The Sewing Machine Orchestra

The Sewing Machine OrchestraSince 1851, Singer has been synonymous for sewing. The machines had a practical design and creative ideas that still characterize the company today. Their machines were the first to introduce zig-zag stitches and were the first electronic machines to hit the industry market. The machines can now produce clothing construction unlike any other sewing machines and this includes embroidery and quilting. In 2011 the company celebrated Isaac Singer’s 160th Anniversary of obtaining the patent for his machine. Never would he have thought his machines would one day be considered orchestra tools.

Martin Messier is a Canadian composer who goes to the stage to conduct an “orchestra” using sewing machines. His orchestra consists of eight vintage Singer sewing machines and a stark lighting system. Messier uses the wheel of each sewing machine as a potentiometer, which is similar to the knob controlling the volume on audio equipment. The conductor controls the sewing machines manually, and there is also computer input producing sounds. He conducts the eight machines together; producing a sound described as halfway between cacophony and melody. His music is referred to as combining old technology with new technology.

Messier uses a combination of micro-controllers including; MaxMsp, Ableton Live, Maxforlive and a homemade unit his friend collaborated for him. The clash of mechanical rhythms along with the flashing lights and the presence of these vintage sewing machines make one think about the relationship between sound and the objects. This sensation has been a recurring theme in Messier’s work. He states when people have an object in front of them intended for a specific use, they tend only to see it for that one use and don’t look at its full potential. His idea is to push the imagination beyond its everyday territory.

Many of us who for years have sat behind a Singer sewing machine and re-hemmed a pair of pants, or fixed a seam would never have thought that machine could sit on prominent stage and create music people would exclaim over. Most people who sat behind their sewing machine and created that stunning outfit they wore to an opening would see it as a machine that would stun audiences with the music it created. Messier uses his imagination when he sees these everyday tools and lets it take him to new and unexplored ideas for the use of our tools we see only one use for.

Messier takes everyday objects or tools and gives them a new voice. He specializes in redefining the “frontiers of concrete music.” He got his inspiration to use the Singer sewing machine when he visited an old antique shop one day. He claimed it got his attention because it was so unfamiliar to him. Messier did not grow up with a mother or grandmother who used a sewing machine to create clothing for him. His childhood did not include a sewing machine in the house that was used to repair or create clothing or household items such as drapes or covers. His idea started with the intention of using just one machine, and it soon became obvious he would need several.

It is stated Messier does not sew, but he does resuscitate old Singers that were put to sleep years ago. Through these machines, he releases a luminous and sonorous presence in magical ways. The public is said to be carried away in a “dreamlike universe” where each machine as a singular object is magnified. Messier has taken his orchestra to France, Belgium, Sweden, and the Netherlands, also to stages in Canada.

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