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Sonic Innovation: A Tattoo That Makes Music

Artist Dmitry Mozorov can play his own tattoo like an instrument. What can your tattoo do?
April 20, 2014, 3:06pm

If tattoos could talk, most would tell stories of drunken regret, of inscribing “your name” on someone’s ass, or of accidently believing that a triangle above the left ankle would somehow help you get laid.

A man called Dmitry Mozorov has found a way to hear what tattoos are actually thinking by turning body art into body noise. The process works by having a special barcode tattoo that can be read by Dmitry’s sensor. The sensor then gives off a musical sound, which, depending on the settings on the machine, can be pretty much anything, from a theremin squeal to the low moan of guitar feedback. This is part of Dmitry’s broader project: He’s an audiovisual artist, so decided to turn to himself for the latest focus of his art.

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I chatted with Dmitry about the project, "Reading My Body," and how we might all start making music with our bodies.

Noisey: So what's the deal with this invention. Would you call it an instrument?
Dmitry: Reading My Body is а sound controller that uses tattoos, namely mine, as a music score. I wanted to create a special instrument that combines human body and robotic system into a single entity that is designed to automate creative process in an attempt to represent the artist and his instrument as a creative hybrid.

That sounds really deep. What did it involve?
The device consists of a railing with comfortable hand holders and two parallel, but offset from each other, black line sensors that move along the arm using a stepper motor. It's also equipped with a Wii remote controller.

So where does the tattoo come into it?
The tattoo is specifically designed to contain the maximum number of variable time slots between triggers for variable music to be made. It is possible to manually control the velocity of sensors' movement, direction and step length.

So it can change the music completely?
Yes. In addition, all control parameters and sensor movements can be programmed to operate autonomously.

What’s the overall aim?
I'm working on a lot of different ways to produce sounds from atypical objects or processes—a technique called sonification. I'm also researching new ways to control and process sound and how humans can interact with this kind of system. I also love tattoos, especially geometrical-shaped ones. I decided to combine these passions, which I guess also fits into the whole "human modification" and "cyborg" trend.

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How long did the whole thing take?
I spent two days building it. It was just me working on it and a tattoo artist that didn't know what he was working on.

Were you confident that it would work?
For sure! It's just a prototype which more demonstrates the technology rather than being a successful and powerful tool. In the future I plan to make more powerful instruments that can also understand sizes and shapes of images, as well as color, and that can run faster, easier and more stable. I'm also thinking about other body parts that can be more ergonomic and will require different types of robots, for example spinning disks on back.

What if you didn’t like the sound of your tattoo, would you be a bit upset?
If it upsets me I'll just reprogram it.

Not like a real tattoo then. Do you think musical tattoos will catch on?
I think anyone can incorporate it—I have many friends that are ready to get a special tattoo and machine for it.

Does it only work with tattoos. Can't anything be a trigger?
In last few years I've made more than 30 different sound and audiovisual projects—performances, sound installations and objects as well as electronic music instruments and controllers. For example, in my project Conus, I've used sea shells witha very special cellular automata ornament, and I've processed the ornaments to sounds and video. My project Cryophone was an electronic sound instrument that converts chemical reaction of sublimating dry ice to sound compositions. For now, I'm using the machine only for demo live shows—20 minutes or so—but my plan is to organize big concert with an orchestra of machines reading tattoos, EEG [Electroencephalography, or reading of electrical energy along the scalp], and other biometrical stuff.

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Where do you see the future of music biologically?
I’m sure that there are limits in how deep we can discover nature, but artistic interpretation of the body is unlimited. I’m definitely interested in how will people add electronics to their bodies, starting from medical, health, and army purposes to art, sex and education. I’m sure it will be like this.

Dan Wilkinson's body only plays a sad, slow song of despair. He's on Twitter - @KeenDang

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