As someone born of a generation obsessed with tattoos, and who has a little ink himself, even I think the whole idea is ridiculous. Sure, they’re permanent reminders of some cherished memory, but what is that heart-shaped skull going to look like at age 70? Plus, tattoos are just an ill-planned attempt at maintaining some sense of permanence, or a very bizarre, early onset form of nostalgia. Now, though, a visual artist named Dmitry Morozov has done something that’s making even me rethink my stance: he’s created the world’s first music-playing tattoos. And here I thought nothing could beat Little Pete’s dancing tattoo.
Morozov’s tonal tats are actually part of a project called “Reading My Body”. The whole process involves inking himself with a special barcode tattoo, which he reads using a special homemade sensor. The sensor then gives off a musical sound, which, depending on the sensor’s various settings, can range from a “theremin squeal to the low moan of guitar feedback.” Despite the seemingly-advanced technological scope, the device uses two black line sensors available at most hardware stores, a basic stepper motor, and parts of a Wii remote.
So, then, how does the whole thing work? In an interview with Noisey, Morozov said the tattoo is “specifically designed to contain the maximum number of variable time slots between triggers for variable music to be made. It is possible to manually control the velocity of sensors’ movement, direction and step length. In addition, all control parameters and sensor movements can be programmed to operate autonomously.”
While I don’t have an advanced Engineering degree, it seems, as evidenced by the promo video below, the movement of the bar code elicits varying sets of musical sounds. As the device scans the barcode, manipulating how long it scans each section and the angle of the entire barcode seems to generate a different tone or some slight variation.
More than trying to refurbish his unused Wii console, Morozov said his artistic aim was to use “tattoos, namely mine, as a music score.” He added, “I wanted to create a special instrument that combines human body and robotic system into a single entity that is designed to automate creative process in an attempt to represent the artist and his instrument as a creative hybrid.”
While the resulting “music” is akin to a toddler making dubstep, Morozov stresses that this prototype is meant to “demonstrate the technology rather than being a successful and powerful tool. In the future I plan to make more powerful instruments that can also understand sizes and shapes of images, as well as color, and that can run faster, easier and more stable. I’m also thinking about other body parts that can be more ergonomic and will require different types of robots, for example spinning disks on back.”
The device is just one of many projects Morozov has in the works in his pursuit of sonification (“producing sounds from atypical objects or processes”). These include using the “cellular automata ornament” of sea shells to create sound and video and an an electronic sound instrument that “converts (the) chemical reaction of sublimating dry ice to sound compositions.” The ultimate goal, though, is to explore “how will people add electronics to their bodies, starting from medical, health, and army purposes to art, sex and education.”
Check out another promo video below. Just one more question, though: If I scanned my tattoo of “More than a feeling”, would it actually play the titular Boston single?