An Instrument For The Sonification Of Everyday Things by Dennis P Paul

published in: Design, Music By Despina Pavlaki, 05 December 2012

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photo © Dennis P Paul

Dennis P Paul is a designer with a geek streak. As a small kid, he started out with a Lego set, moved on to printing his own T-shirts and by the time he was 10 years old, he was already programming his home computer to make music and graphics. That’s not too different to what he does today – only difference is, he’s way cooler!

Having recently moved to Bremen in the north of Germany, after spending a lot of time Berlin, he decided to put some distance between himself and the country’s most popular – and, to some, the most culturally exhausted – city. The creative juices immediately started flowing and, hey presto, a Lego model turned into an instrument for the sonification of everyday things.

Before we get into any more detail, here’s what this beautiful piece is all about (apart from looking terrific): it's a spinning structure and a laser, shooting 3D data through a sound processor. Which this means it can basically translate anything – and I mean anything, from a roast chicken to a clown’s head – into sound. Not that Dennis P Paul would ever experiment with dead animals, being a dedicated vegetarian, but that’s a whole different story…

> I was a Lego kid, printed my own T-shirts, bought a computer at the age of 10 and started to program it to make music and graphics. If you sum this all up, it is pretty much what I do today: I’m a designer/artist with a geek streak! <
Dennis P Paul

photo © Dennis P Paul

photo © Dennis P Paul

Back to the nuts and bolts: Paul never intended to create a playable music instrument. All he wanted to do was offer a different perspective on banal and mundane objects by translating people’s perception of them; and what better way to do it than by merging media, art and design in a perfectly regimented 3D scanner. True, he didn’t actually have to build such an elaborate piece of machinery for what is essentially an art project, but the (German) geek in him, wouldn’t have it any other way.The fact that it actually made interesting sounds was a happy accident!

In case your head is already spinning with unknown terminology, let me break it down for you: what we’re dealing with here is a cross between a turntable, a spinning lathe and a music box! Sounds much simpler now, doesn’t it? It’s actually not! The instrument took 3 weeks to build and required many different tools (laser cutter, lather, circular saw, etc) as well as many different disciplines (programming, electronics, etc). Being an art project, it doesn’t necessarily have a useful function, but it does have a skill: it makes everything talk! Crumpled paper sounds chaotic, a cardboard box is rather smooth - rotate anything and you’ll get its sonic equivalent, often resembling a dance music loop. ''Sometimes it sounds as if it’s trying to speak'' the interaction designer himself admits.

Paul however, is not about to take his invention on stage anytime soon, although he does enjoy math rock and sometimes even John Cage. Plus, after working on the instrument, he has found that Mr. Oizo’s album “Analog Worms Attack” has really grown on him. Scary, right? Sonic landscapes aside, his first love will always be technology:

''Technology is wonderful and scary at the same time,'' he admits. His mission, as an interactive designer, is to engage himself and others with new technologies, ''sometimes with totally happy-clappy and sometimes with very dismissive results.'' As Marius Watz put it: ''To be human is to be technological.''

photo © Dennis P Paul

photo © Dennis P Paul

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Dennis P Paul

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