Amplified badgers, cam-driven gnomes: David Cranmer's world

When we first encountered the "Badgermin," we knew we'd stumbled on the work of a crackpot inventor with an enthusiasm for electronic music and, perhaps, taxidermy. He didn't disappoint.

Edward Moyer Senior Editor
Edward Moyer is a senior editor at CNET and a many-year veteran of the writing and editing world. He enjoys taking sentences apart and putting them back together. He also likes making them from scratch. ¶ For nearly a quarter of a century, he's edited and written stories about various aspects of the technology world, from the US National Security Agency's controversial spying techniques to historic NASA space missions to 3D-printed works of fine art. Before that, he wrote about movies, musicians, artists and subcultures.
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Edward Moyer
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The Badgermin and the Calculator Orrery. David Cranmer

When we recently encountered an awe-inspiring stuffed and amplified beast/musical instrument called the Badgermin in the various display cases of the blogosphere, we knew we'd stumbled on the work of a mad crackpot scientist inventor with an enthusiasm for electronic music and, perhaps, taxidermy. Fine specimens of such eccentrics becoming increasingly rare, we grabbed our butterfly net and set out after our prey.

Where could we find this strange fellow who thought to install the storied electronic instrument known as the theremin inside of a dead (preinstallation, we hoped) badger? And what other curiosities might he have brought into being?

Surprisingly, it didn't take long to find out. We turned a few cybocorners, shot across the Atlantic, tumbled into a small English back garden and--egad!--came face to face with a chainsaw-powered penguin, a musical pig, and a quartet of cam-driven dancing gnomes.

Nonsculptor and non-sound-artist David Cranmer and friend. Those are arcade buttons--yup, the kind used on old-school arcade games. Inset: Cam-driven gnomes. David Cranmer

David Cranmer--a close-cropped, bearded fellow with a mischievous curving to his eyebrows--has been variously called a sculptor and a sound artist, but he neatly avoids such categorizations.

"I generally prefer to let people make up their own minds," he told Crave. "I think it's funny that if you make a robotic penguin, for example, then people label you an 'artist'--when you could, in fact, just be making it for practical purposes."

Indeed. Still, Cranmer is clearly interested in sound, and sculpture. Take the aforementioned penguin (his name, it seems, is Brian). Brian's innards are made of percussion instruments and drumsticks, and he's appeared at the Ether showcase, an annual "music festival of innovation, art, technology, and cross-arts experimentation" that's sponsored by London's artsy Southbank Centre and has hosted the likes of Kraftwerk, David Byrne, and Radio Head's Thom Yorke.

Another piece, created in collaboration with friend Patrick Furness and also featured at the Ether music fest, involved creating a giant billiard-table-like structure (sans "pockets"), adhering bits of magnetic tape to its surface, rigging up amplification, and then giving people the means to drive small, remote-controlled cars--with tape heads on their undersides--all over it.

Electronic oddities from an English eccentric (images)

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Still another piece is a model of the solar system--or an "orrery"--made not with planets, but with '70s era calculators, including vintage examples from Texas Instruments, Brother, and Rockwell.

This one is, perhaps, more sculpture and less sound, but like other examples of Cranmer's work, including the cam-driven gnomes, the machine produces the sort of wonderfully repetitive and hypnotic sound that would make legendarily odd composer Erik Satie and his "Vexations" quite happy.

So what lies behind all these strange devices crafted by this non-sound-artist and nonsculptor? Why calculators? Why gnomes? Why--if we may be so bold--a badger? We've prepared a little scrapbook about Cranmer. You'll find it three paragraphs up. We invite you to flip through it for more on this idiosyncratic individual and his ouevre.