Simone Giertz recently found herself on stage with Chris Hadfield, the famous singing astronaut whose acoustic rendition of David Bowie’s “Space Oddity” went viral a few years back. While they were on that stage, she pondered the origin of clapping and if there were any alternatives. As it turns out, there is a viable alternative: an entire auditorium full of people aggressively clacking their teeth. That, in turn, inspired Giertz’s newest project. In this video, everyone’s favorite Tesla-chopping YouTuber maker builds a bizarre musical instrument out of teeth.
The idea here is as simple as it is disturbing. What if you could use a MIDI keyboard to control the champing of many sets of chompers? Ideally, each of those sets of teeth would produce a unique pitch, so you could play them like the world’s most unsettling piano. Of course, as with all projects, this was easier said than done. Giertz started by ordering several sets of teeth. Don’t worry; they’re not real human teeth. They’re similar to the sort of anatomical models that you’d see in a dentist’s office, complete with gums and jaws. The first step was to actuate those robotically in response to commands from a computer, but, predictably, all of the jaws were identical and so they produced the same sound.
That was appropriately frightening, but wasn’t exactly musical. Giertz experimented with, quite literally, pulling teeth in order to alter the pitch of each set of teeth, but the results were lackluster. The final solution was to tear apart a xylophone in order to salvage the musical bars. Those bars were then attached to the jaws, so that each one could produce a unique note. The jaws are actuated by solenoids that are controlled by a dedicated MIDI interface. That interface can receive MIDI signals from a computer or keyboard, and will activate each solenoid whenever the corresponding key is pressed. The teeth were then mounted onto a board with a MIDI keyboard sitting below. Just tap a key, and one of the jaws will clack a note. It’s exactly as much nightmare fuel as you’d expect it to be!