Experimental Musical instruments
review page 9 : instrument builders, part 1

Dennis Bathory-Kitsz, The Chordwainers, Moondog, Lasry-Baschet,
William Eaton, Victor Gamma, Talugung, Hal Rammel
Private Dennis Bathory-Kitsz : Voices Past, ("Plasm over ocean", chamber opera) (1977)*'

Used instruments : HHarp, Uncello, Brass Chimes, Glass Chimes, Gong.

The 'uncello', listed on the cover of the CD roughly has an interesting form, but if I look really closer at all the instruments, both for the musical ideas and for the aesthetic finalisation of the products, these objects seem all still a bit too much derived from rough ideas, and seem also worked out without much refinement and attention to detail, to an almost amateurish degree.
I don’t think that these instruments can be seen as "inventions", as final results of inventive ideas, but should more be considered as one of the elements for a more conceptual use, like in a theatre range. (If we consider African masks as "art" it also is taking a less important detail out of a more complex context ; if we separate it from the rest it looks primitive, but their function surely isn't). This simplicity is much more acceptable as being part of a concept, as one of the elements for more temporal use, like in a décor in a theatre-like concept. I am not sure if they are designed only for such purposes. I can only notice they are used with this specific chamber opera, which is divided into 3 parts, of roughly 8-9 minutes for each part. The costumes designed by Janet Passow Gillock for this opera seem to have been equally minimalistic. If all elements in this play are all expressions on the same level, equally thought  over as expression I can imagine this might still work within its totality.

Then I noticed another aspect, in the scenery of this contemporary music play. I noticed more often before that some creative spirits are driven into a sphere or bubble of astral darkness, where they themselves think they are into a mystical sphere, but this seems only that way because they are imprisoned in the purgatorium of their own expressions. The music, with its chaotic layers of singing, with some repetitive musical “noise”, and spoken word, reflects this world very well. The sounds of the instruments used I can hardly call harmonious, but they do fit with the world they express. But for me this purgatorium also musically still points much more towards a hell sphere, showing no liberation in any form. I can hardly listen through the whole piece when I want to put myself in the position as if this becomes a reality. Even when we get more semi-medieval chanting with some disharmonies, I notice still no attempt to any liberation out of this form. Lots of Latin and difficult English words being used (from a text written by David Ross Gunn) sound like an imperial eternal repetition within this imprisonment. This surely is a world where I never want to be, and where I see no real human reflections  whatsoever. There is only an astral reflection of the lonely world of a seemingly lost soul.

D.B.K. : 

“The review is very insightful.
You are quite correct that the instruments are rough. That is deliberate and minimalist. Most instruments that I have built are made for specific pieces, and have no purpose beyond those pieces. "Plasm" and its instruments were part of the time & place, an old rusting post-industrial New Jersey city, and during the post-Fluxus period. Almost all the instruments have been destroyed (the Hharp and Gong survive).
"Plasm" was written in 1977. This was midway between the Vietnam War and the target date of George Orwell's "1984". Both dates are important to this piece, as I was a political protestor during the War. Nuclear Armageddon was still imminent in 1977 (three years after Nixon), and it could have been Hell on Earth in seconds.
Musically, "Plasm" was composed before tonality had resurfaced as a mainstream force in nonpop. Minimalism was only evident in the big cities; even George Rochberg -- the first of the Terribly Serious nonpop composers -- had yet to turn to tonality, and David del Tredici has just begun composing his New Romantic "Child Alice" (and would finish it four years later). As such, "Plasm" represents in its three scenes a transition from the chaos you mention through the chant-line simplicity / complexity combination to the very straightforward rhythmically-driven conclusion - and paralleled the artistic edge of the times.
This opera was scorned when it was first performed. It was viewed as a rejection of both the American conservatory sound of Copland/Harris/Piston and the conservative Darmstadt/Stockhausen/Ligeti European tradition that still was part of American music. America (particularly with the minimalists and the west-coast composers) abandoned the European model in the late 1970s, and by 1985, the transition was complete to the diversity of largely tonal styles that represent American music today.
The text is existential, and again owes a great deal to "1984". The sections in Esperanto are a terrifying mix of optimism (a common language) and pessimism (the meaning of the words).”

Info : http://maltedmedia.com/people/bathory/bathres.html & http://maltedmedia.com/people/bathory/index.html & http://maltedmedia.com/people/bathory/instruments.html & http://maltedmedia.com/people/bathory/biglist.html
Info on this release : http://maltedmedia.com/people/bathory/plasm/index.html
E-mail : bathory@maltedmedia.com
Later recording : http://www.cdbaby.com/cd/bathory

Other pieces with experimental musical instruments : "Unisons" used two of Forkklang, Diskklang ; "Withered" used the Juicedrum. "Ash Wednesday" used the Organism."Christian Wolff in Hanover" used Miniharp, Monofilament, Ovarian Xylophone, Buzzophone. "Echo" used Triangulum, Candleharp, Infernal Machine, Windharp,Jingles.

privateThe Chordwainers : Music for leather instruments (AUS,2005)***°

The Chordwainers is a unique Australian group which is a celebration and demonstration of leather sculptor Garry Greenwood, who left a remarkable collection of leather instruments, some of them which were made in cooperation with the Queen Victoria Museum and Art Gallery in Launceston, home of the Tasmanian Leather Orchestra. Many people contributed to this project to make this possible. There has been an 11 years of collaboration with the leather sculptor, and it took one year and a half to finish this CD with CD-ROM. 

Except a few stringed instruments (harp like instruments) most leather musical sculptures are windinstruments, of which most of them are horns in various shapes.

The music is a nice demonstration of well balanced seemingly improvised harmonic calm new music / fusion which reflects a (structural) dance between harmonies of the instruments being used. This reflective moody music balances smoothly. When stringed instruments are used the sphere is more like old music.

An additional CD-rom contains all interesting and essential information on the sculptor, tell more about the music group, gives some information on different techniques of using leather in musical instruments, contains some video’s of performances, and give some explanations in a small interactive guide to all individual instruments, with sound examples.

Info : klove@postoffice.newnham.utas.edu.au

More on Garry Greenwood : http://www.lib.unimelb.edu.au/collections/grainger/greenwood/
with info on http://www.lib.unimelb.edu.au/collections/grainger/greenwood/frameset/biohis1.htm
& on http://www.thebeargallery.de/leather_art_forum/members/gerry_g/garry_g.htm
More info on Bent Leather Band and a few of the instruments which were used on this CD : http://home.mira.net/~favilla/instruments.htm
and http://www.tura.com.au/events/totallyhuge/2005/programme/bentLeather.html
and on Garry Greenwood's instruments : http://home.mira.net/~favilla/Greenwood/Garry_Greenwood.htm
About the Tasmanian Mountain Harp : http://www.launceston.tas.gov.au/whatsnewitem.php?id=2122
Honest Jons Rec.Moondog : The Viking of Sixth Avenue (US,compilation 1949-1995)****°

A very good starter and well compiled tasty overview of Moondog's work, with first more focus on his early, short, rhythmically driven arranged ideas. Also shown in various tracks is his jazz corner influence. His classical influence gets less attention, but still is present, especially with "Chaconne in G major", a classical piece with powow rhythm, and with "Oasis" (second version) as the only included organ piece example, mixed with his typical rhythms.

Moondog had created many instruments to express himself, like the trimba (a triangular drum), the oo (triangular stringed instrument), yukh (a log suspended from a tripod, hit with two rubber mallets), tuji (mounted sticks of graduated lengths). Some influences include besides classical music and jazz, native Indian drumming, and Japanese music. Since the late 1940's, he also used environmental sounds in his recordings.

