A Friday find that actually made my brain nearly explode (or implode), that me incredibly happy and an object that I wish I had right here, right now to play with and get lost in. It is a musical typewriter that turns sentences into sounds. As some of you know I’m a little typewriter obsessed…obsessed with the font, the sound of the metal arm as it hits the page to print the letter, the feel of the key beneath your fingertip as you type, the repetitive sound and almost melodic quality as you write, write, write. It is a definitive form of percussion.
“The percussion of the keys being depressed, the ding and the scratch of the carriage as it’s pushed back to its starting point all work together to create an analog orchestra.” – Liz Stinson
Lasse Munk and Søren Andreasen, two designers with a love of music from Denmark decided to try to translate this process – typing on a typewriter – into a new musical language…and this is the result…simply amazing…and it immediately makes me wonder what my PhD thesis would (or will) sound like. I’d love to find out. Also linking so closely to the thematics (the notion of sound influencing experience and ephemeral/experiential art) within my forthcoming PhD project ‘The Temporary’ that I will inform you about very soon. Perhaps I should get in contact with these guys and tell them about it? (Thought in process).
The translational tool and electronic music box called ‘D.O.R.T.H.E‘ (short for Danish Orchestra of Radios Talking and Hacked Engines – female by the way) is only 15″ in size, a system made up of old, discarded electronics including a scanner, printer, radio, cassette player and the aforementioned typewriter, that Munk and Andreasen found in a junkyard.
Each word acts as a pin to create a sound or tone. Every letter on the typewriter is essentially a trigger. These letters are connected to an Arduino mega, which analyzes the data before piping it through to software where it’s processed and translated to a mechanical staccato musical sequence. Currently, it does basic translations like turning the number of letters in a word to a certain music pitch, but it also can tackle simple emotional states, “…we matched simple words and sentences like the ‘dorthe gives us a fresh beat’ on the video and made a semantic map so that: ‘fresh + beat’ must mean uptempo combined with some kinky nice danceable melody work…The tonal material for melodies can be quite random at the moment” (Munk) making the semantics somewhat questionable.
“D.O.R.T.H.E. creates music from your thoughts in the form of written words and sentences. She is amazingly well-connected speaking several languages with which she controls a number of mechanical machines build almost entirely out of scrap electronics. She reuses words. She analyzes them, and use them for music creation because she believes that words, sentences and phonetics have many resemblances to music. Both one to one mappings like number of letters in a word translated to a pitch in music, but also emotional states like joy, distress, happiness, discomfort and fear.”
D.O.R.T.H.E is a score of unpredictable wordic melodies about decoding and recoding, translation and reinterpretation, making real what is often unreal or ignored or unseen, creating a new aural language through which to understand text and words, and creating a new instrument. A machine after my own heart.