Symphony for Dot Matrix Printers
The Symphony project transforms banal office technology into a system for musical performance. Dot matrix printers are turned into musical “instruments”, while a computer network system, typical of a contemporary office, becomes the “orchestra” used to play them. The orchestra is “conducted” by a network server which reads from a composed “score.” Each of the printers plays from a different “part” comprised of notes and rhythms made up of letters of the alphabet, punctuation marks and other characters. The resulting sounds are amplified and broadcast over a sound system, creating densely textured, rhythmically-driven music.
The system employed for the performance consists of one dozen dot matrix printers of various makes and models, each driven by its own 8086 personal computer. The PCs are connected to a Unix platform NeXT server via two networks: one ethernet and one serial. Two pieces of custom software have been written to allow the control of the entire system from the server. The individual PCs request their text file “part” from the server via ethernet at the start of each performance. The server then executes a command file “score” which uses the serial network to call individual textfiles for each PC to print at precise times. The inscription of the “score” and the “parts” in a modifiable fixed medium (ASCII text files) enables us to create performances which can be orchestrated, synchronized, and edited with a large measure of flexibility and control.Without the custom hardware and software to operate the printers, the behaviour of these machines would be too random to allow a rigorous compositional practice.