The dot matrix printer may have beat the fax machine to the recycle bin of history, but both have something in common: an unintentionally musical quality to their audio output. For the latter it’s that telecom handshake, that mashed-data noise of two communication systems finding some common technological ground. For the former, it’s that steady stream of bristling, rat-a-tat sound that accompanied the rapid deployment of blocky letters on a perforated scroll of paper.
The word is “accompanied,” past tense, because the dot matrix printer is at this point something one rarely if ever witnesses, except perhaps in particularly depressed car-rental franchises … and in art galleries. Earlier this week I mentioned Paul Slocum‘s art project that uses a dot matrix printer to intentionally make music (disquiet.com). It was shown as part of the Sound Device exhibit that ran throughout March at the gallery Root Division in San Francisco. The result of this ingenious tinkering is fuzzier than Dave Davies at his most heavy metal, and more pizzicato than Yngwie Malmsteen in even his most extroverted, math-rock mode, judging by the sample that Slocum has posted (MP3). There’s detailed information about the three stages of development of the printer project at his website, qotile.net.