Makers

A Musical Maverick Breathes New Life into Old Tech

Ei Wada is a Japanese artist who uses old televisions, tape recorders and electric fans to produce “otherworldly” music, breathing life into technology that would otherwise be considered obsolete.

Ei Wada has discovered an unusual way of making music: he hooks up old electronic appliances to modern technology and experiments with the sounds that are produced. His “Open Reel Ensemble” is made up of old fashioned reel-to-reel tape recorders, and the prize-winning “Braun Tube Jazz Band” uses electromagnetic rays from cathode-ray tube televisions.

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His music has been performed at events around the world, including the world-renowned Sonar music festival in Barcelona.

Music From Another World

Wada’s interest in creating music using old gadgets started from pure curiosity. The idea of using an old-fashioned cathode-ray tube television as a musical instrument came when Wada accidentally connected a video terminal and an audio terminal the wrong way around. Noise appeared on the screen of the old television, and he wondered how that could be changed back into sound. This prompted him to start exploring the concept of converting sound to images, and images to sound.

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“The noise from the old television felt like something from outer space. It was like some mysterious power that could take you to another world,” Wada said.

Wada started looking at everyday discarded objects, imagining their voices and the music they could make. “To me, it sounded like these things that had lost their purpose in life were calling out, like they had been reborn.”

With his latest project, “Electronicos Fantasticos!”, Wada lets the public try out his amazing instruments to create an interactive performance. Members of the public are invited to create instruments from outdated appliances and gradually build up an orchestra.

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“I’ve asked children to draw what they felt after the performance, and they have drawn abstract pictures with a real outer-space feeling. Some people are shy at first, but once they get going they produce some amazing grooves. The music stimulates people’s feelings and lets them rediscover themselves.”

Unique Instruments, Unique Sounds

All kinds of musical instruments have been created over the course of this project, including drums fashioned from old washing machines and electric fans wired up to computers so that the patterns of light coming through the fan blades is converted into electrical signals.

“It’s fascinating getting different people to perform using these born-again appliances,” Wada explained. “Everyone produces completely different sounds. We’ve got rhythm machines made from old-fashioned rotary dial telephones, and if we get elderly ladies to play them, they create music with a totally different feel to people of our generation. Maybe it’s because they were used to using those telephones in the old days. A lot of children these days don’t even recognise that as a telephone, and they will try using it in ways that we would never think of. So that produces a different sound again.

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“It’s not about skill in the rhythm or melody. When you are present at a performance like this, you get this feeling that cannot be expressed in words – it’s like, this is how music was born.”

As for his next challenge, Wada is thinking big.

“I want to make Tokyo Tower into a giant electronic instrument. Its role as a radio tower is over, but it still stands as a symbol of Japan. I’m sure it must have its own unique sound.”

Wada believes that as well as making our lives more convenient, technology can provide ways to access what is beyond human knowledge. The “Electronicos Fantasticos!” project allows more people to experience the otherworldly music that Wada has discovered. By taking this further and incorporating new technologies, he hopes to discover new ways to let discarded objects express their voice and convert human feelings into sound.

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