Manipulating materials and machines to produce something personal is an important component of Mark Mothersbaugh’s practice. Perhaps none of his work displays that inclination more clearly than his orchestrions—musical instruments that play his original scores. The orchestrions are not only physically but also aurally commanding due to the unique sounds Mothersbaugh coaxes out of their unruly antique components.
The first orchestrion, which he conceived while composing music for Wes Anderson’s film Moonrise Kingdom (2012), was built using birdcalls dating from the nineteenth century to the present, each with its own distinct sound. The next music machines were made from abandoned organ pipes from old churches. All of his machines have unpredictable noisemaking elements and tunings, so it is impossible to tell how they will sound until they are assembled.
Pairing Mothersbaugh’s talented musicianship with his visual arts practice, the orchestrions embody his particular relationship with technology. From the earliest days of DEVO, he has manipulated instruments to produce sounds that are entirely his own. He has always understood technology as a tool for creating newness while working against its tendency to create sameness. In all of his work, he balances mechanical production with a final product that is personal in its appearance, its sound, and, ultimately, its performance.