The Skronk-O-Phone

“Skronk” was a term coined by music critic Robert Christgau, to describe music that his colleague Lester Bangs referred to (admiringly) as “horrible noise”: “thus the shriek, the caterwaul, the chainsaw gnarlgnashing, the yowl and the whizz that decapitates may be reheard by the adventurous or emotionally damaged as mellifluous bursts of unarguable affirmation.”

The Skronk-O-Phone is an instrument that joyfully embraces this tradition. The user plays a guitar with no strings, just position sensors on the neck and force sensing pads (called FSRs) on the body.

To wit:
SkronkDemo2 from Jared Friedman on Vimeo.

The output is four modified walkmen and four modified sets of computer speakers. Each walkman is loaded with a cassette of pure, constant tone corresponding to the “string” it is reproducing: E2, A2, D3, G3.

The position of the player’s finger on the “string” determines the speed of the walkman’s motor – as the player moves his or her finger up the neck, the motor goes faster and the pitch of the note changes correspondingly. Then the FSR data is used to control the volume of the speakers – when the player is not pressing on a button, that string is silent, and the loudness can then be fairly accurately manipulated by pressing harder or softer.

Additionally, switches on the headstock allow the player to choose whether the output is chromatic (i.e. touching at or behind a fret will make the note associated with that fret) or not (so every tiny movement of a finger will make a tiny change).

And of course, the player can use any cassette she or he wants, not just tone but rhythm, speech, found sound, even other music.

Thusfar, there seems to have only been one person who has made actual music on the thing, having picked it up only moments before, and it sounded great:

SkronkGood from Jared Friedman on Vimeo.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *