This new track features a few of my favorite homemade instruments:
I started this piece by putting down a bed of percussion sounds played on the Spring Box. The Spring Box was the first electro-acoustic instrument I built, and the inspiration for it came from the DeKalb, IL circuit-bending band, CMKT 4, who first showed me how to make a contact microphone out of a piezoelectric disc. In fact, I started building this instrument using their equipment, at the workshop they held here at the Vets Hall in Garberville a few years back.
This kind of device has a long tradition in radio and motion-pictures for producing sound effects. The sounds this one makes remind me of something you might hear in an experimental film from Eastern Europe. Sometimes, I can almost read the subtitles. Besides springs, the Spring Box has a pair of tiny tine chimes that I extracted from an infant’s toy, a small thumb piano made from coping saw blades, and a few bottle caps that act as tapping pads, and provide a variety of textures. I love the sounds it makes, and you can hear a fair sampling of them here, although no sampling was used in the making of this track. I played all of the parts live, in real time.
The first truly bizarre and indescribable sound you’ll hear on this track, I made with a modified walkman-style cassette player. You hear it first, just a couple of seconds in, and periodically throughout. I separated the tape head from the transport mechanism and spliced a couple of feet of coaxial cable between the tape head and where it attaches to the circuit-board. I also removed the motor, gears and belts from the cassette player, to save battery power, reduce noise and because they were no longer necessary. Then I wrapped a small piece of wood with a few yards of cassette tape from my old copy of Pink Floyd’s Atom Heart Mother. I made the noises you hear on this piece by rubbing the tape-head against the magnetic tape, manually.
I played the plucked strings, including the bass on this track with my brand new Cookie Tin Guitar. I just built this instrument recently, and this is the first time I’ve recorded it. It also has a piezoelectric pickup and seems like a very capable instrument.
I look forward to playing it more in the future, but the string instrument I most love on this track is the Tin Can Violin. Sometimes I call it the Tin Can Fiddle, depending on how I play it. The Tin Can Violin has become my go-to instrument in so many situations, and the more I play it, the more I love it.
The Tin Can Violin sure doesn’t look like much. I built it from an old tin can and a stick, in an afternoon. It is quite primitive. I’ve never played a real violin, or any other bowed string instrument before, but practically everything I play on this instrument sounds great. I picked it up cold and laid down that lovely string track in one take. A harmonizer adds a voice an octave below the pitch I’m playing so it sounds a little like a string section. I don’t know how I could improve upon it. The Tin Can Violin makes almost no sound on it’s own and relies entirely on the output of the piezoelectric disc, and amplification in order to be heard.
Way deep in the mix, you can hear me play an alto recorder, pitch-shifted down two octaves so that it sounds more like a bassoon. That’s the only normal musical instrument on this track, but it sure doesn’t sound normal. I found the images for this video in a movie titled Nightmare Castle, now in the public domain, and available at the Prelinger Archive.
I hope you enjoy my music, and I hope you’ll understand that it’s been more than seven years since I’ve taken a vacation from writing, and I’m quite enjoying it. Perhaps next week I’ll get back to it. We’ll see.