I’ve always been enthusiastic about making my own instruments. I’ve rarely been successful.
The bamboo pole supporting the peppers was my attempt to make a shakuhachi. It’s the only surviving artifact from a long period spent trying to make my own pan-pipes, fifes and primitive flutes.
A website for kids helped me complete a functional instrument:
A pentatonic tubular xylophone. Wow. After hours of research, trips to the hardware store and a ton of burnt bamboo I could make 5 notes. And they didn’t sound great.
I decided if I wanted to be the next Harry Partch, I would have to go where the future was. Electronics. I bought a book about circuit-bending and went to a Circuit City for the first time in my life. The result?
A semi-functional pair of contact-microphones. I don’t think Stockhausen needs to worry yet.
So I put instrument building out of my mind. Why would someone who can’t hang a picture think they are capable of building an instrument? Folly, plain and simple.
And then it happens. I see a set of wind-chimes and begin to think about metallophones… and before I know it, my dad is driving me to the Home Depot to buy threaded rod and 1x2s.
While I didn’t contribute anything musical to this (the wind-chimes come tuned) I have no hesitation saying: I’ve built my first truly successful instrument. (It plays 6 notes.)
A week ago I went to the Power Plant and saw new and recent works by Canadian Michael Snow. While I wasn’t particularly impressed by any of the show’s content, I enjoyed the directness and sincerity of his statements about the works. I was also excited about how interactive one of the works could be:
I’m standing by the stop-sign.
A week later at another Toronto art hotspot (The Drake Hotel) I had the privilege of hearing James Blackshaw perform. Blackshaw is an English guitarist who is very inspiring. He’s not yet thirty. His albums are beautiful, lush, well-recorded and full of a guitar sound and style that I love. That being said, I try not to listen to his music much. His music is so close in form and execution to the music I want to make that I fear being too influenced by this young Brit. What an arrogant and conceited thought! But honest.
Being in these two radically different spaces united by “art” (The Power Plant is large and auster, empty of people – the Drake was full of night-clubbers waiting for a Prince theme party to begin) I was struck by how divergent public creativity is. Michael Snow is associated with everything from Albert Ayler to the Eaton Center, Prince and Miles Davis planned on making records together, James Blackshaw curated a compilation that featured a lute-player. Ezra Pound’s great realization at the dawn of the twentieth century was that all ages are contemporary, but this week was strange.
So I listened to recordings I made when I was first hearing James Blackshaw and was pleased to find that his influence had not been pervasive – it was barely detectable outside the fact that a 12-string guitar was being finger-picked. Here is one from the vaults:
Some people suffer for their art – I’m one of them. I had just gotten my gong when I made this song and was so excited to use it. Usually you see gongs on stands, suspended gracefully in the air. Mine doesn’t have a stand. So I have to pick it up with one hand, holding it away from my body as to not dampen the sound, and bang it with my other hand. My back was in terrible pain for well over two weeks. I haven’t recorded the gong since.