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===================================================================== ____ /\ /\ ____ _____ |___ | / \ / \ | | | | | |___ |__ / \/ \ |___| |___ |____| K A N E * P E T E R S E N * M C K I E N

_____________________________________________________________________ ===================================================================== *** PRESENTS *** C.H.E.A.M.I. Cheap Homemade Experimental Awesome Musical Instruments Workshop -- Part of the Instructions Not Included exhibition -Artspace New Haven, Nov 9 2012 -- Jan 26 2013

Meet your makers:

Brian Kane

Mike McKien

Scott Petersen

Recommended Tools


Hammer Screwdriver Tin Snips (some sort of tough cutting scissors) Xacto Knife Work Gloves Sandpaper Power Drill (drill bits, screw bits) Hot glue gun Saw (jig, other) Soldering Iron Recommended Materials -----

Resonators (tin cans, bottles, wooden boxes) Actuators (mallets, bows, scrapey things) Connectors (rivets, screws, nails, glue) Construction materials (wood, string, wire) Contact mic

____________________________________________________________________________ I. INTRODUCTION

Making things is hard The internet is rife with DIY musical instrument projects. Unfortunately, most are either not worth the undertaking or call for a lot of time and/ or specialty tools and materials. While it is possible to make sound with a straw and a soda can, it’s not our idea of awesome. Neither is spending mad bling on tools and parts for a single project. Investing in a few of the common tools listed at the beginning of this handout (that you probably already have) will take you a good way. As for materials, the more you can do with less, the more projects you are likely to undertake and complete. (More on this later.)

____________________________________________________________________________ II. Orientation and Inspiration (and a little history...) Quotes “When I [John Cage] was introduced to him [Oskar Fischinger], he began to talk with me about the spirit which is inside each of the objects of this world. So, he told me, all we need to do to liberate that spirit is to brush past the object, and to draw forth its sound. That’s the idea which led me to percussion. In all the many years which followed up to the war, I never stopped touching things, making them sound and resound, to discover what sounds they could produce. Wherever I went, I always listened to objects.” (John Cage, For the Birds, 73-4) “L’Etude pathétique or aux casseroles [saucepans] elicited smile or gravity depending on the mood or the inclination of the listener. But for a musician, especially an orthodox one, what a boon! ‘To the saucepan!’ immediately shoults the young critic, finding my explanations inadequate...’Even cut up into tenths of seconds, a pan will still be a pan.’ atom cut into

pieces is no longer the same atom. It becomes another material, gives off unexpected energy. Everything, precisely, depends on the level of analysis.” (Pierre Schaeffer, In Search of a Concrete Music, 42) “The adjective ‘abstract’ is applied to ordinary music because it is initially conceived in the mind, then notated theoretically, and finally executed in an instrumental performance. As for ‘concrete’ music, it is made up of preexisting elements, taken from any sound material, noise, or musical sound, then composed experimentally by direct montage, the result of a series of approximations, which finally gives form to the will to compose contained in rough drafts, without the help of an ordinary music notation...” (Schaeffer, In Search of a Concrete Music, 25) John Cage on small sounds: “...centers of experimental music must be established. In these centers, the new materials, oscillators, turntables, generators, means for amplifying small sounds, film phonographs, etc. available for use. Composers at work using twentieth century means for making music.” (“The Future of Music: Credo,” Silence, 6) [Cage said this 1937! wow!] “...everything we do is music, or can become music through the use of microphones...By means of electronics, it has been made apparent that everything is musical.” (Conversing with Cage, ed. Kostelantz, 70) “Once the season changes from summer to fall, given sufficient rain, or just the mysterious dampness that’s in the earth, mushrooms grow there...That we have no ears to hear the music the spores shot off from basidia make obliges us to busy ourselves microphonically.” (A Year From Monday, 34) “I thought of sounds we cannot hear because they’re too small, but through new techniques we can enlarge them, sounds like ants walking in the grass.” (Michael Kirby and Richard Schecher, “An Interview with John Cage,” Tulane Drama Review 10(2), Winter 1965, 54) A little bit of history may be in order... In his classic Cartridge Music (1960), John Cage created a world of amplified sound by removing the needle from a phonograph cartridge and replacing it with household objects (pipe cleaners, feathers, leaves, etc.) An easy replacement for the phonograph cartridge is a contact microphone, a small microphone built from a piezoelectric disc (a very common electronic part). In Cage’s Reunion (1968), he and Marcel Duchamp played a game of chess on a chessboard amplified with contact mics. The sounds of the chess game were then processed by David Tudor and others. (The board also functioned as a mixer, which controlled the various electronics sounds heard in the hall--but I’ll save that for another day.)

