The Prankophone is a synth for making prank calls


Prankophone is a synthesiser and telephone system hybrid that plays melodies to call recipients generated by their phone numbers.


Russian artist Dmitry Morozov, who we better know as ::vtol::, never ceases to amaze us with his innovative, out-of-the-box projects. Most recently, the Maker has spliced a synthesizer with a telephone and a logic module to create what may be the world’s most annoying machine. (But in the best way possible, of course.)

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Who could forget as a kid (or an adult) making prank phone calls using soundboards from sites like eBaum’s World? Well, ::vtol:: has just taken those antics to a whole new level. The aptly named Prankophone is an apparatus which not only calls an unsuspecting person, but plays them an algorithmic melody based on their phone number. The speakers on the device transmit both the synthesized tunes along with the sound from the individual at the other end, but the recipient can only hear noise from the synth.

“Nowadays it’s averting to hear in the phone receiver any sound other than human voice – music means that we have to wait for the answer of the operator, strange electronic noises imply some mistake in decoding,” ::vtol:: explains. “Thus, the sound from Prankophone would be perceived as some kind of mistake, though in reality it is an individual and anonymous sound message, a micro-noise piece which is unique for each number it managed to reach.”

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The artist says that was inspired by two historic pieces of technologies crucial to electronic music: the telephone and telegraph. The Prankophone can be set to one of four different modes to call any random number or intended recipients. In manual mode, a user must dial the number of a selected individual the old-fashioned way. Whereas in autonomous mode, the machine will generate the numbers and proceed to dial and emit the sounds all by itself. As its name would suggest, keyboard mode transforms the dialing of a number into a one-octave keyboard with each of the 10 digits correlating to a different musical key. Live mode, however, is a bit different. The number is defined by any of the previous methods, but the sounds aren’t reproduced automatically but from the keyboard, thereby enabling the user to “communicate” through sound with the person who answered on the other line.

“The system of automatic generation of numbers may be calibrated depending on the region, or there is also the international mode which takes into account the phone codes, length of numbers and other parameters,” ::vtol:: adds.

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The Prankophone consists of an Arduino Mega (ATmega2560) and a Raspberry Pi at its core, along with a Nokia phone, a two-channel sound system, a GE telephone for its buttons and a one-octave keyboard. In terms of software, the apparatus runs various Python scripts and uses the Pure Data visual programming language. Intrigued? See and hear the gadget in action below, before heading over to the artist’s official page here.

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