection of guitars and amps, strummed by mechanical apparatus, in his …

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Game Boy Drum Machine Software Bangs Real-Word Stuff

You know how drummers tap desks, objects, and anything around them incessantly, often unaware of the fact that they’re doing it, until people get annoyed? Well, now you don’t need a drummer around: you can program a Game Boy to do the same thing. Jowan Sebastian has built a brilliant, elegant application for Game Boys called kBANG. Wire up a Game Boy to other objects — like solenoids, simple mechanical devices that can perform a tapping action — and you’ve got a real-world drum machine. Enough glitchy beats: physical objects become percussion. kBANG: Game Boy Drum Machine Here it is …

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