STEIM's Electro Squeek Club

Roam through a tactile instrumental labyrinth of PalpEars, FondleEyes, CaressKeys, CuddleButtons, BrainFingers and Sonic PinchChips.

STEIM's Electro Squeek Club is an exhibition where you are allowed to touch as much as you like. It offers you a peek behind the scenes of STEIM's laboratory, where prototypes of new electronic musical instruments and stage devices are developed. By playing and experimenting with them yourself, you can discover how these instruments work and what they can do. Some of the instruments are being developed by STEIM for its clients, and others have been specially prepared for this exhibition. The exhibition is designed for everyone who would like to learn by hands-on experience about the latest technologies and concepts in the electronic arts. It's suitable for anyone from 5 to 105.

You play most of the instruments in STEIM's Electro Squeek Club by touch. That may seem obvious, but it's not so long ago (the seventies and eighties) that you needed a computer keyboard to program most electronic instruments. And before that (the fifties and sixties) you had to plug cables and turn knobs to operate them, and you could change only one variable at a time. Those 'instruments' weren't really designed as musical instruments. They were pieces of scientific apparatus, and were more for experimenting with sound than for making music. That's all you could get then. Now electronics have become much cheaper, and we can build our own musical and performance instruments. Their inventors (composers, musicians, theatre producers, artists etc.) think up exactly what they please; no instrument is too crazy or too personal to make. The instruments no longer have to please the dull, safe taste of an impersonal mass-public - most of whom in any case prefer to keep things exactly as they are. So the new instruments give free rein to the imagination. This is as true for those who design them as for those who play them.

STEIM's Electro Squeek Club presents an array of instruments which produce sounds - and in some cases images too - in response to touching. You change the sound (and where appropriate the image) by rubbing, squeezing, pushing, caressing or waving at them. Some of the instruments can be played by singing into them or by touching another person who is playing them. The ideas for these instruments came from the team who have designed countless instruments for STEIM's guests and clients in recent years: Tom Demeyer, Frank Baldé, Jorgen Brinkman, Michel Waisvisz, Bert Bongers, Dorothée Meddens en Steina Vasulka.



The Office Organ
is an ordinary, respectable-looking office PC, with a keyboard, monitor and mouse. When you type on the keyboard, the letters and words appear on the screen as usual. Every key you hit also makes a distinctive sound. The coloured arrow keys allow you to change the sounds belonging to the other keys. There is also a telephone you can pick up to sing or speak to the computer. Then you can 'type' with your own voice! Hear the bizarre sound as you type a letter to your best friend, or just try out the possibilities of all the keys on the keyboard.

Idea: Michel Waisvisz
Sounds: Frank Baldé

The Crackle Boxes have been around for over 20 years. They were electronic playthings in the days before home computers existed, and they were the first electronic music instruments you could really play by direct contact. When you press the metal pads with your fingertips, you become one with the electronic system. The Crackle Box emits an amazing variety of crackles and squeals as you move from pad to pad and press them gently or firmly with your fingers. These musical instruments were a huge success when they first appeared. They were invented and made by STEIM, who sold thousands of them. People apparently still find the Crackle Box wildly exciting, for STEIM continually gets requests to start making them again.

Idea: Michel Waisvisz
Construction: STEIM staff (1976).

The Babblephones are phones that visitors can use to speak to themselves, to a robot or to other visitors. These Babblephones do precisely what normal telephones are supposed NOT to do. Everything you say is garbled slightly, jumbled together or turned back to front. Sometimes it's hard to tell whom you are speaking to. They turn talk into babble. Sometimes what you hear is pure gibberish and sometimes it's like a heavenly choir of angels. But don't forget, everything you hear on the Babblephone is something you said yourself. The two Babblehorns are connected. So if someone is on the other phone, you can try talking to them.

Idea: Michel Waisvisz
Sounds: Frank Baldé
Execution: Jeannot Waisvisz, JanWillem van der Schoot, Skip Goes and Jorgen Brinkman.

The Touchboxes were made by Pauline van Wensveen specially for this exhibition. They are a way of breaking the ice for visitors to STEIM's Electro Squeek Club, which is above all a hands-on experience; or in this case, hands-in! The Touchboxes are plain cubes. There is nothing to see on the outside, except for an opening you can stick your hand into. Inside, you can feel things with your fingertips that you would normally perceive with your eyes or ears. The Touchbox is a work of art for the tactile sense.

Idea and execution: Pauline van Wensveen.

The Dance-o-Matic is a large box that you can go into. Inside, there is Techno music pumping out from loudspeakers. You pull on ribbons that hang from the ceiling to control the music while you dance. Whenever you pull on a ribbon, the beat gets faster and heavier. Then it gradually calms down again. If you wait long enough, it will die down to a quiet buzzing sound. The name for this special kind of techno music is Ribbon 'n Buzz. When inside this party box, you are both a dancer and the DJ. You could have a swinging time with a few friends inside the Dance-o-Matic. Just hang on in there!

Idea: Michel Waisvisz
Sounds: Frank Baldé
Execution: Jan Willem van der Schoot, Skip Goes and Jorgen Brinkman.