In Child of Tree (1975), Cage amplified a cactus with contact mics, while a performer plucked the spikes like a thumb-piano or kalimba. There have been many other musical uses of contact mics, many of which are detailed in Nicolas Collin’s fine book, Handmade Electronic Music. While Cage’s approach to the contact mic usually resulted in live performances, there is no reason why one can’t use contact mics to gather source material with which to make “musique concrète.” Given the “tinny” sound of contact mics, they often transform the sound so that the source becomes unrecognizable (or, at least, difficult to recognize). One can take the sounds recorded with contact mics, cut them down, and montage them into musical sequences with an audio editor. (I recommend Audacity, which is free and open source.) If you need inspiration, I recommend the following: ● ● ● ● ● Pierre Schaeffer, Cinq études de bruits. Pierre Henry, Variations pour une porte et un soupir Pierre Henry, Le microphone bien temperé Luc Ferrari, Heterozygote Bernard Parmegiani, Capture éphémère

One final tidbit. The piezoelectric disc (the guts of our contact mic) was first used as a mic in the 1930s. It is at the same time that the induction coil pickup (used to amplify the strings of a guitar) was also being developed. Just as we see the rise of the electric guitar in the 1930s and 40s we also see the rise of the contact mic in experimental music. Is is no coincidence that in 1937, Cage could speak about the possibilities of a studio where very small sounds could be amplified. We hear it on the recordings of Charlie Christian, Les Paul, Oscar Moore and other pioneers of the electric guitar. The contact mic and the pickup are two ways of turning quiet and small vibrations in matter into electronic signals, where they can be amplified, processed, manipulated, and made GIGANTIC. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves...

_____________________________________________________________________ III. GENERAL CONSIDERATIONS: acoustics primer, ideas and admonitions

Acoustics: Vibration

Sound is, most generally speaking, compression and rarefaction of a medium (air, water). When you excite an object (box, string) by doing some action on it, such as striking or scraping it, the object will vibrate. If this object is resonant (box) or is attached to a resonant body (string attached to violin), the sound will be louder. How well the object vibrates is related to tension, hardness, and a number of other factors. So, here’s a simple formula for thinking about sounds: object + action = sound Both parts (object and action) matter in the sound that is produced. So, when you are thinking about making an instrument, give both due consideration. The same object, when activated in different ways, will often produce radically different sounds. (For example, think of the difference between a bowed violin and a plucked violin).

Acoustics: Resonance

The overall sound (or timbre) of the object/action pair is greatly affected by the shape of the resonating body. (A metal string attached to a guitar

body sounds different than the same string attached to a banjo body.) Resonances can be sympathetic or not, meaning they can reinforce or disrupt each other. Every resonating body will have its own sound characteristics largely related to its shape. You can easily experiment with this with only cutlery and an empty tin can. Tap two forks together and note the sound. Then hold the fork (at the base of the handle) tight against the flat bottom of the can and tap it again. Note the sound is a) louder, b) more sonically rich, and c) sounds like both the fork and the can rather than just the amplified fork. Now try with a piece of broccoli on the end of the fork. Make sure the broccoli is cooked al dente or you will ruin it and degrade the vitamin content. Eat the broccoli and note how delicious it is. Yum! In lieu of a sound resonant body

