Posts Tagged ‘keith rowe’

Another new toy. The cymbal ringer!

September 16, 2007

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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I’m not dead (I’m just moving extremely slow)

August 23, 2007

Some of you may have noticed I have not been posting with the usual frequency. I appologize and by no means have I abandoned this blog. I have however taken a big hit to my available time by re-entering the workforce. While this new development certainly limits my time for doing more interesting things, such is life and I will as I have for much of my past, attempt to work around it.

Personally, I like Keith Rowe’s perspective on the situation. The following is an excerpt from a talk he gave at the Slought Foundation in philadelphia a little while back:

“I’ve always had a job… like always. From the time I left the art school… Actually, I really enjoyed that… The idea of being an amateur… You could have a kind of obscurity. If there was kind of a slogan of the art school i went to, it was, the definition of success is to be middle-aged and obscure.”

Of course, this got quite a laugh, but I think the re-definition of success he is portraying here is pretty inspirational, and I find it aligns very well with my current attitudes toward “art” or “craft” as a thing of and for common people.

One of the non job related plusses to having a job located in the city, is the variety of interesting sounds one encounters. My first week, I has riding my bike home when i passed a truck with some huge compressor in the back making a huge sounding drone as it ran, that was just loaded with dancing overtones. I could have listened to that for quite a long time. I was kicking myself for not having a minidisc recorder with me. It would have made a great piece to post here. Suffice to say that I now have the MD with me at all times, and hopefully I will be happening upon some other sound of note soon enough.

This leads me to another unfortunate reason why I have not been posting as much of late. Latralmagog. With weekly recording sessions and a new motivation to crank out new sound making devices, it has become quite difficult to find time to post. And I certainly don’t want to turn this into a latralmablog (har!) by only ever posting our recording sessions. Of course, my increased instrument production rate has provided me with a bunch of new sounds that could be posted, but I’m so behind on documenting things I’ll never catch up. Sigh… jobs. I always wonder if there could be a way I could just do what I do and make money for whatever value I am able to provide people… maybe some time in the distant (distant) future.

That’s enough ho-hum for now, on to things exciting. AL and I this past week both played our first show, and released our first official packaged recording. The show went well all things considered, but I found that it was much more difficult to improvise in my normal mode while being watched by strangers. I felt very self conscious at first and felt an odd pressure to produce some sound that I felt would be acceptable to the perceived tastes of my audience, though I resisted the temptation. I did however fall into a sort of safe re-playing of ideas and techniques that I had previously deployed.

As the show went on however, my confidence grew and I ended up playing much more in my usual way, listening to AL and attempting to compliment what he was putting out there. I felt the set improved drastically from beginning to close and I ended quite happy and reasonably psyched. I also realized that if we are going to play out more often, I need to develop a better live set up. I ended up doing too much moving mics around and not enough playing. That being said though, I think our music is much better suited to small enclosed spaces and if we performed in such a venue, amplification would be far less a concern.

I think the CDR we did came out great. I planned the packaging so we could do all the printing ourselves. The cover ended up being drilled in such a way as to create a letterform that would serve as the focal point of the cover, but also as a stencil to decorate the (otherwise blank) discs. The stenciling helped create color washes on the cover that were then silk screened over in black ink. The type and lines were all cut by hand into freezer paper which served as a silkscreen stencil (thanks art school). We basically banged out all the printing and spraying in an evening. The music however was a nightmare. For some reason when I brought it up to peak level in Audacity it clipped when playing in iTunes?!?!? I can’t figure out why this would be and especially not when it seems to just be this session. Whatever, we got over it, albiet after two days of hell. Mental note… Learn something about mastering (yeah, right). We used the most recent session, which was really cool as it was ready for sale one week after it was recorded. How’s that for a turnaround time? We even sold a couple which is pretty cool.

Here’s the CDR design:


If anybody wants one, they are available on our myspace page:
http://www.myspace.com/latralmagog Send us a friend request while you’re at it!

Some new noise makers from OSM laboratories

July 15, 2007

Since LATRALMAGOG took off, I have been busier than ever creating new sound making devices. Having an outlet that is consistent has really been an inspiration to take a lot of ideas I have had and put them to action. Here’s some of the newer additions:

The Well-Prepared Guitar

The Well-Prepared Guitar, or; “The Plank”
Seeing Keith Rowe a while back, was a real inspiration. I admit I’m very late to the free-improv party, but at least I showed up! Seeing Rowe play the guitar as he does brought up a bunch of questions for me though. Aside from the cleverness of using a guitar in this way, and the excitement over having to develop around this restriction, what is the point of it being six normal strings? Is it in standard tuning? If so why? Why does it have frets? Wouldn’t it be more interesting and “free-er” if it didn’t?

