If the noise-musical “Stomp” were reimagined with Doris Day household appliances instead of trashcan-soled stage performers, it might sound something like “The Stupid Orchestra,” a self-deprecatingly named installation by Michael Petermann. The conductor/harpsichordist//composer (who “auditioned” over 250 machines to find his whirring, clicking A-list) created a 35-minute symphony that you can preview below, while gawking at the spotless vintage design of his “musicians.”
Petermann first conceived his “Stupid Orchestra” back in 2002 as a way of fusing his classical musicianship (he trained as an orchestra conductor, choirmaster, organist, and harpsichordist at the Academy of Music in Hamburg) with his interest in electronic instruments, which he started noodling around with at age 10. “It’s the combination of being an orchestra conductor and, at the same time, being interested and capable to conceive and manufacture a high-tech music automaton,” Petermann tells Co.Design. “This is what made the museum people call me a ‘renaissance person’.”
Petermann was extremely picky about selecting his orchestral talent.
Like any good conductor, Petermann was extremely picky about selecting his orchestral talent. Because he wanted every machine to have a distinctive sound that the audience could discern in the symphony, he chose appliances designed between 1940 and 1975 (which meant a lot of picking through flea markets, specialty dealers and websites). ” I refused to take younger ones [because], in general, design of the late ’70s and ’80s changed considerably towards making things look alike,” he explains. “People recognize their parents’ or even grandparents’ kitchen when they first see the installation, and become thrilled by their beloved machine’s heightened second life as an artist.”
When it finally came time to compose the symphony for his orchestra, Petermann designed an electronic control system he calls a “MIDI-to-Household-Appliance-Interface.” He built up his composition through “careful listening and controlling” of his machines; the MIDI sequencer runs off a normal laptop and controls the on-off switches and voltages of the appliances, either singly or in groups — just like a conductor waving his arms at a pit full of live musicians.
Luckily for Petermann, he doesn’t have to personally conduct The Stupid Orchestra’s every performance, which happens every hour at the MKG Hamburg until April 30th. Then again, an orchestra that’s part man, part machine might be pretty cool… maybe Petermann can write a “sonata for violin and Braun hand-mixer” next.
[All photos © Weisser Rausch / Kriegner]