Benshi Organ genre selector foot switches and volume pedal


Subtitle files represent a rich corpus of free, readily accessible, and vaguely recognizable textual and temporal data.

The Benshi Organ taps into this text as source material for a new means of rapid textual composition and live performance. At the core of the system is a 2-octave midi piano keyboard that allows the player to pull from and interleave the subtitles of 25 movies from five genres. Each key on the keyboard “plays” a single line of dialog from one of these top-25 genre films. As a key is pressed, the associated line is read aloud by a text-to-speech synthesizer, and simultaneously appended as a line of text to a running score projected behind the performer.

Several other pieces of hardware augment the Benshi Organ in a performance context: A modified volume pedal offers as means of navigating time — a fully released pedal induces the keyboard samples the first line from the subtitle file, while a fully depressed pedal samples the last line. Careful modulation of the pedal allows sampling lines from the middle of the film. The system also includes a custom-built “stomp box” with five switches toggling the keyboard’s textual samples between specific genres of film: action, comedy, horror, romantic comedy, and science fiction.

The project’s name is a reference to Japanese Benshi (弁士) performers, who provided live narration for silent films.


Benshi organ performance output log



  • MIDI keyboard
  • Volume pedal
  • Text-to-speech synthesizer
  • Corpus of movie subtitle files
  • Custom electronics
  • Custom software
  • Projector


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