Photo by Eric Fisher

"USING A PAIR OF PLIERS, I randomly bent back different tines on each of the music boxes," says Ethan Rose, "effectively removing notes from the song that was originally intended." In this way, Rose created the sonic reductions desired for his sound installation Movements. Rose originally created the piece for Seattle's Ambach & Rice gallery in December of 2008, where he set 125 of his hacked music boxes on timers and arranged them throughout the room.

"The boxes are spread evenly throughout the space to create an immersive experience," Rose explains. "The reflective surfaces of the gallery walls [make] the sounds of the music boxes shift and move through the room." The music boxes, like little comets with wires for tails, are triggered at different intervals and locations, sounding something like an inquisitive-furry-woodland-creature theme song meets Hollywood-sunset soundtrack; it's a warm, introspective sound, similar to wind chimes, with various melodies suggested and abandoned at random.

The visual presentation of Rose's music boxes—wire sunbursts sprawling down white walls—is designed first for sonic function, to evenly disperse the sources of song. Rose says that the physical arrangement of Movements is also constrained by "groups of boxes on timer switches," while the wires are "laid out in random branching configurations to reflect [the] balance of chance and control."

For Rose, deprogramming the automated instrument is an artistic compass. After moving to Portland in 1996 and spending more than a decade making music and art, Rose's creative undertakings became focused on removing his own artistic preferences from the songs he creates. In a piece titled Player Piano, Rose augmented the paper roll on a player piano and processed the resulting song through a loop/delay/reverb-ish effects combo—forcing the composition to endlessly layer and echo over itself.

"Working with automated instruments has strongly informed my artistic practice," says Rose. "My work describes an interaction between myself and the material at hand." When Rose blindly deprograms his music boxes, he renders himself a listener—reducing his sense of compositional authorship, while maintaining his role as creator.