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Hear the strange, surprising sounds of 3D printers and laser cutters

Artist Kyle Machulis records sounds hidden within Autodesk's modern industrial workshop in San Francisco, creating a jarring and oddly beautiful mechanical symphony.

Culture
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Kyle Machulis outside Autodesk's Pier 9 workshop. James Martin/CNET

Kyle Machulis is an accomplished engineer known for unraveling the secrets of the Microsoft Kinect and fitness wearables, and the mysteries of sexual congress in cyberspace. He also throws a mean yo-yo.

But at the moment, Kyle is venturing into uncharted territory. Recently awarded an artist residency at Autodesk's Pier 9 workshop in San Francisco, Machulis has reign to use the company's breathtaking collection of 3D printers, CNC mills, laser cutters, welding torches and metal lathes, as well as an abrasive industrial waterjet that cuts through steel like a hot knife through butter.

But instead of staying in his comfort zone and building a Kinect-controlled fitness-tracking sexbot (though I'm sure the thought must have crossed his mind), Kyle is using this opportunity to create a library of industrial sounds recorded in Autodesk's workshop.

It's a more challenging task than one might think. On a practical level, Kyle had to shove microphones and delicate audio recording equipment into industrial machines that sane individuals would not think to tinker with. Along the way he had to improvise a few creative recording techniques to reveal a landscape of sounds that would otherwise be impossible to capture.

To record the sound of a waterjet forcing 60,000 pounds per square inch into a slurry of garnet, Kyle employed number of different microphones, including a submersible hydrophone mic. The resulting sounds are as terrifying as they are mesmerizing.

Perhaps my favorite recording from his residency is the sound of a 3D printer captured by a pair of induction coil microphones. These unique (and surprisingly cheap) mics respond to electrical fields instead of vibrations in the air. They also point to the artistic challenge of culling surprising and oddly beautiful sounds from machines that most would describe as irritating and repetitive. By exploring unconventional recording tools, Kyle gives us a new perspective.

For Autodesk and its industrial partners, the recordings may act as a window into the machines and their computer-controlled fabrication processes. For the rest of us, these alien, jarring, mechanical sounds are pure sound art for curious minds.

To read Kyle's own detailed account of the process, motivation and techniques used to record Autodesk's workshop equipment, check out his writeup on Instructables.

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