The Handmade Electric Machines (T.H.E.M.)

The Handmade Electric Machines (T.H.E.M.) are human-powered sound sculptures designed by John Ferguson, Andrew Brown, Timothy Tate, Daniel Della-Bosca. T.H.E.M. were created in the Interactive Media Lab at Griffith University, commissioned by Curiocity Brisbane, and presented in the South Bank Parklands for two weeks as part of World Science Festival Brisbane 2023.

It is estimated that over 24,000 public interactions occurred (according to Southbank Corporation data). Tim Tate and John Ferguson were interviewed on ABC Radio by Rebecca Levingston. “Make a Circuit SING! An Introduction to Handmade Electronic Music” ran as a series of 8 sold out workshops with 96 participants, this was facilitated by Tim Tate and Angela Goh at Queensland Conservatorium Griffith University.

T.H.E.M (The Handmade Electric Machines) are hand-cranked public artworks powered by participants. The work includes three machines, each with two cranks, that incorporate electro-mechanical elements which activate a range of sonic responses. The visual aesthetic of the specifically designed metal housing is inspired by early twentieth century electrical enclosures and the imaginations of Nikola Tesla and Raymond Lowey. Each device is completely stand-alone, requiring only human energy to activate. Internal electronic circuitry explicitly responds to the power generated by audience participation. Bespoke handmade circuits then modulate electronic pulses of sound and light. The cranking interaction encourages participants to physically engage with the artwork and experience it in a more playful and immersive way.

This research extends a tradition of hand cranked sound machines that were popular in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. These included mechanical sound devices such as street organs and noise machines, or “intonarumori,” designed by the futurist Luigi Russolo. In an age of renewable energy transformation a reconnection with the hand crack as a power source is timely, and T.H.E.M. reinvent the hand cranked noise machine for the 21st century. The internal electronics are also a bespoke design by the researchers that draw on DIY electronic techniques. This work exposes audiences to handmade electronic sound in a post-digital world.

T.H.E.M. is a major public artwork that represents a non-traditional research output. It was awarded funding of $35k by Curiocity Brisbane, part of the World Science Festival Brisbane, through a competitive, multi-stage concept development process. The artwork was installed in the South Bank Parklands from March 22 to April 2, 2023.

2 public performances of “T.H.E.M. come to life”, a new composition by Tim Tate situated  T.H.E.M. alongside saxophone (Tim Tate), percussion (Yvette Ofa Agapow), and French horn (Arthur Tan).  

The video below was created by me as as an initial demonstration of project feasibility.

Indicative concept design renders by Danny Della-Bosca: