Another new toy. The cymbal ringer!

I recently Heard Oren Ambarchi’s beautiful Stacte Motors album. I understand from a review that the performances involve a fairly simple application of motors to cymbals and guitar respectively, producing a rhythmic smattering and shivering, morphing, harmonic clouds of sound. The review also said he was indebted to Keith Rowe for this technique, but that all in all it didn’t matter, the album is lovely. I saw Rowe for the first time recently, and he was absolutely captivating. I recall finding his use of small fans to drive guitar strings to be an inspiration. For some reason though, I never thought of applying the technique to anything else the way Ambarchi did (though I have no idea if it was his original idea or not).

The application of this technique to cymbals is brilliant, and the resulting sounds are magical and transportative. Being a person involved in improvised music, I am always looking for a way of doing many things at once, or ways in which to automate things. I have my cassette loops, oscillators, radios, and circuit-bent toys, but variety being as they say, I am always looking for more. And of course, being an ex-drummer, I adore cymbals, especially my small collection of them.

So I set out to make a simple device that could ring a cymbal. I grabbed an electic toothbrush I had laying around and went to work. Removing the motor from the toothbrush was the first goal, as I want to have the battery container and the motor seperate, so that the motor can bounce freely on the cymbal without the added weight. Once the motor was removed I soldered 2 foot-long wires to the motors’ terminals and created a strain relief by knotting the wires close to the solder points and pinning the knot down with a piece of heavier gauge wire. I finished it all off with a few winds of elecrical tape to cover the terminals and keep the strain relief in place.

For a battery/controls container I used an Altoids tin. I used the original battery terminal cap from the toothbrush and made some small modifications to fit it in the tin. I then made two new top terminals out of looped pieces of wire and taped the whole thing together. I now had a nice little battery-pack to power the motor.

Since I will need to mount the tin somehow to keep it stable while the motor does it’s cymbal dance, I dug in my toolbox and found an angle bracket. Just from looking at it, I could tell it was a good size to both hold the tin and mount using the same bolt used to keep the cymbal on it’s stand.

The motor needed an on/off switch, so I added one, and while I was at it I added a 100ohm pot in line with one of the battery leads. If anyone decides to build one of these, a 50ohm will do, all I had was 100. The pot allows me to control the speed of the motor, and thus the volume/frequency of the vibrations.

The first test didn’t go well, I had forgotten to add something to the motor to make it wobble enough to strike the cymbal. So I went back and hot-glue-gunned a small screw to the motors drive gear.

The second test was perfect. I ended up playing with it for about a half hour. The speed control works great, and even the position of the motor adds a few possible differences in sound quality.

– MP3 with a bit of reverb here

I have used this in improvisation a few times, and it’s been a great addition to my setup. Especially in combination with a contact mic. Of course, I always have to mess with stuff, so I have been experimenting with running it through a bunch of effects.

A couple of days ago I tried a fuzz box I had, and I was really blown away. It’s amazing how little you need to make a really beautiful racket. Shifting tonal colors just submerged by a fog of white noise.

I’m including a longform version of that at the end of this post that I might make into a little release, just because I enjoy it so much, that I want to see it in full artwork and everything. I’ll definitely re-post it here if I manage to pull it off.

The recording is 20 minutes or so of improvisation with just the cymbal ringer and a couple effects boxes. Enjoy!

– Gong Soft Heaven

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8 Responses to “Another new toy. The cymbal ringer!”

  1. startlingmoniker Says:

    My first thought is to ask if you tried encasing the motor in any sort of rubber– I bet the sound of a softer rubber casing might be really nice! I’m downloading “Gong Soft Heaven” right now… I have way too much music to listen to today, but what the hell… the guilty pleasure of a constantly ringing cymbal? Can’t pass it up!

    PS- that title could also be read as “Gongs of the Aven”…

  2. howsthatsound Says:

    yeah, that motor died recently actually, so i will have to rig another one. i may try plasti-dipping it to soften the sound some.

    yeah the original title was the gongs of heaven, but i spelled it all run together in the file name and ever time i looked at it it looked like gong soft heaven, which i thought sounded cool, so i used that instead. maybe if i actually do a cdr version i will have all the words run together so it can be whatever you read it as. i like gongs of the aven!

    i modulate the reverb depth and distortion levels almost constantly throughout the piece, so to does vary in texture, overtones and intensity throughout. i find it quite nice to listen to actually. hope you enjoy it.

  3. startlingmoniker Says:

    I loved it, actually. I may have to work on a long-wire piece in the next couple days… gotta get my drone on, haha

  4. howsthatsound Says:

    nice! glad you like it. it was fun to make. i’d like to hear more about this long wire thing.

  5. CLAN Says:

    hey dude!

    i’ve just discovered your blog and i’d like to make a little conversation with you cos i really like your posts. and being and experimental percussionist i loved that drone cymbal. i did it too but in some way its different.

    are u up on slsk? or also, let me know your email.

    cheers from italy,

  6. ET Says:

    marco, thanks for dropping by. i’m glad you enjoy the bog.
    yeah, the droning cymbal thing has been making it’s rounds for a bit now. my group latralmagog played with matthias kaul and he was doing the same thing, but with electric tooth brushes. it’s a great technique. he was also using it on drum heads to fantastic effect.

    i’ll shoot you an email.

  7. 3243 Says:

    Thank you for making this recording and also for making it available.

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