In the mid 1970s, keyboard makers were trying to create the first commercially produced sample-based instruments. The Mellotron, which is perhaps the most famous of these, used strips of audio tape which were pulled up through a playhead when a key was pressed. However, this had a limitation. The sample could not ‘loop’. The duration was limited by the length of tape. Maximum durations were around 8 seconds.
Inside the Mellotron
A very rare instrument, discovered by the band Kraftwerk and utilised on some of their classic recordings, had a sublime solution to this limitation. Revolving discs. The Vako Orchestron’s discs were similar in size and shape to vinyl LPs, but made of film. The samples were optically printed onto the discs, analogous to how movie soundtracks were printed onto the side of strips of film. A light is shone through the discs circular tracks, and a photo-receptor turns the filtered light into waveforms to be output through speakers as sound.
Vako Orchestron Demonstration
Performance of Trans Europe Express
New proto-type Optigan
Graham Dunning creates sounds and rhythms by cutting up vinyl records, and having them trigger a variety of sources. Including; masking records so only discrete sections are played and looped (sampling), triggering synths via audio trigger (sequencing), and triggering mechanical percussive instruments (automated instrumentation). It’s essentially a rotating disc approach to tangible sequencing.
The assemblages seem to refer to Nam June Paik’s Random Access (Schallplatten-schaschlik), 1963/1979, which also featured moveable pick-up arms and vertical stacking of layers.
Wanda Gillespie – Higher Consciousness Integrating Calculator (with Sheoak)
I’ve been struggling to conceive of tangible ways to divide up loops. I have been vexed by the notion that sudden leaps across time do not seem relatable to our lived experience of the world. Although we have become accustomed to the once-jarring results of moving-image edits, what sort of tangible tool might we be able to relate with such non-linear editing processes? It must of course be responsive as a performance tool as well, so scissors and sticky-tape are out! Today I realised it is essentially slicing and re-ordering units of time. Then I realised we do at least have a way of conceptualising that – mathematics. The problem is this is still an abstract concept. I began asking myself what ways we interact with mathematics tangibly, and began considering the past, since the earliest technologies are often more tangible. Then, before I even realised what I was searching for, an image came up of this work by my friend and artist Wanda Gillespie. Duh! The ABBAcus!
Jeremy Bell has created a tape-scratching device called the ScrubBoard. A tape loop with a tape head-scrubber that you can manipulate with your hands, resulting in a sound akin to scratching a record. There’s other great features. There’s a foot controller to play, stop and reverse playback of the loop. There’s a ‘rocker’ to cut/fade and mix to the tapes other channels. There’s also a record head to do live looping and scratching!
Nice work Jeremy!