The Species Device is a one-of-a-kind Morpheum, an extreme animal cry
engine and primarily a body contact instrument whereby the player conducts
electricity through their own flesh in playing it.
A recent posting from Reed...
"When I felt the jolts of electricity coursing
through my body back in '67 as I began playing the Odor Box body-contacts,
it struck me that I had become part of the instrument's circuitry, as
in-the-matrix as any other component on the board. The circuit no longer
was limited to dead matter. It didn't stop at its "ends" anymore...
and neither did I. This is definitely a new creature, it lives and shares
electricity... the same electricity that, if taken away, would cause
each to die.
"What is this musical bio-electronic audiosapien? What place has this
species in soundkind?"
The Morpheum is an animal/machine synthesizer. Unaffected it is very
raw sounding, a very aggressive tangle-of-sound machine. It is best
at garish, howling sounds and sharp, quick little voices.
Through the use of effects (stop at nothing here, but include a volume
pedal and a little ultra smooth reverb), a fantastically expressive
alien lead voice can be created. Being an extremely sensitive body-contact
instrument, the Morpheum as controller of effect chains is just outrageous.
Digital sounds, with real-time analog control of ultra wide pitch bending.
Morpheums can be worn with strap like an accordion (with the addition
of strap locks), or set flat like a keyboard.
Additions include two frequency dials (for setting the initial pitches
of the two sample bank's voices), four large metallic body-contacts
(bridged with the fingers for real-time analog pitch bending), speaker
switch (for turning off the internal monitor speaker), gold-plated RCA
output (for feeding effects, mixer and amps), power switch, and blue
LED power indicator behind a vintage numbered or lettered glass pilot
lens. Requires four "AA" cells.
Morpheums are finished in crackled fluorescent colors involving many
coats of paints & glosses, including a dusting of holographic powder
making the instrument shimmer with spectra in direct light. Control
titles are hand-inked.
More from Reed's EMI article on the Morpheum:
"Unlike other sample banks discussed in
this series of articles in EMI, the Morpheum relies heavily upon body-contacts
for inter-flesh modulation as well as the ability to layer its digital
"Has anyone recognized this instrument yet? The original device, like
some of the circuit-bent devices discussed earlier in previous articles,
was a children's toy, depicting an old-fashioned train. Its four wheels
(now under the four pearloid accordion keys visible in the photograph)
could be pressed for locomotive sounds. It carried eight animals (now
under the computer keys) which when pushed released their own voice
samples as well. The mechanical sounds consist of steam whistle, bell,
engine, and railroad track rhythm; the animals aboard are rooster, lion,
dog, cat, horse, goat, cow, and elephant.
"Circuit-bending adds to this instrument a set of four body-contacts,
two potentiometers, a sky blue pilot light, a speaker cut-out switch,
and RCA-type line output. Strap fasteners can be added to the upper
housing sides so that the unit can be worn as an accordion, left hand
on the four body-contacts, right hand on the keys.
"Most important of the circuit-bending additions are the conductive
flesh contacts. These are chrome drawer pulls wired to sensitive traces
on the circuit board. Each sample bank (animal and machine) contains
a pair of these metallic mushrooms which, when bridged with the fingers,
change the pitch of the sample in play. However, volume and disintegration
effects are possible by cross-touching these separate pairs, bending
between the banks as well as simply within each. In this way, either
mechanical or animal sounds can be themselves modified or even blended
into one another.
"Because slowing-down digital audio streams produces such fascinating
results, each sample bank now contains potentiometers (variable resistors)
dedicated to this function. These dials can be preset to create special
voices far outside the sample's usual personality. Doppler effects,
metallic notch filter effects, and many other single-voice modifications
are possible by these means. Of course, after these banks are initialized
in this manner, pitches and tones set, body contact changes as noted
before are additionally possible to further reshape and combine the
voices as electricity flows through the player's fingers, the musician
having become a very active section of the circuit, truly a living electronic
experimental musical instrument in the most literal sense."
The Species Device, as mentioned before, is a one-of-a-kind Morpheum.
A great number of gadgets configured like the Morpheum were produced
by manufacturers and contain digital samples that can be modified through
body contacts. Many variations on the Morpheum theme are possible.
The Species Device involved over fifty hardware additions during the
Blue/violet "mother of pearl" buttons (antique dyed shell) are pressed
to trigger the eight animal samples. Four pearloid keys, modeled from
old piano "ivories", trigger the machine sounds. An additional piece
of this antique material is attached to the disintegration body contact
Every gold sphere on the instrument is an active body contact, including
the four small orbs on the pearloid keys... thirteen body contacts in
The four body contacts on the pearloid keys do the same as the keys...
they trigger the sample when touched.
The group of six body contacts, like on the Morpheum, bend the pitch
of the samples as the instrument is played. Two extra body contacts
(more sensitive) are included here for wider expression.
Three more body contacts are located on the disintegration bridge (once
the toy's handle). These, like a fuzz-tone or distortion generator,
add complex overtones and disintegration effects to the voices as they
are bridged by the player's fingertips.
In the two wells to the instrument's left are the master pitch dials,
one for animal and one for machine. The knobs used here are antique;
a gothic/deco design in black bakelite.
Three more dials edge the instrument's top. One is for the sensitivity
of the fish eye. One for the machine volume. And one for the animal
volume. Recognize these knobs? Gibson classics.
The yellow eye on the Species Device, a fine glass fish eye, serves
as the lens of a photo cell. This eye is for shadow bending the pitch
of the animal sounds... a very fine trill can be added to the voices
this way as a finger is vibrated before the fish eye. This eye can be
turned on and off with a mini switch added to the Species Device case.
A second mini switch has been added to the case as a monitor switch...
to turn on or off the internal speaker.
Winking doll eyes act as the lenses for two pilot lamps. These antique
mechanical eyes open and close as their position is changed. They were
called "sleepy eyes" in the early doll trade and were inset into fine
Adapted to house LEDs, these eyes are now power indicator (blue) and
peak envelope pilot (red). The blue glows steadily from behind the blue
iris of the smaller eye while the red flashes brightly from within the
larger eye. As with the doll these eyes were meant to adorn, when the
Species Device is resting flat the eyes are closed. But as the instrument
is raised upright for strapping on, the eyes slowly open and stare outward.
Strap locks have been added to the case, as well as a gold plated RCA
The Species Device is finished in deep forest green and dark purple
metallic paints, veined with gold and dusted with fine iridescent powder
under the final layers of clear gloss. This powder causes the Species
Device to sparkle all the colors of the rainbow in precise miniature
bursts of light. The animal keys are brilliant metallic emerald beneath
the violet mother of pearl.
As with all the one-of-a-kinds covered in this gallery, pictures and
descriptions can only demonstrate what is possible within an instrument
design realm. The Species Device shown resides within Reed's private
collection. However, one-of-a kinds similar to the Species Device can