The Benshi Organ by Eric Mika & Alejandro Crawford

The Benshi Organ is a two-octave midi keyboard that allows the player to compose genre-specific movie dialogue by simply "playing" the instrument. 

Two-octave keyboards have 25 keys (the top note being the third octave of C); and, because there's a rich corpus of free and readily accessible movie subtitle data on the web (.srt and .sub files), we wanted to tap into this text as source material for a new means of rapid composition.  The Benshi Organ provides a physical interface to pull from and interleave the subtitles of 25 movies from five genres.

The corpus was constructed by collecting the subtitle files from the "top 25" movies from five different genres -- action, comedy, horror, romantic comedy, and science fiction. We deferred our judgment as to which films made the cut in each genre to a (less-than authoritative) website found in a Google search.



Scifi:
12 Monkeys
2001
Alien
Aliens
Blade Runner
Brazil
Close Encounters of the Third Kind
ET
Forbidden Planet
Galaxy Quest
Invasion of the Body Snatchers
It Came From Outer Space
Matrix
Metropolis
Planet of the Apes
RoboCop
Soylent Green
Star Trek The Wrath of Khan
Star Wars A New Hope
Star Wars The Empire Strikes Back
Terminator 2
Terminator
The Day the Earth Stood Still
The Thing
Tron


Action:
Aliens
Blade Runner
Bourne Ultimatum
Dark Knight
Die Hard
Enter the Dragon
French Connection
Gladiator
Goldfinger
Great Escape
Hard Boiled
Kill Bill
Lethal Weapon
Lord of the Rings Return of the King
Matrix
Raiders of the Lost Ark
Rambo First Blood
Road Warrior
Seven Samuari
Speed
Spiderman 2
Star Wars Empire Strikes Back
Terminator 2
Top Gun
Wages of Fear


Horror:
Alien
American Werewolf In Paris
Audition
Bambi
Braindead.(Dead.Alive).-.Peter.Jackson.-.1992.-.English.-.DivX3.-.DVDrip.srt_clean
Carrie
Diabolique
Frankenstein
Freaks
Gothika
Halloween
Invasion Of The Body Snatchers
Jaws
Leprechaun in The Hood
Mask of Satan
Men Behind The Sun
Night of the Living Dead
Nosferatu
Peeping Tom
Psycho
Red Dragon
Shaun Of The Dead
Taxas Chainsaw Massacre
The Exorcist
The Fly


Romantic Comedy:
40 Year Old Virgin
Adams Rib
Annie Hall
Bridget Jones Diary
Four Weddings and a Funeral
Groundhog Day
Harold and Maude
His Girl Friday
It Happened One Night
Jerry Maguire
Moonstruck
Muriel's Wedding
My Best Friend's Wedding
Pretty Woman
Roxanne
Say Anything
Sixteen Candles
Some Like It Hot
Something About Mary
Something Wild
The Philadelphia Story
The Shop Around the Corner
The Wedding Singer
Tootsie
When Harry Met Sally


Comedy:
40 Year Old Virgin
American Pie
Animal House
Bachelor Party
Bad Santa
Blazing Saddles
Blues Brothers
Borat
Caddyshack
Clerks
Coming to America
Fast Times at Ridgemont High
Kentucky Fried Movie
Knocked Up
National Lampoon Christmas Vacation
Old School
Police Academy
Slap Shot
Something About Mary
South Park Bigger Longer Uncut
Stripes
Superbad
Team America World Police
This Is Spinal Tap
Wedding Crashers


Selection of movie genres is dictated by five foot-switches, which operate in conjunction with a hacked volume pedal, which navigates the movies' timelines -- that is to say, anywhere in the movie from  beginning to end (in the photo below, the pedal is set to "beginning-of-movie")



We're still resolving the best way to output scripts composed with the Organ and provide feedback to the writer. Currently, each line is printed to a UNIX-style terminal application, and simultaneously read aloud by Apple's text-to-speech engine.


Subtitle data was of particular interest to us because it retains information about the timing and duration of each line. We wanted the interface to accommodate a non-linear progression through each movie's script, so we used this timing information in conjunction with the volume pedal to allow the writer to select where to pull text from in a movie's timeline. The writer presses down on the pedal to pull lines from later in the script, and lifts off of the pedal to move back towards the start of the script.


It takes just a few lines of subtitle text before the transparency of a movie's genre begins to show through; and the 5-channel foot-switch gives the writer the option of sampling from specific genres at will. If, for example, they were inclined to add a pinch of romantic comedy to their sci-fi epic, a few lines of levity are easy to access with the foot-switch.


Here is the code, here.