Huge music box puts tune creation in the hands of the public

16 pictures

The musical cacophony is activated by a huge hand crank to the right of the transparent glass case(Credit: Niklas Roy)

View gallery - 16 images

If your idea of a music box is a tabletop tinkler where pins on a revolving cylinder pluck the teeth of a comb to produce chirpy tunes, think again. Niklas Roy's Music Construction Machine is a monster. This band in a box makes use of real instruments to play constantly changing tunes when the huge hand crank is turned. Though "tunes" is perhaps being a little generous.

Roy's creation is a sight to behold, just as mesmerizing as Martin Molin's Musical Marble Machine. It's made up of three instruments, each housed in their own wooden cage with wooden wheels and cogs placed in and around, and a seemingly endless web of thin ropes that activate pulleys, springs, weights and levers when a member of the public cranks the handle. The resulting sounds, though, are not so pleasant – being something like the caterwaul you might get if Sonic Youth got in a fight with a very drunk freeform jazz trio.

"As we all have different tastes in music, I decided to abandon the traditional concept of a music box, which would play a pre-programmed melody repeatedly," says Roy. "That would satisfy the musical taste of only a small fraction of the crankers and listeners. So instead, the music is generated by an algorithm, which is implemented entirely in mechanical hardware, and which iterates through all kinds of possible sequences of beats and tones."

Taking stage center in the installation is a full acoustic drum kit, with toms, a snare, cymbals and a kick drum. Drumsticks hit the various kit components when a pulley system turns shaped wooden discs. Cogs raise the sticks and then release with a snap when the cutaway is reached.

To the left of the drums is an angled Explorer-shaped electric guitar. There's a steel bar across the neck that slides up and down to fret a note picked by one or more mechanical "fingers" attached to a six-bar rack bolted to the body. The six levers holding the plectrums constantly move up and down, striking the strings in a manner determined by the different-sized pulleys attached to them.

On the right of the bin basher is a digital piano. One thin rope loop drives two different-sized pulleys. These pulleys are said to produce two different sinewave oscillations which drive the mechanisms and move a pair of "hands" mounted to carriages. Every so often the carriages will be pushed toward the keys, playing two tones simultaneously. "The result is a melody which is sometimes harmonic, sometimes not, but it definitely has a lot of variation," Roy explains.

The musical cacophony is activated by a huge hand crank to the right of the transparent glass case containing the intriguing (but frankly awful-sounding) mechanical band, with the tempo at the mercy of the cranker.

All of the instruments for the project, as well a light and sound equipment, were donated by German music retailer Thomann. The Music Construction Machine is on 24-hour display in the Goethe-Institut Pop Up Pavillion in Wroclaw, Poland, until July 12. Roy told us that he expects to take it to Belgium later in the year.

Lovers of fine music or those with a delicate ear should probably not watch the video below, which shows the impressive creation in action.

Source: Niklas Roy

View gallery - 16 images

Top stories

Recommended for you

Latest in Music

Editors Choice