(Photo: Ann Talley)
Performing at the Schmalzwald, Berlin,
l. to r.: Alex Ruthmann, Stephen Rush, Chris Peck.

Sewer pipes, doorbell buttons, speakers, wrenches,
PIC microcontrollers, ISD sound chips.

Stephen Rush and Michael Rodemer.*
1999, ongoing.

Wrenchophones are what one gets after crossing microcontrollers, sewer pipes, sound chips, and a Dada-esque sensibility. The Wrenchophones are sculptural assemblages that function as sample players, with output either through a built-in speaker, or through an external sound system. A collaboration between sculptor Michael Rodemer and composer Stephen Rush, they consist of large PVC-pipe elbows, with quite conventional and industrial-looking wrenches mounted on the ends. The pipes contain a PIC microcontroller and ISD sound chips that store and play back four sets of sounds. On the side of the pipe are mounted an on/off switch, a 1/4” audio jack, and 4 conventional doorbell buttons, which select one of four 30-second samples stored on the ISD chips. Each “W-phone” has a different set of sounds stored within. The wrench lets one play through each sample smoothly, or from any spot in the sample (depending on the rotation of the wrench), and plays loops if the wrench remains stationary. A second version of Wrenchophones for concerts has been created which uses MAX, MSP, a sound sampler, and an EZ I/O interface board linked to the doorbell buttons and the wrench-potentiometer.

The current compact version of Wrenchophones contains “NOISE” samples, very grungy and loud. The sound sets of the Wrenchophones, however, are continually being changed by the artists and their collaborating performers – the sounds sometimes include pure tones, lawn mowers, motors revving up, birds singing, people talking.

The piece demonstrates a kind of marriage between Art and Industry, using industrial tools and sound to create music or art. In one way the work is an extension of early Dadaist art (Duchamp, Arp, et al), but is also a completion of a lineage of American music-making that integrates “noise” elements into the fabric of music composition (John Cage and Lou Harrison). Another charm of the piece is certainly the spontaneous joy of the players/visitors as they “play” the wrenches, discovering musical possibilities and sonic problems as they interact with the sculpture.

We can offer Wrenchophones both as an installation for visitor participation, and as a concert event, either on stage or in "guerrilla" format.

* with thanks to Matt Undy, Chris Peck, and Greg Jacobs for grabbing hold and helping out.