This Japanese group makes music with electronic waste


Ei Wada plays a series of fans mounted on overhead projectors and solar panels. Image: Mao Yamamoto

Open Reel Ensemble love to make weird sounds out of outdated technology, the more distorted the better. Japanese musicians connect old tape recorders, televisions and fans to modern computers to make music.

Their goal? Giving a renewed relevance to old technology and making people realize how much fun retro gadgets they throw away can be. Some of the band’s music using reel tape recorders sounds a bit like bagpipes mixed with echoing electro influences.

“The important thing is to remind people how funny it is to make noise with these machines,” Ei Wada, an original idea of ​​the group, told me.

Ei Wada with a tape recorder. Image: Ei Wada

Wada, a programmer-turned-composer who graduated from Tama Art University in Tokyo, said he first became interested in music when he attended a music performance by Gamelan (a traditional style of music from ‘together) at the age of four on a family vacation. in Indonesia.

“It’s indigenous music where many people wearing masks beat percussion instruments,” Wada recalls. “I was impressed by the echo the sounds produced. I felt like I had been transported out of this world.”

The memory stuck with him and several years later, when Wada started tinkering with old cassettes, he discovered that the false sounds they made reminded him of the music he had heard in Indonesia. “It was the same weird alien sound that I didn’t understand,” he said.

Since then, Wada has been on a quest to reproduce otherworldly sounds with technology no one wants. As a teenager, for example, Wada received a batch of reel tape recorders made in the 1970s by a friend of his father’s who worked in radio.

“These machines seemed to be the biggest parents of the tapes I played with,” he told me. “I moved the tapes by hand and the machine was making really spatial sounds. I really felt like this machine connected me to a world I didn’t know.”

Wada continued to tinker with technology until college, where he founded Open Reel Ensemble, a group specializing in the musical significance of vintage gadgets, along with three of his friends.

“We love it when our recordings bug and blip. Only tape recorders can make those sounds.”

The group learned to program and produce their own sounds on old tape recorders through trial and error. The process of synchronizing old technology with new computer technology, Wada said, was a lot like doing experimental surgery. The band fumbled with the wiring – unsure whether attaching switches or cutoff cables would produce or kill sound, and whether they could translate computer commands into music on their aging machines.

Often at concerts, the band first uses tape recorders to capture the sounds of the audience. They then mix that up with music that they produce in real time.

“We love it when our recordings bug and blip. Only tape recorders can produce these sounds. […] It’s really a magnetic and exotic sound, like “magnetic exoticism”, ”Wada theorized.

The group acquires cassettes for its recorders at internet auctions and is aware that one day the stock will be exhausted. Thus, in recent years, they have expanded their range of electronic waste manufacturing instruments.

Ei Wada draws while playing with old TV signals like drums. Image: Mao Yamamoto

In 2010, the group started using old bulky cathode ray tube (CRT) televisions. Wada connected guitar amps to his feet, then started touching TV screens with his hand to produce a hum that he said turned him into a “connected instrument.” In the performances, he can be seen moving between numerous TV screens, hammering them like a frantic drummer. In 2011, the group also added ventilation fans and other unwanted electronic waste into the mix in a project dubbed “Fantastic Electronics. “

The group placed fans on overhead projectors and attached tiny solar panels connected to loudspeakers. They programmed the circuit so that when the fans were on, they powered the spotlights, feeding light into the solar panels, which in turn produced the sound from the speakers.

“We used laser cutters and 3D printers to design the fans to create a kankisenthiseur—a mashup between a kankisen and a synthesizer, “said Wada. Kankisen means fan in Japanese. The group nicknamed their invention “Exhaust Fancillator” in English.

Ultimately, the group wants to reinvigorate old technologies and reveal some of the hidden value of our electronic waste.

“All of these technological objects are a symbol of Japan’s economic growth, but they are also thrown away in large numbers,” Wada said. “It’s good not to just say goodbye to things that are thrown away but to breathe new meaning into old things and celebrate their unique points. “

Cool japan is a chronicle of original and serious events in Japanese science, technology and culture. It covers the unknown, the mainstream, and otherwise interesting developments in Japan.


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