I saw this on Kickstarter and instantly fell in love with it. It has echoes of the amazing Marble Machine from Wintergatan. Beautifully, it combines the joy of music, with the organic feel of hardware, it mixes sequencing with play-time, programming with art. It’s designed for kids and yet it could so easily be enjoyed by anyone. I can imagine “Look mum no computer” guy repurposing it in alarmingly electronic ways. Come and join the Musicon club.
It’s wonderfully simple and instantly arresting. It brings traditional ideas of the barrel organ or music boxes and makes it completely modern without losing any of the charm. The big wooden barrel is covered in buttons. Press one and it pops up to become an event that will trigger the instruments mounted on the top as the barrel spins. You can push buttons randomly, or create complex sequences, or words and pictures. There’s a weird craze at the moment for creating images on piano rolls in DAWs – this is the hardware version of that.
The instruments consist of an 8 note xylophone (ok, for all you pedants out there, it’s actually a glockenspiel because the bars are metal), a 4 trigger drum head with soft and hard beaters, and The Mill which is a rotating rain stick. Because all the notes can be triggered simultaneously it is completely polyphonic. The instruments are mounted via magnets making them secure and yet easy to move – and the moving is intentional. You can keep the sequence the same and re-arrange the instruments for some really unintended variations.
The barrels rotation is automated, although for the true analogue heads out there you can turn it by hand. There’s a nice big lever to enable the motor. It will handle speeds of 36bpm and up to 144bpm for some serious techno.
Although I was immediately drawn to it simply as a beautifully creative object, there’s an awful lot of educational and therapeutic methodology behind it. It’s designed to be completely safe for pre-schoolers from 3 years and upwards. There are no sharp edges, it’s not going to trap or pull your fingers in like a mangle. It’s happy to be slapped, explored and pushed around by sticky fingers, all the ergonomics are designed with the child in mind. Musicon can teach all sorts of things, not just music making, but coding, maths, experimentation, collaboration. It’s inviting, non-prescriptive, child centred and allows the kids to self-correct.
It’s an awesome machine.
Of course, the sonic textures might be a bit limiting and the quantizational nature of the barrel a bit restrictive. But maybe there’s room for a euclidean barrel or some kind of swing lever. Maybe you could add contact touch plates in order to route trigger information into your modular system. In any case I want a Eurorack sequencer barrel please.
Musicon is on Kickstarter looking for $50,000 to allow them to begin production. So how much would one of these hand-crafted machines cost do you think? Well if you get in quick the “early bird” reward goes for $2,499. It goes up from there. There’s also a “Pro” version that is battery powered and has a digital tempo readout for $3,299. So your local pre-school is going to have to get on selling tea towels and fairy cakes to start raising some serious money. It’s expensive, but it’s a wonderful idea, beautifully made.
Go and send them some money on the Musicon Kickstarter page.