Brain Pickings

Strange Sounds: 7 Experimental Projects Making Music from Natural Elements

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Solar-powered guitars, salty vocals, and what bonsai has to do with liquid music for the deaf.

Yesterday, we challenged what art creation means in the context of experimental media. Today, we’re turning to music, spotlighting seven unorthodox ways to create and think about “music” and the art of sound.

STEVE MANN

Steve Mann, founder of MIT’s Wearable Computers Group, may be better-known as “the world’s first cyborg”, but he is also a passionate sound experimenter. His latest invention, the hydraulophone, is a mellifluous, highly tactile instrument that, Mann hopes, could offer a new self-expression platform for music creation for the deaf and blind — the skills required for reading Braille, it turns out, are quite similar to those required for playing the hydraulophone.

DIEGO STOCCO

California-based artist Diego Stocco is a master of sound abstraction. A sound designer and composer, he creates unusual sound experiences using anything from everyday objects to contraptions he builds from scratch. From outfitting a tree with a stethoscope, a plastic pipe and a microphone, to blending an old piano with the sounds of sunset, his work has a beautiful nature-grounded quality to it whilst really pushing the technologies and conception of modern sound design.

Follow Diego’s latest experimentation on SoundCloud and keep an eye on his Vimeo channel for even more neo-musical goodness.

CELESTE BOURSIER-MOUGENOT

French artist and composer Céleste Boursier-Mougenot creates sound by drawing on the rhythms of daily life in unexpected ways. In her installation for the Barbican Centre in London, she placed a flock of zebra finches in an aviary equipped with electric guitars and other instruments, creating a technological playground for nature’s lo-fi songsters. As the birds go about their ordinary business, perching on the various pieces of equipment, they inadvertently create curious soundscapes.

MEARA O’REILLY

Sound designer, instrument builder, and singer Meara O’Reilly intersects art and science as she explores the fringes of auditory percetion. In her Chaldini Singing project, inspired by the famous scientist’s 18th- and 19th-century experiments, she creates songs based on sequences of patterns of salt scattered on a metal plate.

VIENNA VEGETABLE ORCHESTRA

The Vienna Vegetable Orchestra, which we first featured a couple of years ago, is all about the music of Carrot Top. No, the other carrot top. Since 1998, the Austrian alt-music getup has been play anything you can buy at your local farmer’s market and has even released a couple of albums.

FELIX’S MACHINES

When we first saw Felix Thorn and his incredible machines at TED last summer, it made us unable to look at a broom and a colander the same way again. Under Felix’s Machines, the 24-year-old Brit performs on a fascinating instrument made of household objects like candle holders and shower caddies. His experimental music plays with synchronized light and sound, aiming to remove the human performer.

CRAIG COLORUSSO

From musician and composer Craig Colorusso comes an unusual take on one of the decade’s most buzz-worthy technologies: solar panels. Sun Boxes is “an environment to enter and exit” — an installation of 20 speakers powered by solar panels, with a different guitar sample in each box adding to the cumulative composition, encouraging participants to walk among them and experience the dimensional soundscape.

The sound the installation produces is absolutely haunting and eerily hypnotic, like the breath of the desert itself.

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