Monday, February 25, 2008

The Swirl Hi-Hat

This is one of my attempts at making an instrument that is road worthy. Something I can pack away in a box that can easily be situated safely into a touring van. Right now if you try and move any more then four instruments a time you’ll end up with cacophony of stings and fridge parts that sound slightly better than when I perform live.

The “Swirl” as I will call it from now on was made from a busted hi-hat stand. A ribbed metal vase, and six handmade aluminum swirls. On the top there is an aluminum ring that guides the swirls around the vase. Below that sits a cymbal I found at the dollar store. Not the greatest of sounds but it is more about the swirls in this one.

Basically the swirls run up and down the vase scraping along side its ribs and flicking off the tops and bottom to get more of the swirls chimes.

I am still up in the air about the sound it produces, sometimes it can be a bit harsh, and then sometimes I think harsh is good.

I guess I will have to wait till my next trip up north and get the word from the professionals.

Saturday, February 02, 2008

The Electric Chicken Cooker Thumb Piano

Well it has been a long time since I posted new instruments. I have been very busy with a few other things lately so my poor instruments were put on hold. Here are a few new thumb pianos I made to get me back into the swing of things.

The Electric Thumb Piano was built for a new year, and a new mind set. Over the last few years I had started pumping out crazy instruments for shows, but started to get the feeling that some of there uniqueness was lost. At one point I was making two to three instruments daily. I had five shows book for one month, each needing about twenty instruments to fill the walls. I think that took away from them drastically. I was sick of seeing them, and I’m sure that all the folks who live in this neighborhood were sick of seeing them as well. The mass production has stopped. The Fauxbots have taken over as my art show pieces. It helps that they practically build themselves now. The instruments I can now spend as much time as needed on them. There are no deadlines to be kept, and now, more then ever there are no restrictions on what I want to build.

My plan is to start with a few that are simple but reliable instruments that can be used in a live setting without fear of it falling out of tune or snapping in half, or snapping in half and then falling out of tune.

As some of you may know I have been working on an album with a band called Fembots. We have been recording for about a year now and getting some great results. Over that year I really had the opportunity to see the instruments in action. This has helped refine what I was building, or rather Brian telling me it was crap helped refine what I was building. In the studio there is much room for error. Often I found myself banging away on an instrument for five to ten minutes only to watch Dave cut it down to about ten seconds and make it into a loop. I would ask Dave about this and all he would say is that I needed the practice. He reminds me of my piano teacher I had as a small boy. She was a most evil cow. The point is that in the studio little bits can be added here and there, things can be altered and fixed up, live on stage is another matter all together. As I say these new instruments have to be reliable and sound good. For the next few months I am going to build things around the album with the idea of touring in mind. I may rebuild old instruments that we used in recording, or I might just try to build new to get a sound we already have, this time without the aid of a computer and sound technician.

I am looking forward to what this year will bring.

Having said all that I can now finally get to the Electric Chicken Cooker Thumb Piano, and it’s extremely simple construction. Maybe after you build a certain amount of thumb pianos from junk the universe give you a little break and make it just a bit less frustrating. I think that was the case for this instrument. Thumb pianos have always given me a hard time. There are a great many thumb piano carcasses in the spaceroom right now as I speak. It is the mounting of the tines that always makes me snap. This time though I used a mount that I recovered from a junction box. It has threaded screws already in place and a pre-drilled hole you can use to attach it to what ever face plate you like. I have a thing for chicken cookers so I went with that. The tines are from a street sweeper that Dave had collected so many years ago. They are strong and flexible, but thin. For years I was using rake tines, but they are a bit too thick and everything always sounded a bit flat. The back end of the tines has been swirlafied which slightly changes the sound if you pluck it from behind. I might experiment with this further I think it warms the sound up a bit, but I don’t want to chance it on this piece.

Inside there is a simple contact mic, a volume knob and a three quarter inch jack. All of it is very simple in its construction, but extremely effective in its sound.


Friday, February 01, 2008

Tin Can Thumb Piano

The Tin Can Thumb Piano was inspired by a work room full of material I was given after my wife’s father passed away. These are materials that most people would consider to be of no use, outdated, or just down right garbage. Odd little bits of this and that, a mind boggling assortment of rusted nuts, bolts and screws that I can waste hours on sorting. Basically things that most people don’t seem to think have any value emotionally or financially. I love finding a machined piece of something completely foreign to me. It opens up an entire world of possibilities, and a new place for my mind to wander while I figure out where I am going to store all of this stuff before my wife kicks my ass.

I have always enjoyed placing my father’s things into my projects, and through him my grandfather’s things as well, it gives me a strong feeling of connection to my Dad, and an introduction to a man whose name I share, but know so little about. In this way my father is still a very big part of my life. Unfortunately I can now do this with Jen’s father’s things as well, and I am getting to know him in a completely new and wonderful way.

It is interesting to compare the pieces from both there lives. There are so many similarities between them in the things they held on to. Is this just products and mindsets from there times, or were they just similar in work and life.

There will be many things over the next few years that will have little pieces from there lives incorporated into mine. When that happens I will find a way to document what they added to the piece.

Before I forget and sign off, the instrument sounds great.