Five automated sound machines provided musical accompaniment for the opening celebrations at the Hannover Messe 2007 – thanks to technology from Festo. Pneumatic components and a PLC control system were applied very differently from the way they are used in industrial automation; they created a bridge between technology and art.
Set designer and robot artist Roland Olbeter developed and crafted the unique ensemble “The Sound Machines”, an automated electrical string quartet with a drum. The four string instruments sound and function like electric guitars, the difference being that each string sound machine only has one string.
21 microcylinders from Festo are used in each sound machine. The microcylinders on the string instruments imitate the mechanical movements of a musician's left hand, determining the pitch of the tone by changing the length of the strings. On the drum, the microcylinders move various drumsticks and a jazz brush.
“Fast Blue Air” was composed especially for the Hannover Messe 2007 by Australian composer Elena Kats-Chernin. It explores the range of sounds generated by the sound machines, including the noises produced by the pneumatics.
The program for the music is saved in midi files and the sound is generated in three steps. In the initial, “digital” step, the sound machines are controlled by a PLC (programmable logic controller). In the second step, pneumatic components make the strings vibrate by either plucking them like a guitarist or stroking them like a string musician. In the third step, the sound is received and amplified by electronic pick-ups, similarly to an electric guitar. The sound machines offer a variety of options for generating very different musical effects.