I’ve always been drawn to instruments that encourage you to think differently about the way in which you interact with them. As a young boy I learnt to play the piano, then aged 13 picked up the guitar and taught myself to play. However, I was always searching for ways to ‘unlearn’ the traditional playing methods. John Cage had shown how you can ‘prepare’ the piano by placing screws and bolts in between the strings to change the physical sound of the instrument, whilst composers like Glenn Branca demonstrated that the guitar could be reconfigured as an orchestral tool and played with hammers.

A wooden box with a keyboard on the right side and a series of knobs and holes on the left side. It's a musical instrument sitting on a wooden floor

From the Benjolin to the Grackler

As the years have passed I’ve collected all manner of strange and wonderful musical instruments, that are as entertaining by name as they are by nature. How about the Macumbista Benjolin, Ellitone Farm Detective Ultrarollz, SqrtSigil exfriend or Mroztronium Grackler? So, when I first heard about the Wing Pinger from Chinese artist and designer Meng Qi I was immediately intrigued.

The photos here explain better than words can I feel. It’s an extraordinarily beautiful instrument that offers the player the chance to combine both melody and noise in equal measure. It’s extremely playable and immediate, though like any wild sonic beast, not always controllable.

Pinging until your heart’s content

It arrived in October 2020 and I immediately began to explore and play it. It’s not even like a synthesiser in that it has no oscillators to create sound. In fact, it uses 4-pole resonant low pass filters and a network of peripheral logic circuits, binary counters, and shift registers. These filters can be cross “pinged” and modulated, both directly and by generated step signals.  

This means in essence that with the tiniest movement of a knob, chaos becomes a flowing ambient pulse, or an elegant harmonic spectral exploration can descend into wild noise territory.

I love that I can even leave it to settle on its own and it seems to play itself. I’m writing this close to Halloween and it arrived around the same time a year ago, so is it even possessed? I have felt the desire to taste human blood more than ever since owning this though, I know that!

Wing Pinger, the album

After recording many explorations, I decided these could become a release in itself. So now Wing Pinger is out on Bandcamp, as well as Spotify, iTunes and other digital services. It’s one of the first releases on PLAYNEUTRAL, a new label publishing contemporary music by exploratory artists. The first four releases are by Stephen Vitiello/Brendan Canty (Fugazi), Machinefabriek, Aidan Baker, and myself. 

Album cover, entirely red. Text in white across the top reads Scanner Wing Pinger in bold lettering

It’s been a joy to take a strictly minimal approach to this release and embrace the creative possibilities of just one instrument. It’s reductive and minimal, but that in itself is the challenge. To only focus on one instrument as the source of the sound and see how it stands independently. 

A wooden box with a series of knobs and holes on the left side. It's a musical instrument sitting on a wooden floor

If you are curious to see the Wing Pinger in action I made a few videos of my performing with it, and you can admire the attached photos in the download too.  I hope you might enjoy this sonic exploration into the future.

BUY Wing Pinger on Bandcamp now.