National Public Radio’s All Things Considered did a little feature on odd musical instruments on September 28th, and they were kind enough to feature some of my 29 Noisy Noises along with a bunch of other strange and wonderful instruments. You can hear the segment, and see a slideshow of some of the odd instruments, on the All Things Considered website.
Thanks to everyone who came to the 29 Noisy Noises party on March 1 and helped me celebrate finishing 29 instruments in 29 days! Lots of great people came over and made a lot of great noise on the 29 instruments — you can hear some of it below.
“set up a groove”
If you’re in NYC and you’d like to meet this or other instruments-of-the-day, check this out.
I’m going to continue with the instrument building, one a week for as long as I can stand it. If you wanna keep up with the noise, bookmark or subscribe to my homepage. Thanks for putting up with the cacophony!
Gonna have a party on Saturday March 1st to celebrate surviving the building of 29 instruments in 29 days! It’ll be 3-6pm (or so) in Long Island City, Queens, NYC – contact me for more info. There’ll be beer and snax and making noises. Bring your own noisemakers and/or ideas for noisemakers.
I’m going to continue with the instrument-building, making one every week forever. Or until I get tired of it. They’ll all be posted here.
I found the box in the garbage while walking the dog yesterday and I knew I had to make a fiddle. It looks like it was a chunk cut out of a cheap veneer door or something. This was my most ambitious instrument-a-day, coming in at 6 hours.
The bridge is cut from poplar, the strings are nylon guitar strings, the bass bar and sound post are garbage wood, and the neck/fingerboard is, of course, a rotten stick. This fiddle actually leaves mildew on your left hand when you play it.
The bow I made yesterday literally disintegrated overnight – the screws unscrewed themselves and the hairs fell out! So I played the fiddle with a rosin-coated popsicle stick. Bear in mind that (1) this is a horrible, horrible fiddle and (2) i have no idea how to play a fiddle, before you listen to the sound sample.
Today my ebay order of mongolian horse hair arrived! So I made a fancy horsehair bow. It’s an awful bow, of course, and I have no idea how to use a bow anyway, but what the heck: here’s what it sounds like on the rotten stick tension guitar and the rotten stick electric guitar.
(I got to spend some time combing horse hair. Instrument making has more in common with My Little Pony than I knew!)
Yes, it’s another rotten stick! But no walnuts this time. It’s a saxophone of sorts, using reeds made out of coke cans, subway passes, and whatever else I had lying around. Here’s what it sounds like with three different reeds.
Construction details: I cut the stick in half the long way and chiseled out a rectangular trench in one half. I clamped the two halves together while I made the mouthpiece (which is coated with lemon oil and olive oil to protect it from spit) and tested the first reed. Then I glued the halves together and drilled the finger holes, and made a bunch more reeds.
Bart Hopkin calls it a boo – a tongue drum made from a tube of bamboo or a box. It might not seem complicated compared to some of my earlier instruments, but for me, cutting and attaching these five pieces of wood was like brain surgery. Notice that no two sides are the same length, and the notches for the tongue are all slanted. Anyway, it goes a little bit like this.
Ever since I saw it in the instrument collection at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, I’ve been obsessed with the trumpet marine, a giant one-stringed instrument that’s supposed to sound like a trumpet. Besides its monstrous size, the most important characteristics of the trumpet marine are that it’s fingered at the harmonics and played with a bow (like Glendon’s harmonic violin) and that it has a buzzing bridge that gives it the brassy sound of a trumpet. The bridge has to be carefully balanced to get it to buzz, which is done by adjusting the tension on a string called the guidon that tugs the main string sideways. (You can see the guidon in the closeup shot.)
My instrument with no bow at all is a pretty poor imitation of a trumpet marine, but it does sound a bit salty. In the sound sample, you can hear as I fiddle with the guidon to get a buzz that I like. On the last four notes in the sample, I supressed the plucking sound in software to simulate what it might sound like when bowed. (And I cranked the reverb way up.) It does kind of sound like a trumpet!
What was I saying about making stringed instruments too big for myself? This one is over seven feet tall.
Continuing to explore the variable tension theme from yesterday: the rotten stick tension guitar uses a hand lever to stretch the string and thus set the pitch. I had that bit of coconut leftover from the banjo, so I used it as a sound radiator. The walnut on the other end is for comfort when you prop the guitar up against your belly (the recommended playing posture).
It sounds kind of like this.