The science of resonant bodies is very complex. Think of the centuries of experimentation that went into developing the current shape of a violin or guitar. One way to simplify the issue of resonance is to use amplification. By capturing the sounds of things with a microphone, and amplifying the signal, you can suddenly take very small, quiet or even inaudible sounds and make them very loud. A low cost and easy way to amplify sounds is through a contact mic. A contact mic is attached directly to the surface of objects and it translates the vibrations of the object into an electric signal. Once the signal is electric you can do many things with it: plug it into a computer and record it; use it to trigger some other electronic things; or run it into an audio amplifier and piss off your neighbors. In the workshop, we’ll be doing the latter and using contact mics in place of a resonant body so that we can hear the sound of anything we want whenever we want. NOW NOW NOW! Two things to note: 1. The electric guitar pickup is a lot like a contact mic, in that it translates physical vibrations into an electric signal. The pickup captures the vibrations of the strings and, when amplified, acts as a replacement for a resonant body. If you’ve ever played an electric guitar without plugging it in, you know how quiet it is. 2. We said above that the resonating body has its own sound characteristics. The same goes for a contact mic. It doesn’t pick up all the vibrations in the object, and

it emphasizes certain frequencies over others. Every contact mic sounds different. And there is a distinct “sound” of contact mics that electronic musicians recognize--usually the description is “tinny” or “brittle.” Mmm, brittle. We like the sound of contact mics. A LOT!

Some Observations and Admonitions 1. Finding the right materials is half (or more) of the battle While making instruments out of household objects sound like a great idea that you can later share on facebook to impress your friends, it turns out that most household objects are acoustically unfit for instrument making. Also, making instruments out of them usually requires breaking them which tends to piss off mom and dad. Objects that are designed for a single purpose usually do that thing well and other things not so well. For making, collecting generic materials is the way to go. Tin cans are great because they can be easily cut with tin snips and are then flexible but strong. Wood is cheap and easily cut to different sizes with the right saw. Collect generic materials on a regular basis and stash them where your family won’t find them and throw them away. You never know when you will need that soup can... 2. Figuring out how to attach materials together is veryveryvery important. The stronger the bond between two objects the better the conductance of sound will be. Loose connections mean a dead end for sound. Hot glue is a great way to create a strong, initial bond. Reinforce it with solder, rivets, screws, etc. to make the deal permanent. 3. Plan first then work in phases. There’s nothing worse than having a great idea for an instrument and then having to spend days collecting the stuff to make it. Collect stuff on a regular basis and get it in shape to work with later. Precutting some cans, wood, plastic, and wire and keeping them at-hand will make the prototyping stage quicker and more pleasant. 4. Patience and experimentation are your friends. Once you have materials and a plan of action, take your time in carrying it out. Keep enough materials around to have a few goes at it because you will likely not get it right the first time around. Try radically different designs at first, then try micro changes on the results. The difference between ‘meh’ and ‘oo la la’ is often measured in millimeters.


If at first you don’t succeed, consider moving on to something else. They call it “working it to death” for a reason. While persistence is a virtue, the descent into madness begins with it. Life is short and brutish enough without adding self-torture to your ride. Some ideas will never pan out. Such is life. Move on to the next project!

____________________________________________________________________________ IV. DEMONSTRATION

Contact mics are swell (see above.) Making one is also swell AND it’s easy! While you have been provided a contact mic today, you will probably want more. Follow the simple steps below to enrich your life and the lives of those around you by making one at home. 1. 2. 3. 4. 5. Cut the audio cable, strip the ends, tin the wires Test the audio cable to make sure of your connections Solder the piezo to the audio cable Plasti Dip it! (Then hang to dry) Make glorious music.

For detailed instructions, check out this page: http://

“Love on a Long Thin Wire”: wire, lid, metal plange, wood This instrument was the simplest to construct, but is in some ways the most elegant and sonically pleasing. It consists only of a piece of wood with a small hole through which is threaded a guitar string. The cut-out bottom of a can of soup (with a hole drilled near one edge) and a metal plange are suspended on the wire which is pulled taught and angled to let gravity pull them to one side or the other. When combined, the two metal pieces on the string are resonated by each other and by the guitar string. Alone, they are activated by gravity pulling them along the coil-wound string.

