electromechanical artist david cranmer of nervous squirrel studio debuts his massive 44-note ‘ore-some xylophone’ as part of trinity college’s science gallery sound check exhibitionthe sculpture is played mechanically by a series of mallets and actuators, which are part of a machine responsible for moving or manipulating a mechanism or system. additionally, the design contains a geiger counter mounted underneath a lump of uranium ore, hence the name ‘ore-some’ xylophone.

44 solenoids are used to operate the xylophone


nervous squirrel‘s ore-some xylophone features a handwheel that can be used to move a sliding lead shield, which causes the detected activity to increase when the geiger-müller tube is exposed to the rock. the detected radioactive events are then used to create a composition using solenoids and mallet mechanisms to play the xylophone. after the first three clicks are counted, the time between clicks one and three is mapped across the total range of 44 notes, and click two determines the note to be played within that range. when the next click is detected, two and four become the total range, and three becomes the next selected note. it is impossible to predict when the next radioactive event will occur, and so the music generated is truly random.

the random timings are converted to MIDI notes before being sent to the mechanism control circuitry

the sculpture stands around 2.7 m high, and weighs 140 kg

each mechanism had to be slightly different, so that the arc of the mallet met the centre of the block

the enclosure is made of thick aluminium plates to withstand use from thousands of visitors who will interact with the sculpture

the ore-some xylophone is commissioned by science gallery dublin, and will be exhibited until 24th september, 2017

the project involved a significant amount of risk assessment forms

the sculpture was inspected by a radiological officer 

front removed to show the mechanism that moves the sliding lead shield

the glass cylinder underneath the carriage is the geiger-müller tube

top view showing rails and lead-carrying carriage

front view of the control box




designboom has received this project from our ‘DIY submissions‘ feature, where we welcome our readers to submit their own work for publication. see more project submissions from our readers here.


edited by: lynn chaya | designboom

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