Thomas Edison invented the phonograph in 1877, revolutionizing music forever. Rumored to be Edison’s favorite invention, he expanded upon his previous invention– the telephone–and the phonograph was born. A decade later, German inventor Emile Berliner tinkered on Edison’s phonograph design, giving the world the gramophone, a device that rotated a hard rubber disc on a flat plate at the turn of a crank. Today the invention of the record player is considered one of the most significant influences on music and culture, but what about a time before Edison and Emile?
Nature has always provided elements from which to make music, including the conch, the didgeridoo and rain sticks. While many of these organically inspired instruments date as far back as 7000 and 6600 B.C., all set the tone for future experiments in the world of natural sound.
In 2011, German engineer and multimedia artist Bartholomaus Traubeck developed a system that combines technology and nature to create music. His record player titled “Years,” translates the rings of a tree, converting the information into music. Years uses a digital camera and light in place of a typical turntable needle. The modified record player spins cross-sections of trees while the camera scans the thickness, growth rate, texture and overall color of the tree rings. Using special programming software, a computer maps the data on a musical scale, turning the characteristics into unique sounds. Since every tree is different, each slice of wood yields a very different sound. The project came to fruition as a result of Traubeck’s curiosity about the intersection of art and technology. In order to explore a meshing of mechanized and natural, Traubeck turned to tinkering and “Years” was born.
Germany isn’t the only place people are exploring how tinkering can create music from natural elements. Zadar, Croatia is home to an architectural experiment and musical instrument called “The Sea Organ.” Created by architect Nikoa Basic as a part of project to redesign the city’s coast in 2005, the organ was created by concealing polyethylene tubes and a resonating cavity inside a large musical instrument played by the wind and sea.
Another part of the project includes “The Sun Salutation,” a colorful light show powered by collected daytime sunlight that uses the rhythm of the waves to create an enchanting light pulse display after dark.
Sources (if you want to get nerdy):
- http://electronics.howstuffworks.com/record-player.htm – How a Record Player works
- http://anobiumlit.com/2012/02/08/where-art-technology-meet-an-interview-with-bartholomaus-traubeck-multimedia-artist/ Interview with Barthalomaus Traubeck.
- http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LBhk5KFwLVc&feature=related sea organ video
- http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sea_organ sea organ
- http://goeasteurope.about.com/od/croatia/ss/zadarphototour_3.htm sea organ
- http://goeasteurope.about.com/od/croatia/ss/zadarphototour_3.htm The Sun Salutation
- http://www.freemeditation.com/news/2009/06/16/music-from-sand-interview-with-diego-stocco/ Interview with Diego Stocca
- http://vimeo.com/3080808 video of making music with sand
- http://www.behance.net/Gallery/Music-from-Sand/171792 more about the process
- http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fY-ZoVMwGKM music with a tree
- http://www.gizmag.com/spider-silk-violin-strings/21807/ spider silk used as violin strings (didn’t use this, but how cool is that?)
- http://www.luraycaverns.com/DiscoverTheCaverns/StalacpipeOrgan/tabid/504/Default.aspx stalagcpipe organ in luray caverns