Tonewheel – Optical encoder

An optical encoder used for motor position sensing
Similar in theory to optical tonewheels are these rotary encoder.  They’re used for position sensing in robots and high-end machinery.  An optical reader can tell the exact position of the motor shaft to a high level of precision.

Baku: Symphony of Sirens


In 1922 in the port town of Baku in celebration of the fifth anniversary of the revolution composer, performance instigator and music journalist Arseny Avraamov (1886-1944), inspired by the poetry of Alexei Gastev, has staged his best-known creation – the Symphony of Sirens. This bruitist spectacular used the services of a huge cast of choirs joined by spectators, the foghorns of the entire Caspian flotilla, two batteries of artillery guns, a number of full infantry regiments including a machine-gun division, hydroplanes, and all the factory sirens of Baku. Conductor posted on specially built tower signaled various sound units with colored flags and pistol shots.

While I could find no recordings online, there is apparently this book with CD which you can preview here.  The above image is of Avraamov conducting the performance.

Via: Theremin Center

Revision: noticed the other day that the above CD cover looks a whole lot like the tonewheels I’ve been looking at.  Strange.

Tonewheel – Robb Wave Organ

Tonewheels from a Robb Wave Organ
Tonewheels from a Robb Wave Organ

In researching an upcoming project tentatively called “Mechanically Infinite Devices”, I’ve been spending a lot of time reading about tonewheels.  Most rely on a simple metal disc with spurs (sort of like gears) and an electromagnetic pickup (like in an electric guitar).  The Robb Wave Organ, however, is a slightly different case.  The organ features similar rows of tonewheels, but with patterns cut into the wheel’s surface.

There’s something intricate and careful about this design.  Even the patent application (detail below) is wonderfully designed.

A detail of the Robb Wave Organ patent
A detail of the Robb Wave Organ patent

Nokia Tune

The "Nokia Tune"
The "Nokia Tune"

In doing some research on ringtone file formats for an upcoming project, I found some information on the “Nokia Tune”, the ringtone standard on Nokia phones.

Shockingly (or perhaps not, if you’ve recently spent time on a train, city bus, or in an airport), according to Wikipedia, a 2010 study found that this melody is heard 1.8 billion times per day, about 20,000 times per second.

There are so many “great” versions online*, but here’s a tutorial to create your own:

* If you need more, there are tons of terrible, just awful versions just a YouTube search away.  We’re talking heavy metal, gonzo animation, and lots of techno versions.

Heinz Mack

Light Dynamo from 1963 by Heinz Mack
"Light Dynamo" from 1963 by Heinz Mack

An unexpected find at the library today while picking up a copy of “An Anthology of Concrete Poetry” edited by Emmett Williams.  For some reason concrete poetry is in the fine arts section, and nearby was a book with the enigmatic title “ZERO” written in huge letters across the cover.  Turns out this is a collection of the magazine by the same name, released by artists working in a group of the name as well.

About halfway through are some great pieces by an artist I had never heard of named Heinz Mack.  They have the mix of abstraction and tracendental surface that I love with a complexity that belies a systematic approach to creating them.

Image via: Google search

Coal ash


There’s talk here in Nebraska of dumping tons of coal ash from crop dusting planes on the Platte River to prevent flooding in the spring (the dark surface will soak up sunlight, melting the ice earlier).  I’m certainly not in favor, but if it happens I definitely want to see it.  In searching to see if this had been done before I found the above photo.  Minimalism.

Via: random post on message board