Koka Stepper Miniature
Sound designer, composer and producer Koka Nikoladze spoke to Elektrik Kulture about one of his latests inventions, the Koka Stepper Miniature. Using merely a circuit board, wood, 12 screws and of course a motor, he's designed an instrument that creates electronic grooves.
1. Firstly, what is the purpose of music? Massive question but as a composer and producer I assume you believe there is a purpose to music.
Purpose of music, wow, amazing question. Does music have only one purpose? I think not, well, of course not. I think anybody who tries to find only one general purpose of music will hit the wall. To me, music is a profession - it is science. And I’m glad to be a professional - scientist of one of the most ancient forms of entertainment.
Music sounds satisfying to me. This belief is enough to want to dedicate my life to music.
2. Okay, so now we've got the big philosophical question out of the way, tell me a bit about yourself. Who are you? Where in the world are you from and where are you based?
I’m from Georgia, was born in the capital, Tbilisi. I literally had a dark childhood, which means days and months without electricity, long cold winters, etc., but a lot of music every day. Now Georgia is becoming a super country, things have changed radically since then.
I studied violin at the specialised music school and then a conservatoire, then moved to Germany and studied composition in Stuttgart. Finally, I moved to Oslo and did my masters in Performing New Music technology. Now I’m doing my PhD at the Norwegian Academy of Music.
3. Your Georgian background, does that influence anything you create musically. Is there a massive influence from that?
Obviously it does. But it’s not necessarily Georgian music that impacts my work. It is complex.
I can’t really say if some Georgian poetry impacts my taste of rhythm or if horrifying soviet architecture (huge concrete buildings with hundreds of windows and doors, which all look so similar), is the reason for me to like certain kinds of repetitions. It’s complex.
3. Koka's Stepper Miniature, tell me a bit about it. Will there ever be a Koka's Stepper - a much larger version?
“Koka's Stepper Miniature", as most of my instruments, is a result of sudden curiosity. Sometimes I suddenly become curious about something and that automatically means insane obsession with that idea. I have to do something immediately to satisfy my brain. So I just thought of making an instrument out of a stepper motor and made it overnight. It worked so well that I’m now actually planning to bring it a step further and to produce a polyphonic version. I just need an additional element that will make me curious again.
5. How do you even go about making an instrument? Is that difficult? Have you made other instruments before this one?
I’ve been making instruments for quite a while, but mostly digital instruments - digital synthesizers and sound processing tools for my work as a composer. Recently I got access to some great tools at the local hacker space, Bitraf. I learnt how to use a laser cutter, CNC machine and other stuff, so now I can actually materialise much more ideas then I could a while ago. I get plenty of new ideas every time new tools become available to me.
6. What made you use screws when you were creating the "Screwboard"? You could've used something completely different, that was also small and metal? No?
Yes, actually making a screwboard was an aesthetic decision, gently touching smooth screw heads and changing tones simply feels good, but it also had a practical reason. It is easy to make a simple circuit board, which you sandwich between two layers of wood, and then you tighten everything with screws, which also become touch-sensitive keys. Everything fits together so well, as if all elements - circuit boards, wood, screws, etc., were created only to exist in that combination.
7. Finally, why is it so important to push electronic technology and acoustic instruments together? Should people hold a separatist view on acoustic and electronics?
I think, holding a separatist view is similar to saying that we can drink coffee, we can drink milk, but not both of them at the same time. It does not imply that either one is better, it’s totally up to your taste, isn’t it? Well, I know there are some strong opinions about tea with milk, I don’t like it, but a vast majority of British people would probably murder me for saying that. There is a saying - every man to his taste. I personally find combining electronic and acoustic technology super exciting.