Mo Wolpert

We’re kind of going a little off the reservation with this one: Moritz “Mo” Wolpert is clearly not a band, or even, strictly speaking, a musician. He’s more of a multimedia artist who specializes in designing unique, very ornate instruments in a style that a lot of blogs refer to as “steampunk”–a somewhat annoying term that apparently refers to the fact that Wolpert’s creations have a sort of Victorian sci-fi quality about them. If this guy isn’t a huge Jules Verne and H.G. Wells fan, then slip some laudanum into our absinthe and say goodnight.

Wolpert has designed several amazing gizmos, including an analog sequencer called a Schaltzentrale, with a brass body covered in elaborate etchings, and something called a Trafokasten, which as near as we can tell is sort of a cross between a musical saw and a Theremin. His most well-documented contraption is also his most complex: a massive, multipiece device called the Heckeshorn, which uses various cranks and pulleys and tubes and God knows what else to produce all sorts of eerie tones that a player can apparently manipulate via a set of lap-steel-like strings across the top. It also sports what appears to be a rubber mouse, but we’re not really sure what that’s for.

Wolpert’s website and MySpace are all in German, as is most of his press–and even though Jake took two years of German in high school, all he really remembers is “Ich habe hunger” and “Wo sind die toiletten?” so he wasn’t much help. So we honestly know very little about this guy, although we could at least figure out that he was born in Bremen, Germany in 1966 and is now based in Berlin. He hand-lathes all his devices himself, and works with a guy named Christian Gunther on the electronics. Pretty nifty stuff.

Update: Apparently the purpose of the Schaltzentrale was to semi-automate the performance of the Heckeshorn and the Trafokasten; after a bit of digging, we finally found this video of Wolpert and a group of musicians putting all three devices through their paces. The video is nearly two hours long and kind of demystifies Wolpert’s creations a little, since it’s all shot in a brightly lit studio and features a bunch of people in street clothes wandering in and out of frame to tweak whatever’s playing. But it’s worth watching just to get a sense of how many moving parts there are, and how many bizarre, creepy sounds it can all produce when everything’s patched through the Schaltzentrale (which we’ve also since learned, via the comments on another blog, is German for “central switchboard”).


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