It's been a while since an update so I'll keep this brief.
In 12 days’ time I will be running an ultra-marathon, which is
a ridiculous distance of 50k (2,343 Blue Whales, 555 football pitches, 2.3
Manhattan Islands, 1 Channel Tunnel) to raise money for children in Nepal
through a charity I helped set up many moons ago.
The program provides therapy, through
art, dance and music and play it helps disadvantaged and often traumatized
children heal and reminds them how to be kids again. A large portion of the
kids we look after have travelled over the Himalayas from Tibet in order to
As an added incentive to donate to my effort, I will be
raffling off one of my creations to every donor,
and will also build a unique and custom instrument for whoever donates the
highest amount (currently at an incredible £150!)
I saw a TED talk where David Holt played a Mouthbow, it sounded amazing and looked like it used similar mouth techniques that I've used before on Singing bowls. So I made a quick one from a plank of wood, a piano tuning pin and an acoustic guitar string.
So so so so simple!
This instrument is a quick prototype that could lead to some much bigger ideas.
In a lot of my droning machines I need to place the motors as far from the pickups as possible to avoid interference/noise being generated from the moving parts. With this instrument I've used that noise/interference to my advantage to generate a dirty-synth sounding tiny machine.
Using a small variable resistor to control the speed of the motor you can get different pitches of noise/interference when that motor is next to a pickup. Add a simple switch and you can get results like this:
Very very basic stuff, it could be replicated using two motors sat next to each other too instead of the transformer I used as a pickup in the prototype.
This instrument came about from a conversation with experimental sound artist Phil Julian. He was after something percussive that would sound very large but also transportable! From my recent experiments with The Leviaphone I came up with the idea of having a few big chunky springs stretched close to a pickup (in this case was some long forgotten innards of a pump). The results of this simple configuration I think work very well...
I demonstrated this instrument recently at my talk in Watford and got a great response from it, I'd be happy to recreate/redesign similar pieces for those who'd be interested!
I sometimes forget I have a website, I'm mostly active on the twitters. So I really should mention that I'm doing a talk/demo next Tuesday in Watford. I'll be bringing a bunch of instruments that you'll be able to play around with too.
Full details are below. I'm joined by some very talented people also showing off their works and there will be music and it's all free.
It uses Piano wire, the springs from an anglepoise lamp, the circular insides of an electric fan motor and a bunch of hardware to act as a DIY tuning machine. It has a hefty iron rod to act as a form of truss-rod to withstand the massive tensions that piano wire can create.
The results are surprising, massive, and quite fun!
As part of my commission for Christopher Campbell I created a fretted Dronemachine. It used circular washers, the shades from desk lamps, my usual circular pickup from an electric fan, bits of shower rails and various bits and bobs.
The idea was nice and simple, the method of play was much like my other machines except that the washers acted like frets that you could shorten each wire with ease. In practise though, it proved very very difficult to build, and once the wooden base had warped slightly, it put all the frets out of place and messed up all my careful measurements!
I'm not one to hide the failures, if anything they're very good things to learn from... So here is the failure in all it's glory!
BUT, fear not, for I have come up with an even better sounding machine with which to replace this one with. Which is all very exciting.
It's made from 100% reclaimed materials. The Circular cog acts as an adjustable bridge that you can change the pitch of the strings by rotating it slightly. An unexpected result of the design was that when the bridge is turned, one half of the strings go up in pitch while the other half goes down! it sounds like this:
The second machine will be ready shortly which has a slightly different playing mechanism! Be sure to check out Chris' label Innova Recordings
I have 2 commissions coming to a close in the next few weeks, but in the meantime I'd like to share with you this tool I created.
Now the maths and physics behind surface resonance and bridge placement in instruments is complicated. Especially if your instruments are a but special, like mine. That's why I came up with this simple tool for finding the sweet spot!
It's simply a piano tuning pin (which I can sell you!) and a little bolt for an anchor. It works thusly:
I often have far more bits of things in stock than I could ever possibly use, which is why I've decided to sell them on to you good readers.
I don't have the time to set up a proper shop at the moment, so I will simply be updating THIS PAGE with what I have and how much I'd be willing to part with them for. I intend to add quite a variety of unusual/hard to track down bits and pieces that would be helpful for odd instrument makers like myself!
Also on the page I've added a few rough commission prices for the most commonly asked about instruments, so have a gander at those too.
This is a quick how-to on how to build yourself the easiest/quickest tunable stringed instrument in the world out of bits you probably have lying around your house.
The wire I used was from the inside of a washing line, however you can use a plethora of other types of wire/fishing line/old guitar strings etc.
The button is used to prevent the plastic lid from splitting, you can use buttons, or a nail, toothpicks, a pencil. Anything that will spread the tension of the wire so that the soft plastic doesn't rip/tear.
If you or your kids or your class end up making one of these, I'd love to see the results!