How to Play Music by Electrocuting Veggies

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In his latest video, Brooklyn-based artist j. viewz performs an electronic version of Massive Attack’s “Teardrop” using only vegetables. Well, not just vegetables, actually; with some grapes, kiwis, and strawberries thrown in, this band is 50 percent fruity. Regardless, his performance is captivating – certainly not your average vegetable medley. But how does it work?

The key to the whole thing appears at 0:26, where Dagan shows Makey Makey, a circuit board created by MIT graduate students Jay Silver and Eric Rosenbaum that lets normal objects like mushrooms or eggplants take the place of keyboard keys. Dagan describes how it works in a brief interview below. 

The Atlantic: Was any part of the video or sound pre-recorded, or was it actually generated live in the video? 

Jonathan Dagan: All the sounds were generated live, but the actual samples that were triggered were pre-made. The processing of the sound on the Novation keyboard also happened live, of course.

How does the circuit board work?

The Make Makey circuit board translates signals from various media into my computer. I turned that signal into MIDI commands, making the veggies into a MIDI controller, same as the keyboard you see in the video. Both feed MIDI signals into the computer and trigger samples in [the music editing program] Ableton Live.

It took me a while to understand that I needed to explain it in more detail on the video – the shape of the fruits and vegetables does not affect the sound it triggers. Technically I could have used exposed wires for all of the samples, or even a human body or a glass of water for that matter. It's simply nice to “embody” a bass drum sound with an eggplant, bells with grapes and the sweet melodic sound with strawberries.

In your opinion, what's the most musical vegetable? 

Well, I've been playing with MIDI controllers for a while and tested lots of drum pads, but I've never worked with a drum pad that was more comfortable and ergonomic than an eggplant, really.

For more videos by j. viewz, visit his Vimeo page

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Emma Green is the assistant managing editor of TheAtlantic.com, where she also oversees the National Channel and writes about religion and culture.

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