If you ever entertained your fellow students at school (while annoying teachers) with an impromptu performance involving twanging a metal ruler hanging off the edge of a desk, then you already have a firm grasp of how Dmitry Morozov’s latest creation works. It’s a synthesizer built around office supplies, and it sounds as unique and bizarre as it looks.
Morozov, a Moscow-based musician, hardware hacker, and “transdisciplinary artist and researcher” as he’s described on Vimeo, has been crafting machines like the rbs-20 for decades now. His past creations have included a sound machine that creates music based on radioactive particles detected by a Geiger counter, and a tower that keeps a family of Tamigotchi virtual pets fed, nurtured, and perpetually alive. They are usually devices with minimal practical value, but it’s not hard to see the benefits of a machine that makes it easier to play Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star on a metal ruler.
A collection of high-speed electric motors on the rbs-20 quickly repositions and reclamps the ruler so that when it’s plucked, the amplitude of its vibrating oscillations changes to create different notes. Twelve touch-sensitive keys can be reprogrammed to reposition the ruler to a specific length when they’re pressed, while a small piezo element registers the vibrations allowing the sounds to be piped through filters and other effects.
With careful tuning, the rbs-20 could probably be used to plink out a recognizable song, but that’s not how Morozov demonstrates the instrument in this video. The performance is... unique... and sounds like it’s more an attempt to demonstrate the range and capabilities of the machine. It’s not exactly music to your ears, but at the same time, are there really any grade school metal ruler virtuosos getting signed to record contracts? Maybe this is as good as it gets.