When the harmonium meets the vacuuum cleaner

When Ingeborg van Lieshout from Bright magazine told me that she had a list of talented young graduates whose works would be shown during the BrightLive ’07 exhibition in Amsterdam, i asked her if i could have a peek of her list.

The work of Dennis de Bel particularly stands out from the pack. Not because of one of his work in particular but because most of his projects are extremely well-designed, witty and playful.

Dennis graduated in June’07 as an Interactive Media designer at the Willem de Kooning Art Academy, in Rotterdam. He is currently following the master-course Media Design at the Piet Zwart Institute, also in Rotterdam.

0anaatabel1.jpg0anaiiitafel1.jpgI love the Naaitafel. Does it really play music? What inspired this association of music with sewing? Some kind of textile fetishism?
What was the most difficult aspect you encountered while working on this project?

The naaitafel was actually the last one in a series (of three) associative-objects. When I look at (everyday) objects I associate them with other objects and their similarities in form and/or function.

I also work going out from words or combination of words such as with the mijsjes to come to a new object..


For the sewing machine, I found it looking very much like a retro-futuristic record player and of course the fact it works with a
needle also helped forming the idea (naai-tafel = sew(ing)-table, instead of turntable). I tried to make it work using the already existing needle but then the record wouldn’t fit in nicely, then I tried mounting a needle underneath the record using some kind of slider mechanism (like the laser lens in a cd player) but that proved to be too time consuming as I had to complete the project on time for the graduation exposition (in Las Palmas, Rotterdam). So I decided to just fit in a dc motor, a record player-platter and ‘faked’ the sound using a small mp3 player and amplifier with a speaker. It’s too bad it’s not really working with the original needle, but the naaitafel as an object suggests enough in my opinion. The hardest part was de-constructing the sewing machine to make place for the dc motor, mp3player and amplifier, as the bottom part of the sewing machine was full with heavy iron axles to transport the sewing thread and was put together with weird, i guess sewing-machine-only-screws, so none of my screwdrivers would fit and had to drill out some of them.

What exactly is a Nootzuiger? It produces sound as well, right? How does it work? Once again you have associated a retro-looking device with a more contemporary and musical function. Are you particularly attracted to old objects?


The nootzuiger (noot=note, zuiger=sucker, as in ‘dustsucker’) is a harmonium (air-organ) build into an old Miele vacuum cleaner. So again, form and function of two (household, everyday) objects are associated and literally combined. It makes a really nice sound, but its too bad I had to get rid of the vacuum-cleaning function to fit in the keyboard. As with most of the other objects (naaitafel, stratenspeler) this one is constructed from stuff I found in the garbage. The old harmonium and vacuuum cleaner were lying around in my studio and one day I saw the connection between them and started building. I love to build.

I’m also in love with aesthetics of 60s and 70s plastic design stuff and it was pretty hard to find a nice looking sewing machine for the naaitafel.

The association between vintage and contemporary is coming form the very utopian thinking designers from the 60s and 70s whose designs I still find very futuristic thus quite ‘contemporary’.

How does the Stratenspeler work? Which technology did you use?

aaa0strat.jpgStratenspeler stands for streetplayer, street- instead of record-. I wanted to use urban textures to make music, or at least convert them into sound.

It consists of a little box made from wood from a kitchen cabinet and contains a 12volt dc motor which is hooked to three 1.5volt batteries so it turns about as fast as a regular record player (I also fitted a variable resistor, potentiometer to influence the ‘playing’ speed and thus the pitch of the sound. The dc motor turns around the arm of an old record player which is fitted with a small condensor mic instead of a regular needle. The mic is ingeniously connected to an small amplifier and speaker which amplifies the sound of the texture where the stratenspeler is standing on. It works on batteries for mobility. You can place anywhere and so create a loop of the sound of the place it’s standing on.

While some of your works are clearly art pieces, others look more something you would expect from an interaction designer, where does your work stand exactly?


I’m not sure where my work stands at the moment. Maybe it fits in the straightforward ‘Dutch-design’?

I find most of my pieces to come out best in an art context (gallery, etc.) Although I’m aware of the fact some objects I design are more products then actual ‘art’.

When an idea is just an aesthetic one, it will be ‘design’ and when it’s, for example, a critique on massmedia its ‘art’, but i find both art and design interchangeable, exchangeable and compatible.

I like both aesthetic art and design as well as, for example, activist or critical art and design. I try to use either ‘style’ or way to make my point, whatever is relevant to communicate my vision and ideas.

My main point being is to astonish people and/or give them a laugh.

Thanks Dennis!

You can see Dennis’ work on November 30 and December 1 during the BrightLive ’07 exhibition. organized by independent magazine Bright at the Westergasfabriek in Amsterdam.

Related: Textron, the Sewing Machine VJ, Vacuum Bag furniture, Vacuum cleaner music, Vacuuming digital trash (and interview with Martin), Vacuum cleaner to capture goblins, Sale Away, Hoovering the carpet away, and Free Range Appliances in a Light Dill Sauce.