Animusic and the Real World

Way back at the beginning of this blog, I mentioned that I’m a sucker for kinetic sculpture and related artwork. I’ve been fascinated by ball machines since I was a kid.

As an occasional musician, I’m especially intrigued by works that integrate motion and music.

That being the case, it’s no surprise that I like the videos released under the banner “Animusic”. Brief background: Animusic, formerly Visual Music, have created a series of computer-animated videos of fantastically complicated mechanical musical instruments. As usual, The Font of All Human Knowledge has more information.

Here’s a classic example of Animusic’s work:

There’s no way such an instrument could ever be built in the real world, but it sure looks cool, doesn’t it?

Much as I enjoy the videos, though, I’ve always been bothered by something that I couldn’t quite pin down. I was watching some Animusic videos the other day, and when I got to this one, I realized what the problem was:

Care to guess what it was that bothered me?

I suppose I should answer the question, or this is going to be a very short post… It’s that the videos assume a perfect world. Not only are the instruments impossible (in a very literal sense; I welcome feedback from any engineers who can build those pogo stick instruments, complete with internal power, the ability to balance themselves in motion, and travel a branching and curving path as shown), but nothing ever goes wrong. Take a look back at that first video: hundreds of balls in motion, and not one misses its target or bounces at the wrong angle and triggers an extra note or winds up on the floor?

What can I say? That’s the kind of thing that pushes my button. If you’re going to spend that much time and effort recreating the physics so the flight of the balls looks right, take the next step and let things go a little awry here and there, just like in real life.

From that perspective, I actually find some of the more recent videos easier to watch; the Animusic team seems to have moved away from trying to create instruments and focused on the interplay of light and music:

There’s still a kinetic element, but by using light instead of “physical” balls, they make it easier for me to suspend my disbelief.

Other computer artists have gone in the other direction. Check out this Animusic-inspired video created by “Tom”, aka TheAbeGer:

Notice the ball that bounces out of it’s channel and falls off the edge just before the 30 second mark? Notice that throughout the piece we see ball-return pipes, delivering the used balls back to the launch points to be fired again? Kudos, Sir!

Oops. Looks like his more recent works are following Animusic’s lead. I guess it was nice while it lasted:

Oh, remember what I said about not being able to build these instruments in the real world? Guess what: some of them can actually be built. Well, sort of. A couple of years ago, Intel spent $160,000 to construct a real-life version of the original “Pipe Dream” instrument for a demo of their Atom CPUs and their industrial control capabilities.

Did you notice the behaviour of the balls? A heck of a lot of them end up on the floor.

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