This machine has 2 or 3 main parts. The Music Box – which may contain other instruments, like a trompong or tuned strings. The Music Sheet – which contains music encoded into it by weaving, punched holes, or interwoven beads. The Weaver – which we can see weaving or knitting the music in real-time. The weaver conveys a sense of care and mindfulness, but also an unknowable intelligence, like watching the careful mandibles of an insect. Weaver (left) and Music Box (right) with trompong. Music Box and Weaver hanging vertically (needs a better drawing) Example of a tiny music box playing a modified Moon Song
While at the MIT Media Lab I created a magneto-acoustic instrument that used electromagnets to set 31 piano strings vibrating at precise frequencies. I found each string could be played in all of its harmonic modes, and in the unstable areas between. Here’s a recording of one string, freely resonating while the frequency of its electromagnet changes. Notice how rich sounds and timbres bloom in the spaces between the nodes. It feels like scuba diving in the deep harmonics of just one string. Like the Whirly-Bot, its upper notes all lay in the harmonic series above each string’s fundamental. So I tuned the fundamentals in 31-tone equal temperament, which approximates patterns of the harmonic series much better than 12-tone equal temperament. I wrote this…
The Whirly-Bot looks like a massive, trembling turbine and sounds like sniffing a thousand magic markers all at once. It creates voice-like music using a sound-producing physical phenomenon not used in any other musical instrument. The sound is created by whipping air through corrugated plastic tubes. Each corrugated bump creates vibrating vorticies that energize a standing wave running the length of the tube. Faster movement creates higher energies, shortening the wavelength of the standing wave. So each carefully-tuned tube can create a scale in harmonic series. Each tube’s fundamental note lies in standard chromatic tuning. But each tube’s upper notes lie in the harmonic series, creating an airy/eerie tension in the tuning. I designed the Whirly-Bot and built many prototypes in a string of…
The Heliphon is a robotic metallophone intended to accompany a Balinese gamelan orchestra. In Balinese gamelan, the higher an instrument’s pitch, the faster it is played, culminating in blazing interlocking parts played with fierce precision. Only a robot could play faster. Hence the Heliphon. It was built by Leila Madrone and further upgraded and mutated by Giles Hall and others. I was its most recent caretaker, and author of its current control software. Here’s a taste of its speed – Belle Labs written and performed by Evan Ziporyn
What has 6 legs, 4 elbows, no head, and hoots as winsomely as a lovestruck pygmy? The Blo-bot is my first robot for Ensemble Robot. It’s a tetrahedron of pneumatic cylinders and modified organ pipes that makes music as it slithers and flexes among it’s 64 (2^6) possible shapes. I was interested in the relationship between music and geometry. Sadly, I don’t have any audio recordings of the guy. It had a richly nasal, winsome and harmonious tone punctuated by the percussive clacking of the air cylinders. Here’s a video of it before it found its voice. It was featured in shows at MassMoCA, the Wired NextFest, and the Boston Museum of Science. I’m honestly not certain where it is anymore. If you see…
Zap! was a musical event for live musicians, robots, and high voltage arcs. I had an inspiration to use Dr. Robert J. Van de Graaff’s original 5 million volt generator as a musical instrument and composer Christine Southworth ran with it. The Boston Museum of Science generously offered the big machine for our musical research and for the big performance. I got to be the hero of my 12-year-old self by playing the Van De Graaff and two half-million-volt Tesla coils in the performance. The crackling arcs were sonically fun, but the bristling purple coronas were best – full of rich textures and rhythms. You can hear some of Part 7 of of Christine Southworth’s composition here:
Some time ago, we hosted a best-birthday-ever for the lovely and awesome Robin Amer. This featured two, count ‘em two, marching bands: The Stick and Rag Village Orchestra and the What Cheer? Brigade. What Cheer? was so new they didn’t have a name yet. But they rocked the party like no rock band could have.
Don’t believe me? See for yourself:
After both bands played, they osmotically blended into one big pounding, honking, gyrating band and marched out of Nervebox Studio into surrounding Chinatown, bringing the party to the people. They marched back in 20 minutes later with more people than they’d left with.
I said I wouldn’t do it. But I couldn’t stay away. The hours, the expense, the stress of watching level-0 prototypes in high-profile performances, holding my breath waiting for them to embarrassingly malfunction onstage. But I miss the people. So I’ve re-joined Ensemble Robot! This summer I’m building a control system for musical robot for musical robots. My group at the MIT Media Lab needs it. By sharing it with Ensemble Robot, I can field-test it for the Media Lab folks. And I must confess, I miss the bots too.
Have you ever wanted to capture the rare sense of grace and speed you only get from city biking?
I’ve been experimenting with my bike-cam. It’s so easy and fun I want everyone to do it! All together now – Just put a digital camera on a cheap tripod, and use some zip ties to strap the tripod and bicycle frame together in various compromising positions.
What you see here is a compilation of some sweet camera tests. This summer I hope to make some completely bicycle-based films. Maybe even a musical. Everyone on bikes: actors, cameras, crew. Daredevil traffic situations, breathless dialog, and a nice bicycle kiss at the end. So stay tuned.