Charles Wisseman, Mixed Media Artist



Random music box

Posted on July 6, 2014 at 5:30 PM

I got excited about circles, and decided to do something with pi  and music.  Music is becoming a bigger part of my life, and I have been meaning for a while to do some kind of a musical instrument.

I stamped the first six hundred digits of pi on paper slips and mounted them radially around a rotor from a VCR tape player, which has a very smooth rotation.  These can be selected with a small mirrored metal paddle inserted from the side.  These random numbers then generate notes on various musical instruments in the box.

The strings are patterened after the tenor ukulele I made a couple of years ago, which made figuring out the fret placement much easier than starting from scratch.

This instrument is playable, although some of the modes are more conceptual than others.  I was thinking of John Cage's music-- interesting, but not very listenable.

This box is music game--as follows:

  (A rule book and a printout of the first 10,00 digits of pi are in a booklet in the front-right compartment)

Random Music Box ( June/July 2014) – A music/math game

How to play:

1. Use the pi wheel (first 600 digits of pi stamped on paper stubs which are mounted on a rotor from a VCR player) to choose a set of random numbers. Spin the wheel, let it stop, then insert the mirror between paper tabs to reveal each consecutive number. Record the number sequence on the chalk board on top of the accessory drawer on the right hand side of the box. These numbers will determine the notes to be played.

(Default for the unmotivated is to play the wind-up music box, center front, to hear the theme from the “Sound of Music”)

2. Roll the die to determine the mode to be played:

 Drum : Rawhide drum on the bottom of the box is partitioned into spaces in a golden rectangle pattern using Fibonacci numbers for the side of each larger square in the sequence1,1,2,3,5,8,13,21. The initial “1” is replaced by a bell ringer. The pencil in the drawer can be used as a drum stick.

 Pan pipe: A pan pipe of PVC pipe pulls from the side. This is tuned to a C major pentatonic scale: C,D,E,G,A,C.

 Strings: G and C strings with a tenor ukulele tuning. (A,B,C,D,E,F,G diatonic scale is marked at appropriate frets.) Electronic tuner in front-right compartment. Pick notes with fingers, or strike string with the drum stick.

 Turntable clacker -- Mounted on pi wheel is a wheel with 24 radial frets and 7 concentric rings. An arm with a metal stud can be moved over the wheel as it spins to produce slightly different sounds at each concentric ring, as speed is varied.

 Rotary phone dial-- each number on the dialer is a different sound pattern.

 Sing – Note sequence of beginning to Amazing Grace is inlaid on right hand surface compartment (red for quarter note, yellow for sixteenth note, brown for half note).

(This is from Shape Note songbook, so you can choose your range to determine pitch of notes.)

3. Roll die again, if desired, to determine the tempo. (Electronic metronome in front-right compartment.) This is only appropriate for some of the modes.

4. Map random notes to the appropriate mode and play. Extra points for doing it from memory.

(Children who did not do their math homework can be punished in this manner).

5. Curse John Cage , if so inspired by this experience.

 The musical possibilities are endless, and some may even be listenable!  


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