Michael Una picked up a Speak ‘n Math, the 1980s-era vocally enabled calculator game for children, and fiddled with its buttons. A gentle electronic voice asked for the sum of nine plus five, then choked up some guttural clicks and synthesized groans, and the screen’s dull green LEDs got all choppy and strange. To many, this Speak ‘n Math would now seem broken, but Michael was pleased; he successfully hacked the little electronic man, and it was music to his ears.
“It’s easy to be atonal,” says Michael of audiovisual artists working in the same vein, noting that intellectual music may be theoretically “interesting,” but not necessarily listenable. So he plays with harmonies, and the result is unique compositions styled from self-made or manipulated instruments. Visuals tend to take up some of his time, too, because nobody enjoys watching some guy fiddle with his laptop on stage during a live music event. Perhaps Michael’s most successful merger of the audio and visual experiences is his Beep-It, an optical theremin synthesizer. The original theremin, invented in 1928, creates musical sounds when its user moves his hands in proximity but never touches the instrument. Michael’s theremin is played with light, so when it’s attached to a guitar, a blinking LED produces throbs, whereas daylight is full blast.
In his studio, two old television sets react with EKG-like rollercoaster lines to whatever instrument Michael plugs into his amplifier system. This is the wobblescope, a manipulation technique invented by new-media pioneer Nam June Paik, and the TVs, in opposite corners of the room, lend a mad-scientist feel to the bits of chopped-up microchips on the worktable.
Michael believes that electronics aren’t magical or mysterious things. He sells his optical theremins on etsy so that musicians can adapt them to their practice, and he’s taught workshops for beginners to make their own. The anyone-can-do-it ethos is alive in many of his projects. A set of bicycles, one with a drum machine strapped to it, and another with a keyboard, play their instruments as riders speed up or slow down. If they keep the same pace, the instruments become synchronized and produce harmonies.
Michael calls this collaboration with the world a secondary artistic experience. By making available certain tools, he invites users close the circuit and participate.http://una-love.com/munablog/