A Master roll cutter used to produce Mastertouch piano roll masters.
Exhibition Installation
Powerhouse Museum, Sydney
1 – 10 March, 10am – 5pm


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Spiral and the Mechanical Music Factory

Spiral by Dr Oliver Bown, MAAS Visiting Research Fellow 2018, in collaboration with the Tangents ensemble, is a musical composition and installation that explores the mechanical and performative nature of self-playing instruments. This project was inspired by the Museum’s collection of player pianos and piano roll production equipment from the Mastertouch Piano Roll Company

This work shows how artists are rethinking the experience of music through using contemporary music technologies. The work combines distributed physical and digital elements, synchronised via networks.

Spiral features: 

  • A generative composition that selects the different keys and styles each of the instruments play at the beginning of each spiral cycle.
  • Self-playing instruments, like the player piano and drums played by robotic actuators, perform pre-recorded music.
  • Networked music triggers the chandelier of custom speakers to play guitar sounds driven by separate Raspberry Pi micro-computers.
  • Augmented reality allows the visitor to mix in additional audio-visual content using recordings of the Mastertouch piano roll making machines.
  • Machine learning is used to generate synthesiser melodies, derived from cello recordings, that play in augmented reality.

The project is supported by a Faculty Research Grant from the Faculty of Art and Design, University of New South Wales.

Image: Master roll cutter used to produce Mastertouch piano roll masters, by Acme Machine Company, Newark, New Jersey, United States of America. MAAS Collection.