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The Modular Music Box consists of several interconnected, plug-and-play devices that reproduce the functionality of the familiar 19th century clockwork musical instrument.

At the heart of the piece is a custom-made electro-magnetic rotary sequencer. Melodies are stored on interchangeable, 10” acrylic disks embedded with small magnets arranged in a regular circular grid. By rotating these over a ‘play head’ of magnetic field sensors, the device effectively replicates but supersedes the set of pins on the revolving cylinder that pluck the tuned teeth of a steel comb in the traditional instrument.

Additional units include a self-contained and controllable sound source; a clockwork-like key; and an animated representation of a dancing ballerina automaton - realised as a modern-day interpretation of the praxinoscope - a popular visual parlour toy of its era.

Inspired by the design of second-generation controllers these modular components draw on their minimalist aesthetic and a similarly restricted material palette of walnut, brushed aluminium, translucent acrylic and orange LEDs.

The work explores themes such as the materialisation of data, the tactile digital and the invisibility of technology whilst attempting to recapture something of the sense of craft and workmanship, refined aesthetics and genteel appreciation of the iPods of their day.

The Modular Music Box was first exhibited at Analogue is the New Digital, AND Festival, Manchester, UK in October 2010.

Monomatic is a collaboration, experimental playground and halfway house between the work of Nick Rothwell and Lewis Sykes - exploring sound and interaction through projects such as PEAL: A Virtual Campanile, an installation which models the layout and operation of a traditional church bell tower - commissioned by Sound and Music and exhibited at the Leeds City Museum for Expo 09 and at Kinetica Art Fair 2010.

Image: Modular Music Box

Photo: Courtesy of Monomatic