“Hawt Springz”: wood, screws, springs, nails This instrument is simple enough: 2 screws and 2 nails onto which are fastened 4 springs. Recipe complete. We tend to use different methods of exciting the resonating springs when recording with this lil’ guy: sometimes we a guitar pick to pluck the springs, sometimes we use a guitar string dragged over and through the springs as a “bow.”

“The Hook”: Coffee can, tin can, spring, metal plange, wood This instrument was created by cutting the top and bottom off of a coffee can and mounting it on a piece of scrap pine. We then used a hot glue gun to affix a spring with a metal plange on the end of it. The instrument can be “played” with one hand with little effort.

“The Moisturisor”: Wood, plastic container, spring, metal plange, hot glue, piezo element, lentils (uncooked) This guy is sort of a one-trick pony, but the trick is pretty great. Fill it with any spherical object, then poke it and let the spring tension do the rest. A contact mic is glued into the bottom of the jar. It is best suited as part of a suite of instruments rather than as the solo act.

“Count Bowsie”: Wood, L brackets, screws, spring This object can serve as either an actuator of another object/instrument, or as an instrument itself. Scraping the spring over resonant objects as a bow produces a complex sound of both the object and the spring. Alternately, the spring can be shortened by pressing it against the wood and plucked, which produces an oddly bass-like sound. Contact mics are easily attached to the L brackets on either end making it a quick, versatile instrument for beginners.

“Toothy ‘the Harmonator’”: Wood, paper clips, tin can, glue, screws, contact mic Toothy is one example of the use of a clamping mechanism to aid the conductance of sound energy from the resonating object to the contact mic. The paper clips are glued to the bottom piece of wood and a strip of tin is glued on top of the base of the clips. The contact mic is placed between the paper clips and another piece of tin and clamped down on the base by another piece of wood that is fixed with screws. The paper clips are tuned by cutting or filing the tip of the paper clip to shorten the length of the ‘u’ shape.

____________________________________________________________________________ V. GO TIME

Now comes the time when we make things. Hopefully you will be able to get something hacked together that you enjoy and makes the noise you want. If if doesn’t, however, we have hopefully sent you away with a strategy for getting it to that point. Using the below negative space to take notes is a great idea! NOTES: _____________________________________________________________________ _____________________________________________________________________ _____________________________________________________________________ _____________________________________________________________________ _____________________________________________________________________ _____________________________________________________________________ _____________________________________________________________________

Drawings here:

More drawings here!

____________________________________________________________________________ VI. SOME READING MATERIAL AND RESOURCES

If you want to take your instrument-making skills to the next level but need some ideas, have a gander at the following links. Novel &/or experimental instruments: The Nail Violin: Bill Wesley’s own Array Nail Violin (awesome!) The daxophone: The Hydraulophone: Plasmaphone: Okay, you get the idea... lots of whateveraphones. ( Books: Please note we do not own many of these books, so your mileage may vary. Gravikords, Whirlies & Pyrophones: Experimental Musical Instruments ASIN: B00000BIII [Note: this is a CD of strange musical instruments, with good documentation and great for getting inspiration. Brian sez, “Hey, I own that!”] Musical Instrument Design: Practical Information for Instrument Design ISBN-10: 1884365086 Sound Designs: A Handbook of Musical Instrument Building ISBN-10: 0898157757 Vibrations: Making Unorthodox Musical Instruments ISBN-10: 0521208122 Handmade Electronic Music: the Art of Hardware Hacking ISBN-10: 0415998735 Check out NIME

Some cheesy-yet-awesome appropriate-for-kids instruments General experimental musical instrument net sources Local Resources: MakeHaven: a great local resource for making, DIY projects of all kinds, knowledgeable and helpful minds, etc. (Mike and Scott are members.)

____________________________________________________________________________ VII. CONTACT INFOZ

If you have questions going forward or if you would like an electronic version of this document (with working hyperlinks) I will be happy to share the google doc with you. I can also often be found at MakeHaven during their open house nights, Tuesdays from 7pm ‘till...