Dry Brains vs Wet Brains
Over the past few years (perhaps more than a few), homemade instruments have been on the rise. From activities in the classroom to full, world-touring orchestras made from recycled garbage, homemade instruments have opened doors for people in a variety of exciting and innovative ways.
For me, the ‘homemade’ instrument is most important due to the reach of organic new sounds that they can create. To give one example, check out the video below of Görkem Sen playing his amazing instrument, the Yaybahar:
This instrument works by transmitting the sound from the string down the coiled cables into the drum membranes at the end, which resonate the sound. This intriguing design allows for the sci-fi-exotic sounds to emerge.
One such instrument, designed by the Brazilian band, Uakti, has held my attention for a long time: the torre. The torre (or tower) has a much simpler design: it consists of strings stretched down the sides of a cylindrical, rotating resonating body, which are activated by a specially made bow. Check out this performance of their piece Krishna:
What fascinates me about these exotic creations is their lack of need for electronics. As an acoustic composer, I strive to find ways of creating new and exciting sounds without electronics in the context of live performance. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t have anything against electronic music; I enjoy it as much as the next man and love attending presentations of it but I will tell you what I don’t like.
First of all, in a ‘performance’ (or what I prefer to call a presentation) of electronic music, the composer or person presenting their work sits behind a computer keyboard/mixing desk/general sound making technology and conducts quite isolated actions. There is a lot of skill in what they are doing, whether diffusing through a surround sound system or working in some way with a live performer, but there is still a barricade between them and us. Personally, I find it un-inclusive and impersonal from an audience’s perspective.
You could argue that my goal of creating exotic drones would be easier, cheaper and just as good through an electronic system. I would ask, then, why we even still have live performances? If an electronic system is ‘good enough for everybody’ then why even go to a concert? Why not just stick it on YouTube and create your own concert? Why not just press play on a CD player? What about all these silly composers spending loads of money getting their works performed by choirs and orchestras when they could just train a computer to do it for them?
I find that there is something incredibly special about sound produced through ‘organic’ instrumentation. The input of the performers, the unwanted but unavoidable mistakes and the time and effort put into organising a full-scale performance all contribute to an experience, or in the words of Allan Kaprow and his contemporaries, happenings.
Perhaps I am being unnecessarily harsh, but it is the way I feel as a composer. My goal is to produce a real-life, pain-in-the-ass-to-make, experiential drone, and that is what I will do.
The Second Tower
As part of this project, I will be designing and building an adaption of Uakti’s torre for use in this performance piece: The Second Tower (torre II).
There are a few challenges that come with this: limited funding, terrible DIY skills and inexperience to name but a few. But I also have a lot of skills that will help the process. One of which, I learned from my Dad and that is technical drawing.
This image is a technical design drawing to be sent to a sheet metal maker and it will allow me explain the changes that I have made to Uakti’s innovative design.
The first difference is what the main body of the instrument will be made of. Uakti’s design was made from a PVC tube, which acts as a resonating body and/or amplifier. In my design I will be using sheet metal in the hope of adding to the metallic, shimmering sound. This will also have varying sized holes cut out of it to create a different pulsing sound from the body itself.
Along the bottom, are peg holes to insert holding points for each of the eight strings. These will be secured by small bolts that are slotted in and tightened.
This flat design will then be rolled into a cylinder and will act as the main body of the instrument. This has been the biggest design challenge so far, so I really hope it works.
The next stage of the process is getting these designs made; I look forward to sharing pictures of the developing product. My next blog post will feature some new pictures, some inner workings of the creative process and my plan for some ‘sheet music’ that I can assure you, won’t be normal.
Until then, how do you feel about electronic versus acoustic performances? Do you feel there is a difference? Or am I being unnecessarily awkward? I would love to hear your comments.
Bryce Hope is a graduate of the University of Aberdeen where he has achieved his Bachelor and Master Degrees. In 2016, he was awarded the Carlaw | Ogston Composition Prize for his solo piano piece tEn; his output includes works for piano, small ensemble, narrator and performance artists.