NEW ORLEANS — In 2011, a group of artists built structures that were also musical instruments on a vacant lot, a project called the Music Box. The electronic artist known as Quintron contributed a prototype of an instrument he now calls the Weather Warlock — a synthesizer that converts weather into sound. But, in a mix with shaken percussion tents, treehouse samplers and a piano fort, his subtle instrument was sometimes lost.
Now, the Weather Warlock can be experienced in all its droning beauty thanks to WeatherForTheBlind.org, which streams the synthesizer’s output 24 hours a day.
“To build a weather-controlled synthesizer has been a goal of mine for a long time,” said Quintron, aka Robert Rolston.
His signature invention is the Drum Buddy, a light-activated drum machine, and he considered using heat, precipitation and the wind as sound triggers to be the natural next step.
When health issues forced him to take some time off from performing with his wife, Miss Pussycat, he decided to build the prototype.
“I’m a low-rent guy,” he said, and that shows in his creations. The Weather Warlock is made largely out of PVC pipe, but that’s part of Quintron’s aesthetic. His rock ’n’ roll is often sweaty, two-chord garage music played on keyboards and synthesizers that he modified or made. They look jerryrigged, but there is a ragged efficiency to his designs. He quickly reprograms the Drum Buddy by swapping out one used coffee can for another, each with strategically punched holes so the light bulb at the center of the machine is read by light sensors at different intervals.
It’s a practical solution, much like using PVC for an object that’s going to have to withstand New Orleans’ weather.
“If you don’t have access to 3D printers, Home Depot’s where it’s at,” he said.
Quintron got a chance to refine the Weather Warlock when he was offered a fellowship at the Robert Rauschenberg Foundation in Captiva, Florida.
Since he hadn’t applied for it, Quintron thought the email informing him he had been accepted was a scam and deleted it.
He followed up only after more art-savvy friends confirmed that it was real and a great opportunity. Earlier this year he was one of nine artists from across disciplines who spent three weeks working on their projects, and it gave Quintron the chance to get the kinks out and fine tune his concept.
“The most unbelievable thing about it was that there were no strings attached. We could have gone there and sat on the beach and watched television for weeks and they would have been, like, ‘No problem,’” he said. “Of course, everybody who goes there gets really inspired. All I did was work on it.”
He and Rami Sharkey — better known to New Orleans music fans as the rapper Ballzack — created the Weather for the Blind website as a way to stream the musical output from the Weather Warlock Quintron set up at his house.
“At Rauschenberg, I had the idea to stream it for free,” Quintron says. “I can build the biggest, craziest one I wanted and since I’d be with it all the time I can maintain it. I can tweak it. I can play it. All day long I’m walking by it and twisting knobs. You’re hearing me jamming.”
He’d still like to strategically place Weather Warlocks around the world in places with different weather.
He can customize it so that snow and freezing rain also trigger sound, and he can make it tide-sensitive for locations near the coasts. Ultimately, Quintron wants the sound to reflect the weather as pleasingly as possible.
“I got into the idea that this has to be very peaceful and pleasing,” he said. “It has to drone. That’s the basis of it. There’s an underlying softness to the music that it’s making. It’s just being modulated and massaged by the weather.”