Artist and musician Graham Dunning is taking turntablism to new levels as he performs techno music compositions that are generated completely mechanically! As the fantastic demonstration video produced by Michael Forrest illustrates, different sounds are literally layered on top of one another, allowing them to naturally fall in sync with the consistent motion of a single turntable.
Dunning starts with a vinyl record made from different records that have been cut-up and mixed together. He forces this modified record to loop at a consistent tempo by holding the stylus in place with a piece of thread tied to a weight. He then adds platforms and additional records that have been customized to trigger acoustic instruments, like tambourines and cowbells, using live microphones to capture the sound. Finally, piezo sensors, which are hooked up to percussive synth samples, crash into the screws sticking up through another spinning record layer. All of this is ultimately fed through various mixers and digital effects, which Dunning adjusts throughout his performance, resulting in a sound that is enticing and familiar, yet hard to place.
Dunning’s work is fascinating not only as a kinetic work of art and a musical performance, but – for anyone who has used software like Pro Tools or Audacity – as a mechanical illustration of what goes on in digital audio processing programs. Just like the sound waves that these programs display stacked on top of each other in their interfaces, Dunning’s work exhibits each of the separate tracks in the compositions he performs as different layers in his set-up.
It’s truly a feat of engineering to make techno music mechanically. Instead of using digital samples and sequencers, like Ableton Live, to make the performance of electronic music as easy as possible, Dunning’s set-up is almost like a musical Rube Goldberg machine, which performs a complicated and entertaining sequence. As Dunning explains in his statement about the project, the elaborate nature of the process is not just an exhibition of his engineering prowess, it’s an inherent part of his creative process.
Lee Scratch Perry described Dub as “the ghost in me coming out” – Using Mechanical Techno set-ups I aim to release the Ghost in the Machine. Each set-up is unique. The technique is inherently clumsy and delicate, leading to frequent and multiple mistakes and accidents. The chance elements and unpredictable aspects lead to compositions I would never think to deliberately make.
If you’d like to see more mechanical techno in action, then take a gander at Dunning’s recent performance for Boiler Room TV. This 30 minute live set even features some new mechanical elements, including what appear to be ping pong balls bouncing into sensors at random, as if they were part of a musical pinball game!
You can see even more of Dunning’s process in a series of videos documenting the development of the project over the years on his website!