Engineering students recreate the Cross-Grainger experiments for Synthesizers: Sound of the Future

A team of four engineering students chose to undertake their group Capstone Project in the Department of Mechanical Engineering with the Grainger Museum in Semester 1 2018. The project was an attempt to recreate Percy Grainger’s player piano electronic experiments with three Solovoxes, in order to give visitors to the Synthesizers: Sound of the Future exhibition an opportunity to understand aspects of Grainger’s 1950 experiment in a tangible way.

The Solovox was a monophonic keyboard attachment instrument, which connected to an electronic sound generation box, amplifier and speaker. Grainger rigged up three of these instruments with his Duo-Art piano, to explore electronic means of creating Free Music. He hand-cut piano rolls with a fragment of his Sea Song sketch (1907, 1922). The action of the piano keys pulled down the keys on each of the Solovoxes, which were tuned a fraction of a semi-tone apart.

The students have recreated one of Grainger’s piano roll fragments for Sea Song, and have experimented with connecting the keys of the player piano with an electronic keyboard, simulating aspects of the original experiment. They have used a pianola donated to the Grainger Museum as the test instrument. The students are Lai Fan, Xinyu Wang, Zhengnan Shi, and Mukun Xie.

The instrument can be played in the Synthesizers exhibition at the Grainger Museum until 9 September 2018.

Image: The instrument recreated by engineering students for the Synthesizers: Sound of the Future exhibition