Hugo Ball, one of the more infamous representatives of the early twentieth century European anti-movement called Dada, advised us to “be thoroughly new and inventive [and to] rewrite life every day.” Sage advice indeed from one of my anti-heroes.If you want to learn more about Dada, or are now wondering what in the heck it is, I advise you to read Jed Rasula’s wondrous new book, DESTRUCTION WAS MY BEATRICE: DADA AND THE UNMAKING OF THE TWENTIETH CENTURY. Should be required reading for the times in which we now live.
For some reason, I thought about Ball’s quote when I was reading about a fascinating new crowd-funded German company called dadamachines (without a capital D), the brainchild of Johannes Lohbihler, and dedicated to turning the world of everyday objects into rhythm machines. Donald Bell terms this pursuit “tinkertechno.” According to a piece written by Peter Kirn for CDM, “it seems that a friendly little niche of electronic music making is poised to open up for robotic instruments.” And this very interesting little slice of technology enables us to “bang stuff with it!” In fact, datamachines wants us become accustomed to a world turned into a big rhythm machine. At this point I am reminded of a column I wrote sometime back about a company that was thinking about turning our clothing into rhythm machines. Don’t know if that idea ever saw the light of day.
And how does all this stuff work? Here’s what Kirn has to say about it: “If you think of a hardware controller as a way of turning physical input into digital music, this really is a glimpse of what happens when you make digital music into physical output.” What this really means is that dadamachines will “allow you to do real-world percussion with objects of different sizes, shapes, and orientations. Some produce sound by bouncing materials off a speaker; some sit atop objects and hit them.” So what we have is a little box with several inputs and outputs that is used as a routing station for electronic signals that transform a wide array of little motorized objects into drummers that bang out rhythms on the objects to which they are attached. Imagine, if you will, a percussion section composed of pots and pans, water-filled glasses, plates, drumheads, tabletops, and other objects found around the house and at work. Yes, I know we have all banged out rhythms on tabletops, pots and pans, glasses, and what have you. But dadamachines, which are robots, can take the rhythmic inpulses we output from our mobile devices or keyboards and set in motion an array of little devices that in turn play the rhythms by striking physical objects (which can include drums). In other words, I can send signals from a smartphone, tablet, laptop computer, or electronic keyboard via the dadamachines interface and surround myself with a rhythm sections made up of physical objects around my house or office. Sounds pretty neat, doesn’t it? Don’t take my word for it, however Take a look at some of the YouTube videos that will turn up when you enter “dadamachines” into the search box.
Actually, the idea behind this new company (which at the time of this writing had apparently reached its funding goal and is now all set to start producing its products) is not really all that new. Mechanical “toys” that play music have been around for years, but the closest counterpart to what Lohbihler is doing was introduced on theatre pipe organs in the early twentieth century. Theatre pipe organs were designed to accompany silent movies and featured stops that imitated orchestral instruments. Percussion sounds were often produced from a section called a “toy counter” that sent electrical signals from the organ’s keys to drumsticks and xylophone mallets. This ingenious device allowed an organist to be a real percussionist and organist at the same time. “Tinkertechno” takes this same idea and uses MIDI (Musical Instrument Digital Interface, which has been in existence since the early 1980s) to accomplish the same result in a clever combination of digital and analog processes. I can’t wait to play my keyboard and a set of pots and pans at the same time. Maybe we should consider this a retro take on the often-cited “Internet of Things” that is quickly becoming a vital part of our world. I guess anything is possible in a world where microwave ovens can be used to spy on us.
A Circuit Breaker article by James Vincent summarizes all this by saying that “Dadamachines are essentially mechanical beaters controlled by MIDI. They come in a variety of shapes and sizes; from little jackhammers as long as your thumb, to larger arms capable of wielding drumsticks and mallets. A control panel named the Automat acts s a central hub, with MIDI outputs that connect the beaters and hammers to hardware or software of your choice.” Of course, this means that the little black Automat box can organize your household objects into a personal and very inventive rhythm section to do your bidding. Not only will this be interesting to hear but also a delight to see. According to the website, you should be able to buy your own dadamachine sometime this Fall.
Let the rhythm begin.Needless to say, I am looking forward to how all this will be incorporated into pop music. Perhaps we will soon be listening to the new Tinkertechno channel on Sirius Radio.
See you next week.