JO Kazuhiro and Paul DeMarinis
“Groovular Synthesis – the Edison Effect reVisited” - Paul DeMarinis (2019), was developed as part of the
collective project “Life in the Groove” conducted by Paul DeMarinis and Kazuhiro Jo during the years 2018-19. The
work is a combine of two contraptions that center on playing a single text as sounds. A spoken voice track is
accompanied by another rendition in Morse-code. The Morse code groove was engraved on a brown wax Edison
cylinder by a 15-watt blue laser controlled by an Arduino+MaxMSP patch. It is played back, with reference to my
earlier work The Edison Effect (1989-1993), by scanning the groove with a small red leaser dot and using analog
photo-pickups to decode the reflections into sounds. The plaintext itself resides on a black wax cylinder that is
scanned by a small video camera and synchronized with a manipulated vocal recording of the same text. The black
wax cylinder stands alone as an editioned work that may optionally be combined into the current configuration. As
with all the parts of the collaboration “Life in the Groove,” “Groovular Synthesis” was conceived to make maximal
use of contemporary DIY and digital-craft platforms and manufacturing techniques, including Arduino and
Raspberry Pi, 3D Printing, Laser cutting, Form2 resin printing as well as traditional techniques of mold making, wax
casting, hand painting and soldering.
The central text, “Odes and Ditties on T.A.Edison” is a poetic fantasia in open-verse that ponders the history and
nature of sound recording, and recording media in general, by imagining a series of scenes and interactions
between T(homas) A(lva) Edison and a constellation of historical and fictional characters including his daughter
Marion (aka Dot) Edison, Albert Einstein, Ettore Bellini, Daniel Paul Schreber, James Joyce, Gertrude Stein, Rodolfo
Tonetti and Santa Claus, among others. In keeping with the band-limited nature of sound recording in general, and
with specific reference to sounds engraved in wax, the entire poetic text is constructed, in Lettriste “OuLiPo”
fashion: each word is formed only from the letters TAEDISON. These eight letters must suffice to deliberate
historical questions, convey disagreement and surprise, purvey jokes, allusions and the occasional pun, as well as
to sustain the flow of breath and to foster prosodic expression and support vowel harmony. Something like a high
energy protein bar made almost entirely from mashed peanuts, it is tastiest when one has driven oneself through
an arduous climb to the top of a mountain peak and pauses to appease one’s hunger while surveying vast and
“I have suggested to change the gramophone from a reproductive instrument to a
productive one, so that on a record without prior acoustic information, the acoustic
information, the acoustic phenomenon itself originates by engraving the necessary
Ritchriftreihen (etched grooves).” [Moholy-Nagy, 1923]
In 1923, Bauhaus master László Moholy-Nagy made the above proposal to produce a
record without inputting acoustic information. At the time, it was simply a provocative
idea. Nine decades later, the idea of “a record without prior acoustic information” can be
realized on several materials, including paper, wood, and acrylic, owing to mature vinyl
audio recording technology and current personal fabrication tools.
“Au Clair de la Lune on Gramophone - For Édouard- Léon Scott and László Moholy-
Nagy -(1860/1923/2015)” is one such realization. In this work, a French folk song, the
oldest recorded music by Léon Scott, “Au Clair de la Lune,” was reproduced with the
form of a record for a gramophone. Instead of using a recording of the music, a
waveform was computationally drawn with a vector graphics application, namely, Adobe
Illustrator, by calculating the frequency of every note of the music.
After a thorough examination of the materials aimed at overcoming the weight of the
soundbox of a gramophone, a lacquered anodized aluminum plate horizontally
engraved by a laser cutter was used. The outcome of sine wave like sounds could be
played on a traditional gramophone in 78 rpm without electricity.
The basic principle of printing is to put inks on paper or other materials. Through history,
people invented printing technologies in diverse ways. To realize the work "Mary had a
Little Lamb," we combined the printing technology with a physical phenomenon,
electromagnetic induction. According to Fleming's right-hand rule, when a magnetic field
moves with a conductor such as a coil, an electric current is induced in the wire of coil
due to Faraday's law of induction.
Following this principle, we actuate one of the strongest type of permanent magnet,
neodymium, with calculated gaps of postscript print with a laser printer. We converted a
waveform of PCM audio data into a 1-bit format with the help of BTc Sound Encoder, to
produce a series of black and white stripes in a circular shape with Adobe Illustrator.
Then we print the result with a Postscript laser printer.
As the sound source, we selected a voice as a particular case of sound. We encoded
the renowned phrase of the Edison, "Mary had a Little Lamb," with WaveNet, a deep
neural network for generating raw audio waveforms and transform the waveform into
graphical representation printed on a paper. Even with this resounding sound of various
contacts, we cannot avoid discerning the voice of a non-existent person.