You know what they say — when life gives you e-waste, start a band and make sick tunes with it.
Together with his band Open Reel Ensemble, Japanese programmer and musician Ei Wada uses old projectors, cathode ray television sets, tape recorders, ventilation fans, discarded computers, and any other vintage tech with bizarre noise potential to make the kind of electronic music that would make a cyberpunk swoon.
According to Motherboard, Wada’s interest in music began when he was four years old and attended a gamelan concert with his family. (The influence of gamelan, a traditional form of music from Indonesia, on electronica has been well-documented.) Here’s more from Motherboard:
The memory stuck, and several years later, when Wada started tinkering with old cassette tapes, he discovered that the off-key sounds they produced reminded him of the music he’d heard back in Indonesia. “It was the same strange alien sound that I didn’t understand,” he said.
Since then, Wada has been on a quest to reproduce otherworldly sounds with tech that nobody wants. As a teenager, for instance, Wada was given a batch of reel-to-reel tape recorders made in the 70s by a friend of his father who worked in radio.
“These machines felt like the bigger relatives to the cassettes that I’d been playing with,” he told me. “I’d move the tapes by hand and the machine would make really spacey sounds. I really felt like this machine was linking me up to a world that I didn’t know.”
But Open Reel Ensemble doesn’t just bang around on old junk. Wada will, for example, capture the unique buzz of touching an old television screen by connecting guitar amps to his feet. And as if that weren’t enough, there’s also this doozy of a music hack:
The band placed ventilation fans onto overhead projectors and attached tiny solar panels that connected to speakers. They programmed the circuit so that when the ventilators were switched on, they’d power the projectors, feeding light into the solar panels, which in turn produced sound from the speakers.
All of that makes for some pretty incredible music, as evidenced in the group’s TEDxTokyo performance below. But as cool as Open Reel Ensemble is, and as problematic and ever-present as e-waste is, it’s probably best for most of us to just stick with recycling. In less capable hands, e-waste instruments would probably land more on the “aural torture” end of the noise spectrum than the “enjoyable music” end, right next to the Aztec death whistle and “We Built This City.”