- The Art of the Gremlin:Inventive Musicians, Curious Devices Contributors' Notes
Dan Wilson: Printar (Study One)
Recorded and dubbed on 4-track cassette in a garage, September 2006.
Contact: Dan Wilson, 11 Thornbera Gardens, Bishop's Stortford, Hertfordshire CM23 3NP, U.K. E-mail: <email@example.com>.
Printar Study is the first in a series of studies on adapted dot-matrix printers. "Printar" is an amalgam of "printer guitar"; it can be strapped to the player and operated while one stands, and there are numerous taut springs inside simply crying out to be plucked. It is an attempt to reinstate that instinctive bond seen in instrument-instrumentalist relationships, which is sadly lacking in user interactions with nonmusical operational equipment. It could be said that in the industrialized world our proprioception is diverted away from playful musico-idiomatic actions and directed instead toward unilateral work-related procedures: Realization of emotion is substituted with realization of capital. Expressivity is frustratingly numbed on these new dummy instruments of work, yet they sing on with steadfast monotony, filling the offices with their harmonically rich voices. They have musical potential. In this study, the printar is played on the player's lap while he or she sits on a lovely, comfortable chair, to eradicate any phallocentric figurations that could recrudesce under the standing guitarist stance. The piece features two printar performances dubbed together so that the riffs collide and tangle together, strengthening the printar's voice. The bassy sound of the springs being plucked can be heard along with the occasional twist of the roller, making the stepper motor cough.
Essentially, the printar is the skeleton of a printer with a few amendments. Small single-pole pickups were placed near the springs to capture their resonance, the stepper motor was given a direct signal output and a piezo pickup array was affixed along the roller. Integrated faders govern the balance between these elements, akin to the balance controls on a guitar. Also, a squarewave step sequencer module was added. The tones output from the sequencer module are fed solely into the print head, through a switching board that directs the signal to any one of the reeds inside the print head (typically, eight tiny armatures are compacted inside a dot-matrix print head, each potentially offering eight independent channels of sound). These eight armatures form a cluster that punches outward when signals are fed into the channels. In the printar, the piezoelectric pickups attached to the roller are pummeled by the solenoid-like action of these reeds, and the player physically grabs and skims this chattering print head against the piezos to alter the tone. Another way to alter the tone is through the switching panel, enabling the player to choose between print head armatures. In this way the head can filter certain frequencies in different switching configurations.
The print head gets very hot, as the yellow sticker warns: "Warning, Warnung, Attention: Hot, Heiβ, Chaud." This becomes painfully apparent when one physically presses the print head onto the piezo pickups. The device also runs on 12 volts (two bulky battery packs are worn in a backpack) and can pack a hefty shock if misused. Despite this, gloves were not worn— a close instrument-instrumentalist relationship was maintained. It can be a somewhat thorny device to work with, but all it needs is love.
In other studies, a pickup, three strings and tuning pegs were all attached to the printar skeleton. The string pickup signal was clipped and fed into the print head instead of the squarewave sequencer, thus bringing it closer to its instrumental namesake. In another study the stepper motor was given more prominence. However, the first printar study remained the most sonically intriguing, since the familiar operational voice of the dot matrix printer can still be recognized.