Audio : "Lament 1 'Birds Lament' ", "Oasis", "Enough About Human Rights", "Invocation", "Theme and Variations", "Down is Up", "Bumbo" & http://www.juno.co.uk/products/193872-01.htm
Info : http://www.spincds.com/old/moondog2005.html
3 audiotracks with review : http://www.boomkat.com/item.cfm?id=19343
Reviews : http://www.allaboutjazz.com/php/article.php?id=19337
& http://www.phonicarecords.co.uk/detail.aspx?ID=8926

More information and links I added at http://psychevanhetfolk.homestead.com/Moondog.html
EM Rec.     William Eaton : music by (US,1978)****

This guitarist made instruments like the 26 String Guitar, the Elesion Harmonium (guitar with additional harp strings), a 20 String Harp Guitar called the "Koto Harp Guitar", “O’ele’n Strings, a kind of drone string zither/lyre guitar.

Description/review is added on http://www.psychedelicfolk.com/guitar9.html#anchor_275
EM Rec.William Eaton : Music By (US,1978)****

This guitarist made instruments like the 26 String Guitar,.....(guitar with additional harp strings), a 20 string guitar called the Koto Harp guitar, O'ele'n strings. He used the idea of preparing the strings for it...
...not always with "normal" harmonies, this still remains meditative music ...
-I accidentilly whiped the review. I could not retreive much more than these fragments.-

Info : http://william-eaton.com/http://www.emrecords.net/records/00074.html
Rephlex Rec.     Victor Gama : Pangeia Instrumentos (ANG/PT,2003)****

Angola born Victor Gama, residence in Portugal learned a couple of essential ideas from Angolan/African origin. In essence, he transformed African musical systems to new experimental musical instruments which sounds like modernized versions of some music instruments of African origin with a range from thumb piano to berimbau. It is amazing how in each track the coloured pallet changes. First the improvisations sound a bit like a thumb piano playing, with a lighter colour of sound, then with extra vibrating pearls or parts, then more xylophone-like, from a wooden to more metallic body, then like a toy piano, then more click-clacking, then with a deeper resonance chamber (direction berimbau), then more like a hammered dulcimer but with a different, more three dimensional shape in the body of the instrument. Some improvisations are recorded with two/three voices of instruments. A few improvisations are in combination with acoustic guitar, two with some violin.
It is absolutely understandable how Victor Gama came to work with Nana Vasconcelos for a project.

In detail, and interesting to say it that “Victor Gama has developed The Golian Modes Theory in which the score has a three dimensional component. The Golian Modes are four musical modes derived from the ancient Kongo/Angolan graphic writing system known as “Bidimbu”. The basis of the Golian Modes are the fundamental cosmogram known as “Dikenga”, and the concept of “N’kizy”, a religious object that is used to establish communication with the ancestor’s world.”
A highly enjoyable, recommended release.

Audio : "O Olho No Anzol"
Info & audio : http://www.myspace.com/victorgamamusic
See also video's on http://www.youtube.com/...
Info on artist : http://www.pangeiainstrumentos.org/
& http://www.dailyicon.net/2009/09/pangeia-instrumentos-by-victor-gama/
Homepage : http://www.victorgama.org/
Label entry (with audio) on http://www.rephlex.com/...
Other review : http://www.bbc.co.uk/music/reviews/43vr
Description on http://www.forcedexposure.com/artists/gama.victor.html
Interview : http://www.themilkfactory.co.uk/interviews/vgamaiw.htm
Amorphon Rec.     Talugung : Anura (CAN,2010)****

Talugung is the musical project from Ryan Waldron who made a lot of self-build instruments, but there's little information about them. Never the less this is a well presented collection with a focus on experimental musical instruments explorations and their sound worlds. Each track digs in a different spectrum, with some comparable still different returning starting points, from turning-turmoil bowls to thumb piano explorations with rather mechanical or organ-like settings. Often, each layer of rhythms with melodic-sonic variations is added in such a way we hear a natural, irregular rhythmic variation in sounds with its own overtones deliberately built in, worlds interesting to experience, like environments on its own with its own life and its own interactive sound worlds, with that bit of randomness it has something adventurous and quirky/odd, still certain variations could evoke ethnic world music variations somewhere even though I assume these associations are not made deliberately or too much sought. What I like very much about the presentation of these pieces into miniatures of worlds is that they are like the presentation of experimental musical instruments at its best by limiting its expression by showing only its full range of its found sonic world with its own space and environment, with its own laws of interaction and its own life of rhythmical-melodic and sound interactive variations, a minimalism which suits these presentations best.

