Take four stepper motors, a resonating box and a bunch of inanimate objects, and you have a fascinating machine of textures generated through the turning of electrical impulses.
Koka’s Drone Box No.1
Koka Nikoladze is an Oslo-based artist who likes to build musical machines and sculpt expressive interfaces. His work has elements of the absurd combined with a child-like tendency towards playfulness, and all of it is fascinating. Some of the projects are familiar, using the springs and twangs of electro-mechanical boxes like the Soundbox from Leaf Audio. Whereas others delve into unique areas of physical object collaboration and interaction, like his BlinkWheel step sequencer from 2017.
The production values in the videos and musical pieces are off the charts. Superbly shot, delicately filmed, and amazing to watch. I’ve spent all morning watching his marvellous machines conjure up soundscapes and electro-mechanical beats. Check this out:
Koka’s latest project, which is what caught my attention, is Drone Box No. 1. It’s a 4-voice electro-mechanical drone machine and “physical synthesizer”. It generates sound via four stepper motors mounted on a sound box. The character of the sound can be changed by mounting different objects to the motors. The paper cup gives a rounded boxy sound, the spring finds all sorts of resonances and the pine cone gives it some shizzle. Apparently, the egg doesn’t do very much, but it’s immensely pleasing to the eye.
The motors can be controlled via MIDI. There’s a clever way to allocate voices so you can play without having to think about which motor to use. Koka has built-in vibrato, tremolo, pitch bend and other forms of expression, which continue to grow as he tinkers with it. He’s said that for a new version, he’ll add the ability to store and play MIDI files so it can become a household sound player. The box isn’t just a box either. Through the window, we can glimpse another story of an upturned chair, graffiti on the walls and the sense, perhaps, of the days ticking by in a prison cell – I love that.
There’s no mention of whether he intends to make these boxes available as products or projects for other people but there seems to be a sense of movement in that direction. In 2021 Koka came up with the very cool Pocket Beatbox but has struggled with the chip crisis and is only just starting to deliver on preorders. I hope, if this becomes a product, that it has an easier time of it.