Now, I’m not attacking Keith Rowe here, I’m sure he has perfectly viable arguments for all of these questions, and he certainly is not being hurt by whatever restrictions his guitars provide. The point is that these very questions began to inspire me. Why should a guitar be anything but a couple of pickups and some resonating metal, if it is to be used in this form of abstract improvisation? These questions began to form in my mind a “guitar” whose only purpose was to suspend metal “string objects” and amplify them. So from my junk pile arose “The Plank”. A guitar that is “prepared” by it’s very nature.

The Well-Prepared Guitar

I built the guitar from the guts of an old fender I had laying around. I routed out some wood piece I found in my alley and put tuners and a bridge on, from what I had laying around. The strings are the interesting part. They are spaced so they can be played in a more isolated fashion and are themselves improvised in that they are experiments in string material and structure. Currently the strings are as such: 1) rigid metal wire 2) ball chain and “D” string (I think) 3) spring and “B” string. I have found that due to the odd combinations of materials, the strings vary wildly in sound due to where/how they are actuated.

The Well-Prepared Guitar

From the sample, below, I’m sure you will get a sense of how interesting it is to just “play with” the instrument. I like just hooking up a few pedals, picking up objects off my work bench and trying different ways of producing sound. I have been using this a lot lately and I think it will become a mainstay of my arsenal.

– The Well-Prepared Guitar

Modified Record Player Music Box

The Modified Music Box Record Player Toy
It’s ridiculous how hard it is to get these things these days. I was watching them on ebay for about 6 months before I finally payed about $30 for this one! Some people were selling them for $40 “buy it now” and charging $15 shipping! Anyhow, I finally got my hands on one. The reason I wanted one so bad is that they seemed so easy to modify. The “records” are soft plastic and are easily cut and broken in half and the little nubs that pluck the kalimba-like tines in the “player arm” are easy to route out, or break off (i recommend the latter). These things sound great too. They have an odd acoustic amplification system in them that projects pretty well, although i would really like to up a pickup in one.

Modified Record Player Music Box

I broke one of the discs in half and reversed one of the sides, so it would not play a recognizable melody, and then I began removing nubs and playing the disc back, over and over, until all that was left were suspended tones that seemed to emerge out of nowhere. The sound is beautiful. One of the things I love about it is you never know what note will be next, so everything you hear is a surprise, and there are far too few of those moments left.

– The Modified Music Box Record Player Toy

Ferrite Bar Pickup

The Ferrite Bar Pickup
The final new piece I have to show you, is one I myself did not think up. It’s pretty much as old as the early synthesizers, or even further back to the birth of radio. The ferrite bar. Ferrite bars are most commonly found in old radios. They come in a few shapes and sizes, but should be easy for the electronics hobbyist to recognize. They are basically a magnet wrapped in a coil of wire that is usually tapped out at a few locations. I have removed one, found it’s hottest connections (there are usually a few) and wired it to a jack. I then plasti-dipped it to seal it from the elements.

At this point, you are probably wondering why on earth I have done all this. Well, ferrite bars function in a way not unlike guitar pickups (they are basically made of the same stuff in the same fashion), so they can pickup all kinds of mechanical movements, like the movement of a motor or string. You can amplify drills, electric toothbrushes, your computer’s drives, all sorts of things. You won’t believe how cool a laptop sounds through this thing. The result is somewhat different from micing, because you are not picking up the resulting acoustic resonances from the objects you mic, so you are hearing only the purely mechanical sounds.

The recording below is of a drill, an electric toothbrush, and an electric cappuccino stirrer. The sound here is somewhat shrill, but I have gotten beautiful drones out of drills and electric toothbrushes when processed with reverb and flanger. If you decide to make one of these, try it on all kinds of things, it really does unlock a whole new world of usable sounds.

– The Ferrite Bar Pickup

I hope this list of sound-making junk was inspiring to some of you out there. All of these objects have opened up my sound-world a little more, and they continue to inspire me to dig through trash hoping to find magic. If anyone reads this and wants to know more about these objects, just ask, I’ll try my best to answer whatever questions you have. Be well.