Festo: Technology, Art and Music
The Harmonices Mundi is a synthesis of astronomy, mechanics, melodics and electronics. The name is based on the title of a book by Johannes Kepler which was published in 1619. In his book, Kepler defines the laws of planetary motion. Fascinated by historical astronomy, Prof. Dr. Scheurenbrand (former member of the management board) spent many years constructing the Harmonices Mundi for Festo in his spare time.
Stage designer and robot artist Roland Olbeter created an avant-garde stage set for Wagner’s “Tannhäuser” opera at La Scala in Milan. At the centre of the action was a huge hand, over 12 metres long, which was used as one of the props.
Eight electric drives from Festo’s BDNCE range were used to move the “Mano Gigante”, coordinated by customised control technology. Olbeter’s collaboration with Festo stretches back many years. The artist uses only proven industrial components, which he combines in pursuit of his artistic interpretation.
One nice side effect: even the musicians appreciated the quietness of the electric drives on stage as they didn’t interfere with the audience’s listening pleasure.
THE SOUND MACHINES
Five automated sound machines provided musical accompaniment for the opening celebrations at the Hannover Messe 2007 – thanks to technology from Festo. Pneumatic components and a PLC control system were applied very differently from the way they are used in industrial automation; they created a bridge between technology and art.
Set designer and robot artist Roland Olbeter developed and crafted the unique ensemble “The Sound Machines”, an automated electrical string quartet with a drum. The four string instruments sound and function like electric guitars, the difference being that each string sound machine only has one string.
21 microcylinders from Festo are used in each sound machine. The microcylinders on the string instruments imitate the mechanical movements of a musician’s left hand, determining the pitch of the tone by changing the length of the strings. On the drum, the microcylinders move various drumsticks and a jazz brush.
“Fast Blue Air” was composed especially for the Hannover Messe 2007 by Australian composer Elena Kats-Chernin. It explores the range of sounds generated by the sound machines, including the noises produced by the pneumatics.
The program for the music is saved in midi files and the sound is generated in three steps. In the initial, “digital” step, the sound machines are controlled by a PLC (programmable logic controller). In the second step, pneumatic components make the strings vibrate by either plucking them like a guitarist or stroking them like a string musician. In the third step, the sound is received and amplified by electronic pick-ups, similarly to an electric guitar. The sound machines offer a variety of options for generating very different musical effects.”