The Offbeat Mystery Mirror shows you your own image, as a mirror is supposed to. The image is actually produced by a computer connected up to a video camera. If you stay watching it for a while, you will notice that it does not behave completely like a normal mirror. Sometimes it seems to lose track of time. It forgets you for a while, and later mysteriously remembers you again, showing your reflection from some time back. Another curious feature of this mirror is that it listens to your voice and, if you sing or speak to it nicely, it alters your reflection. But if you shout at it loudly, you will see something else altogether.

Idea and execution: Tom Demeijer.

The Sonic Chair is a sports-car seat with a built-in game controller, loudspeakers on either side of the sitter's head and a vibrating back and seat-bottom. When you nestle into it, it's like playing a computer game with the latest vibration technology: not only do you hear the sound through your ears but you feel it through your whole body. The Sonic Chair does not take you through a simulated world of computer generated images, however. Instead, you travel through a world of sound waves. The purpose of your journey is to explore that world and to discover what the various sounds mean to you. Do you recognize any of the sounds? If so, can you change them into something totally new? What sounds belong together? Can you use them to make music? Are the sounds you hear different to those someone else hears? Can you picture what the sounds represent? Do they speak to you?

Idea: Michel Waisvisz and Frank Baldé
Sounds: Frank Baldé
Execution: JanWillem van der Schoot and Skip Goes.

The Electronic Baby Mirror is a mirror you can manipulate by being nice to the baby, who is called Touch-Feely. Touchy-Feely is a doll studded with electronic sensors. These sensors are connected up to a computer, which shows your mirror image and that of the baby cradled in your arms. The computer can alter the image according to how tenderly you treat the baby. It may seem funny having to cosset something that is just a bunch of electronics - or is it really alive, does it have feelings? And is the mirror really a mirror, or is it keeping an eye on you as well as on the baby? The reflections change when you squeeze the Touchy-Feely's left hand, moving the right arm, putting your hand in front of the left eye or rocking the baby backwards. If you squeeze the baby's right foot, the reflections change to something else. Touchy-Feely's favourite activity is sitting on your lap and looking in the mirror with you.

Idea: Dorethée Meddens and Michel Waisvisz
Image, creation and execution: Dorothée Meddens
Sounds: Dorothée Meddens

The Animal Symphony Web is home not to a single spider but to a whole fauna. Plucking the strands of the web brings various creatures to life. There is one animal for each strand. If you strum several strands at once, you will hear a whole chorus of different animals. Skilful playing of the strands of the web will bring forth a symphony of animal and nature noises. The web was originally designed to allow someone to control complex sounds by simple hand movements. it's like operating all the sliders of a sound mixer at once just with the tip of your finger.

Idea: Michel Waisvisz
Sounds: Frank Baldé
Execution: Bert Bongers and Skip Goes

The Bebop Table is a circular table topped by a sheet of clear plastic. Beneath it, the eye of a video camera stares up and records whatever happens on the transparent top. To be more precise, it detects the colour of what it sees. There are three porcelain figurines of musicians on the table: a drummer, a trumpeter and a pianist. By sliding the figures around, you produce musical sounds from loudspeakers which are built into the table. See if you can get all three to play together as a band.

Idea: Tom Demeijer and Michel Waisvisz
Programming: Tom Demeijer
Execution: Jorgen Brinkman

The Magic Organ with its Click-Poof-Plop Keyboard has a lot of different "keys", each with its own shape and texture. One key is soft, fluffy and round, another is like a little bed of nails (with the nails pointing up!), another is like a tin can and yet another is a small slab of marble. When you start 'playing' this motley assortment of keys, you discover that each one produces an entirely different sound. You can turn a lever to change the sounds for the keys. Is it possible to discover how each sound feels? Do you feel it with your fingers or with your ears?

Idea: Michel Waisvisz
Sounds: Frank Baldé
Execution: Jorgen Brinkman

The Crackle Stage is a small wooden platform with standing room for two bare-footed people. Sensor surfaces set into the wood conduct electric currents through the bodies of the players (there's no danger of electrocution, since the voltage is very low). When the two people make skin contact, it produces a closed circuit, resulting in crackling and creaking noises. Touch one another, feel the music coursing through your body! Sweaty hands and tight embraces produce a range of sounds all of their own.

Idea: Michel Waisvisz
Execution: Nico Bes (1976)

The Open Terrarium is an installation designed by Laetitia Sonami. A glass terrarium measuring 1 x 0.5 metres is filled with rubber gloves that sway like sea anemones. Each glove contains a little electric motor whose operation is controlled by sound. A CD of music composed by Sonami conducts this chorus of exotic gloves. The terrarium is not designed for the visitors to play. It is meant as a place to contemplate on the instrument that is so vital to every kind of touching: the human hand.

Idea and execution: Laetitia Sonami

The Midi Conductor is a simplified version of The Hands. The Hands are a pair of glove-like instruments equipped with various kinds of sensor that detect the player's hand-movements. Speed, direction and distance can all affect the sound of a synthesizer, so that the player feels like he or she is conducting an orchestra.

Idea: Michel Waisvisz
Sounds: Frank Baldé
Execution: Bert Bongers (1989).

The Little Web is the original prototype of all the webs subsequently built by STEIM. It consists of harp-strings stretched across an old mirror frame. The strings are fastened at the edge over pressure-sensitive pickups. You can control many different things at the same time by playing several strings. In this case, the strings don't control sounds but lights. These lights shine on whoever is playing the Midi Conductor. Be a creative lighting artist when you play the Little Web.

Idea: Michel Waisvisz
Execution: Tom Demeije

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