The sounds of the instruments on the first track, “Creekside Corroded Iron band”, have something of the daxophones of Hans Reichel, with these funny and quirky duck-like sounds, with different sorts of squeaking chair-or bed-like thumb pianos, sound as if these toys are having a happy congress : rhythmically and playfully, fun with odd sounds and with some flute-like accents.
The second track, “Manifest Futures” sounds more like rubbing or turning wheel bowls with tiny balls in it, a complexity of disharmonies played like a new organ with new sounds, again with some turmoil effects and a few trumpet-alike accents.
“Rain on giant lenses” more sounds like steelpans played in the vein of an automatic mechanical musical instrument. Also here what is nice are the overtones and its variety in melody like an arrangement within a rhythm : colourful patterns with tone varieties. Besides this arranged effect, the music keeps something irrational and arythmic in its patterns and variations. In the case of this track, this theme here sounds a bit eastern.
“Undersea Shadow Enemy” sounds again more organ-pipes like, again with an ethnic flavour. There are strange overlaps of silences, as if the melodic-rhythmical themes are multi-layered with slightly irregular loops. “Low Temperatures” used more watery sounds of thumpiano's.
“Painted Bowls” with cowbells-alike sounds, in circular rhythms, sound like variations of sounds produced by turning wheel bowls with objects in it.
“Nervous system” is somewhat African flavoured in its theme, with a mixed effect of a thumbpiano with a flute organ. It reminds me a bit of some pygmy tune I heard once played on nose flute with voice if I remember well. It has an attractive mechanical rhythm which again sounds like a found conditional musical theme with its own interactive life.
"Currents” is the most iron-based track, with peeping tones mixed with rubbed iron pipes and of other forms, forming a flute like drone with some extra tones of rubbing, peeping, and a bit more physical touching of the material. Because the material is not used in a percussive way here the tension is very different. The tones doesn't come very much to the fore, and this forms some restrained expression, ending the track with a few bowed peeing variations.
“Zinc Drop Multiplication” is again a totally different sonic world, sounding like a series of fast fingering percussion done and recorded inside a tiny resonant box. Also this creates its own space, to be described as the discovery of the beauty of rain drops and a deliberate remake of this idea inside a much smaller space, discovering with it also its specific reflection of the object limiting its expression in another beautiful and interesting to discover way.
“Rolling Shoes” sound a bit like a collection brought together of small whistling flutes, with the metal objects quality of them coming through because the sounds melt together like a drone, like a bigger surface of metal nature.
Last track, “Falling Sawdust” much more clearly is made from playing on thumb pianos, in a more earthly recognisable form. The variety herein ranges from deep chimes to the pitches of a toy piano. A joyful track.

Well compiled. Very suitable for directed visualisations of different spaces and acoustic worlds.

Ryan Waldron is also member of indie drone-psych band The Riderless.

According to the label's introduction which I only read afterwards Ryan Waldron based himself on the poly-rhythms of frog-song.

