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The Magnetosphere

A Piece for "Singing" Metal Objects

The Latest Update

The Magnetosphere, a Finalist for Artprize 2016

Posted on October 21, 2016 by Matthew Steinke

I was selected by Yesomi Umolu, Exhibitions Curator at the Reva and David Logan Center for the Arts at the University of Chicago as a finalist for the 2016 ArtPrize Time-Based Category!

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Posted on May 18, 2016 by Matthew Steinke

Excerpt of The Magnetosphere installation featured at The Fusebox Time Arts Festival 2016.

Magnetic membranophones are an unexplored area of sound research that from my experience produce a rich musical palette. I was able to get a range of dynamic acoustic timbres similar to horns, cellos, flutes, and percussion. Using MIDI software, the electromagnet that is held next to each membrane is carefully controlled with PWM and frequency modulation allowing me to exploit the sweet spots and the full tonal range for each set of instruments. Unlike speaker-based compositions (flat one-dimensional sounds), all of the complex sympathetic and resonant assets of these acoustic instruments are projected in every direction throughout the piece. And because the magnets are close but not touching the membranes, they coax the tones without friction from the actual ferrous metal in the object. So what is heard is the object itself and not the actuator.

I used the Magnetosphere as a theme for the musical score drawing on the feeling of being weightless in space yet orbiting the Earth playing with the tension between the familiar and the strange. I displayed the objects like space junk, a disparate collection of satellites and discarded metal objects brought together by the singular phenomena of electromagnetism.

This documentation is shot with binaural microphones which tracks the position of the camera in order to convey how the instruments and musical parts are experienced throughout the space. If you wear headphones, you will be able to get a sonic sense of how the instruments are placed.

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Posted on March 16, 2016 by Matthew Steinke


  • when: Wed April 6 @ 6-9pm, Thurs 7 @ 11am-8pm, Fri 8 & Sat 9 @ 11am-9pm, Sun 10 @ 11am-5pm, April 2016 (Gallery Hours)
  • where: Salvage Vanguard Theater > 2803 E Manor Rd, 78722

The video above is Phase 1 of the Magnetosphere from the Christmas Nothern Southern Performance/Installation. Phase 2 (larger version) will be on view at The Fusebox Time Arts Festival- Wed April 6 – 10th


The Brain

Posted on July 23, 2015 by Matthew Steinke

I am currently working on the controller that will supply PWM to the magnets. This is the prototyping board that I use to test the software.


Confirmed for Fusebox 2016

Posted on June 30, 2015 by Matthew Steinke

The Magnetosphere has been officially confirmed as part of the 2016 Fusebox Festival, Austin, TX.



The fluctuating yet persistent presence of the Earth’s Magnetosphere forms an aura of invisible electromagnetic energy around the outer atmosphere of the planet. This transitional frontier is where the Earth interfaces with outer space and where satellites and discarded space junk are possessed by the invisible forces of gravity and electromagnetism.

Utilizing found objects, robotics, electronics, sound, and music, this work echoes the imagined feelings of kaleidoscopic weightlessness in an oscillating orbit around the Earth. The disparate artifacts form a connection with one another through the phenomena of electromagnetism and sonic resonance. Orchestrated to a score that oscillates between the “familiar” (Earth) and the “far away” (Outer Space), the soundtrack combines traditional styles with minimalism and an experimental pallet of drones, ambience, and noise. 

In addition to the robotic percussion and player toy piano, the magnetic membranophones in particular featured in this work are an unexplored area of musical instrument design and sonology. They produce a range of rich acoustic timbres similar to horns, cellos, flutes, and percussion. Using software, the electromagnet that is held next to each membrane is carefully controlled with pulse width and frequency modulation. The musical score employs this process by manipulating the physical sonic character of each set of instruments such as resonance, pitch, noise, dynamics, and reverberation. Unlike speaker-based electronic compositions (flat one-dimensional sounds), all of the warm and complex assets of these acoustic instruments are projected in every direction and spatially orchestrated throughout.

Please visit http://matthewsteinke.com  to see past work and more documentation of this project.

Project Media

Tine Organ Created by Matthew Steinke 2014
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Features: Matthew Steinke

This tine organ instrument that I developed depicts how metal tines or objects can be induced to vibrate at their fundamental frequency utilizing pulsed magnets controlled by midi software.

This is a sample of the technology that I am using for The Magnetosphere project “in a nutshell”. It is not a sample of the actual project itself. It documents the basics sound and technical approach.

The Magnetosphere installation is an “exploded” variation of the Tine Organ instrument.


Start and End Dates



Austin, Texas

5 updates
Last update on October 21, 2016

Project Created By

Austin, Texas
Matt Steinke’s dense, funny, haunting installations and performances feature everything from animatronic puppetry and meticulous animation to interactive homemade robotic sound apparatuses. Each piece offers an incomplete glimpse into an evocative, elegant, claustrophobic cosmos.  Steinke holds an MFA in Art and Technology Studies from The School of the Art Institute of Chicago. He received numerous…


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