Mayhem Machine

A new and wild audiovisual instrument requires no skill to play

The Mayhem Machine, a new musical instrument created by Marieke Verbiesen from the Netherlands, allows for its audience to interact not only musically but visually as well. “It functions like a musical instrument, but instead of just steering sound, you steer animation as well, and the machine lets you be a composer,” Verbiesen said.

Verbiesen wants people to be able to create “mayhem” through a series of knobs, dials, and buttons that activate animations onscreen with accompanying sounds. Some of these parts require more than just pushing a button, such as the bit-crusher voice sampler and the bad guitar solo joystick. Another interesting facet of the Mayhem Machine is the noise generating finger pad. The functionality of the Mayhem Machine is discovered through playing and trying out all of the tools available to the player.

Mayhem Machine

Verbiesen drew a lot of her inspiration for the visual aspects of the Mayhem Machine from the Golden Age of Cartoons. She said that the era created the meaning “Language of Vision,” which really brought together cartoon motion and sound (think Mickey Mouse whistling in that “Steamboat Willie” episode) and also that the era had been “striving for a symbiotic image and sound experience in which animation could allocate itself a new function in which animations could be created an experienced as a dynamic experience instead of a linear experience.”

create music without having any actual skills involved

Verbiesen also liked the cartoon “Jem and the Holograms,” which inspired her to become an electronic musician, since she thought that she could create music without having any actual skills involved. “Plus, I anticipated a powerful consumer market hologramming machine would be manufactured by the time I would reach adulthood, but alas…”

One final piece of art that Verbiesen looked at was “Auto-destructive art,” which is a type of art that can be created with natural forces, traditional art techniques and technological. Verbiesen tells us that “primarily a gorm of public art for industrial societies. Self-destructive painting, sculpture and construction is a total unification of ideas, sites, forms, colors, method, and timing of the disintegrative process.”

It’s easy to see how Verbiesen not only got her character inspiration for her animations, but for how the Mayhem Machine works as a whole—cohesively bringing together music and animation for a unique experience. When Verbiesen was designing the Mayhem Machine, she had made several versions to see what would fit her vision best. The base for her machine is a classic music sequencer, which she tells us is a device that can record, edit, or play back music. She also says she has a “slight obsession” with sequencers and samplers, as she’s produced electronic music herself.

Another source for her inspiration were the classic analog interfaces for audiovisual interfaces that were made between 1950 and 1970, such as an installation in Evoluon, which you might recognize as a building that resembles a flying saucer in Eindhoven, in the Netherlands, which once held an exhibit on science and technology. Verbiesen points out a particularly famous installation, the “Poeme Electronique” in 1958.

Mayhem Machine

It made its debut at the World Fair, and was an 8-minute piece of electronic music by Edgard Varese, by which Verbiesen said that it “…showed that art no longer had a closed character.” Shortly after the debut of “Poeme Electronique,” things like the “Mayhem Machine” started popping up, allowing the audience to be in control of what happens in front of them.

Verbiesen said that with the “Mayhem Machine,” she really wanted to create something that challenges users to experience the machine without explanation. “What we see in games is that players love to explore both the possibilities and the limits of what they can do and experience. “When I see people using my machine, playing with the tools, laughing and having fun, I get a sense of relief, because it’s like I’m having a conversation with them. They have understood what I’m trying to show, and they are talking back, in a way that we could never do using spoken language.”

You can find out more about Mayhem Machine over on its website.