Info & audio artist : http://www.myspace.com/talugung
Intro on artist : http://www.last.fm/music/Talugung
Label info (& audio) : http://www.amorfon.com/HTM/AMO012.HTM
Other releases : http://calmintrees.blogspot.com/2008/11/talugung.html
& http://www.digitalisindustries.com/fg174.html or http://www.theriderless.com/disco.html
& http://harha-askel.blogspot.com/2008/03/ha-5-talugung-under-humid-light.html

Other guitar base project with Ryan Waldron : http://www.psychedelicfolk.com/TheRiderless.html

For another Thumb Piano-like instrument exploration you can check also Mount Elephant

Penumbra Music     Hal Rammel :Agog (US,2010)***°

This is a very nice to listen to release with 17 solo improvisational tracks, played entirely on Hal Rammel’s self-built instrument called the Amplified Palette, an instrument developed, built and designed in 1992. It was recorded in real time, without overdubs or processing, using set-ups of multiple palettes arranged as a tabletop instrument and played with a wide variety of homemade mallets. Each pallet has its own unique arrangement of vertical metal wooden rots producing a rich resonant space that varies within this recording. The amplified sound is able to show its singing qualities very well. I will make the description of its range later.

The ideas for the palette grew out of a couple ideas picked up over the years. Hal Rammel did already found the idea of the possibilities of the sound of bowed wood interesting. Hans Reichel’s daxophone has shown its possibilities already with amazing results. Compared to Reichel, Hal Rammel more used the palette as a handy to use and manipulate tool, while of course also the changes the wood itself can bring, are taken into account. An early influence was colleague instrument builder Douglas Ewartas. He also used before one of the mbira’s built by Hal, which he played at a concert with Henry Threadgill and Joseph Jarman. Hal Rammel has built a first string instrument – a sort of a three-sided free-standing ukulele in the 70s, but he missed the use of resonance in it. Investigating people like Harry Partch, John Cage and Sun Ra provided more interesting thoughts. Harry Partch used intonation and different tunings, leading to a cacophonic tonal balance mixed with the skills of improvisational harmony. John Cage used percussive sonic balance over the melodic composition. He of course also used the idea of preparing the strings for it (inside the piano). Remember also how Sun Ra had a self-built instrument called the Sun Harp, with long metal nails in a sun form. By experimenting further with the musical saw, Hal then had built a nail violin, with nails attached more loosely in the soundboard. This was the final step towards the amplified palette. At first he combined this idea with sound and light effects, but thoroughly he derived the idea to the real basis of the instrument itself with the wide range of variety that can be found by changing the materials or by attaching elements, so that the separate sonic entities become modified, just like in the idea of the prepared piano of Cage.

Some pallets sound more interesting than others. I very much like it when the notes or separate pitches are separating themselves more as a sonic entity/world. On the later tracks on the album for instance you can hear that every tone is attached and thus in sound also is more depending to one resonance chamber, which always gives the same amount of overtones and this blurs or drones the variety a bit. But at its full capacity and range and invention, it shows a very rich experience, where Hal Rammel just simply explores the inner rhythm of the combinations it carries and how it is varied, discovering more dynamics when more variations in tonal qualities are available. The produced sounds can range from a beautiful water-like deep bubbling of the metallic sounds, clicking sounds, bell-like sounds or gong/bowl-like sounds, or ideas which goes in the direction but also go beyond the idea of the thumb piano, while starting from a less steady rhythmical variety, with a more improvised playing which is also more irregular and also wider in range of sounds compared to a normal thumb piano (=mbira). Elsewhere we hear the vibrating or touching of the metal nails, or even the rambling of the metal, then again it sounds again more like deep gongs or bowls, with nice resonating overtones harmonies, then again a bit more random in nature. Ral Hammel always succeeds to find its own natural rhythm and environment, its own balance and rhythm, its inner breathing space.

Video's : http://vimeo.com/user3935225
Homepage: http://www.halrammel.com/
Label info: http://penumbramusic.wordpress.com/new-releases-2010/
Review and distribution: http://www.squidsear.com/cgi-bin/news/newsView.cgi?newsID=1568

I lost track of the good websites on instrument builders.
Please mail me your links while mentioning this URL (webpage).

Here will be listed some links :


Ideas for building cheap instruments :
-Lasry-Baschet will be on a separate page here-

or go back to first review page : Exp Mu Instr intro
or second review page : overtones
pr third page : theremin
or fourth page : soundsculptures
or to the page of DNA music, music from nature,
or to the general index page