Vote for invasion

Truck-crashing sim!

Dance to your printer

Okay space cadets, dig this: Music made from dot-matrix printers. A friend of mine recently pointed me towards the Symphony For Dot Matrix Printers, by the Montreal art-duo The User. Yes, that’s right — they hooked up a bunch of printers to a computer MIDI interface and scripted tunes from it. As they describe it on their web site:

The Symphony for dot matrix printers is a work which transforms obsolete office technology into an instrument for musical performance. The Symphony focuses the listener’s attention on a nearly forgotten technology: the dot-matrix printer. Specifically, it employs the noises the printers make as the sole sound source for a musical composition. Leaving the constituent elements untouched, the process imposes a new order upon them, reorganizing the sounds along a musical structure.

Dot matrix printers are thus turned into musical ‘instruments’, while a computer network system, typical of a contemporary office, is employed as the ‘orchestra’ used to play them. The orchestra is ‘conducted’ by a network server which reads from a composed ‘score’. Each of the printers plays from a different ‘part’ comprised of rhythms and pitches made up of letters of the alphabet, punctuation marks and other characters … The audience is also presented with live images of the sound sources: the motions of the mechanisms, rollers and gears are captured using miniature video cameras installed inside the printers and projected onto large screens.

Check out some sample MP3s of the music here! If you’re like me, you’ll find it strangely mesmerizing. The User have realized something quite neat about modern life — which is that office machinery has become the acoustic soundscape to most of our waking lives. Indeed, the hum of photocopies, faxes and phones in our lives is almost like the drone-note on a bagpipe or a sitar — the base sound against which compose all other of life’s melodies.

I’m not really kidding. I’ve always been fascinated particularly by the sound of photocopiers; with several hundred moving parts, they’re usually the most mechanically complex things in any office — a sort of throwback to the industrial age. And if you listen to them closely, each has a really quite cool rhythm. They wouldn’t be out of place in a piece of good electronica.

There is even, dare I say, a trend emerging in this area of art. Recall two years ago, when Golan Levin created the first symphony played by calling the mobile phones in the audience member’s pockets.

(Thanks to Maura for this one!)

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I'm Clive Thompson, the author of Smarter Than You Think: How Technology is Changing Our Minds for the Better (Penguin Press). You can order the book now at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Powells, Indiebound, or through your local bookstore! I'm also a contributing writer for the New York Times Magazine and a columnist for Wired magazine. Email is here or ping me via the antiquated form of AOL IM (pomeranian99).

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