Turning Fruit Into Musical Instruments

Friday, April 25, 2014 - 10:14 AM

(Ototo)

There is a strong tradition in contemporary composition of making music from non-musical objects. Musique Concrète, playing the jug, Eugene Chadbourne playing an electric rake. But for some reason, there is a critical mass of "making music by playing weird shit" Kickstarters at the moment. Some much cooler than others.

Take, for example, the Mogee. It's a contact mic that supposedly picks up the resonance of whatever object you place it on, and allows you to "play" anything. Like fruit, or a tree, or a piece of metal. I'd get in to that. I can imagine a ton of surfaces that could make weird as heck sounds. I wonder what would happen if you attached it to the radio tower cable Ben Burtt used to make the laser blaster sound from Star Wars.

The Ototo functions similarly to the Mogee, but it uses sensors instead of a mic, allowing you to trigger a synthesizer module. So you could make a synth clarinet out of a piece of PVC pipe, or just play an eggplant, as they do in the video. It's a cool concept, but I feel like I would just end up arranging the sensors in such a way that it resembles a normal instrument for maximum manipulatability.

The slightly more ridiculous but still pretty cool Drum Pants, allow you to attach sensors to your clothing and drum on them the way you might drum on your pants while you sit on the bus, only now you can actually annoy your neighbors by doing it!

The least interesting of these projects that I've seen comes from Frou Frou's Imogen Heap - The mi.mu, a glove that makes music based on your physical expressions. Essentially, it's like a musical version of the Nintendo Power Glove. She even says "the power of glove!" at one point in her pitch video. It seems like an inadvertent reference to a not particularly useful or successful piece of technology. Maybe I'm just not a fan of the Downloading Romance song she uses as the demo.

I don't want to be all get-off-my-lawn about these ideas. I don't think any of these will supplant the keyboard as the dominant music manipulating tool anytime soon, but if they work, they offer new opportunities to make some cool sounds. But it requires a depth of imagination and probably a lot of trial and error to make stuff that doesn't end up sounding like the Blue Man Group. Assuming these get funded. Have fun out there, circuit benders.

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Comments [2]

Peter Kirschmann from Somerville, MA

Another really great kickfunded project similar to this is the MaKay MaKey, which can be used for music, but just allows you to have lots of things in the physical world interact with your computer like a keyboard. (http://www.makeymakey.com/)

Really great to tinker in workshops or with kids.

Apr. 25 2014 04:14 PM

Chadbourne also made a guitar out of a toaster - or as he called it, the Toastar.

Apr. 25 2014 01:31 PM

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TLDR is a short podcast and blog about the internet by PJ Vogt and Alex Goldman. You can subscribe to our podcast here. You can follow our blog here. We’re also on Twitter, and we play Team Fortress 2 more or less constantly, so find us there if you like to communicate via computer games from six years ago.

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