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Artist Turns A Record Player Into An Automatic Illustrator

Ally Mobbs' new installation proves that your turntable can be used for more than just spinning dusty 12"s.

by Benoit Palop
26 May 2014, 2:00pm

What can turntables do besides play vinyl? For Ally Mobbs, an artist from Kyoto-by-way-of-England, her newest exhibition Turntablism For The Hard Of Hearing: Harmonic Motion takes the pure definition of "turntablism"—manipulating recording sound using direct drive turntables—to create evolving images. In other words, the spinning decks look like they have suddenly developed a penchant for doodling beautiful mathematical shapes and forms that are reminiscent of sonic sinusoidal waveforms.

The sonic-cum-visual hybrid installation, which debuted at the Sight & sound new media arts festival in Montreal, was inspired by the harmonograph, a drawing machine popular at the end of the 19th century that uses moving pendulums to draw geometric forms. In Mobbs' exhibition, however, the artist replaces pendulums with modular arms mounted on turntables whose rotations and movements generate drawings influenced by a variety of parameters. The illustration output, for example, is dependent on speed, direction, time, and the relative starting position of the turntable platters and relative length of the adjustable arms. 

At the Sight & sound festival, the artist presented her first audio-visual live performance of the system in conjunction with Beat Picnic, an avant-garde hip hop musical collective known for their experimental sampling. Ally Mobbs used microphones to capture the mechanical whirring and scribbling noises as the turntable machine drew, and the producer subsequently re-worked and remixed the noises during a live show, as Mobbs watched.

The continuous motion of the pens also yielded a dynamic visual projection, as the movements were tracked by a Wiimote via OSCulator which analyzes the motion data and transmit it to MaxMSP. In turn, this created an original sonic data visualization that is unique in every performance. 

The installation's drawings have been hung in gallery walls and are available for sale. And to think our record players were only good for playing dusty 12"s. 

Turntablism For The Hard Of Hearing: Harmonic Motion was on display at the new media art center Eastern Bloc during Sight & sound, and for more on Mobbs' work, visit the project site here


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