MUSICAL INSTRUMENT CATEGORIZATION SYSTEMS

Many and many a year ago, when I was in primary school, I was taught that musical instruments come in four varieties: strings,woodwinds, brass and percussion. It doesn’t take a very profound analysis to recognize that there’s a logical problem with this categorization...

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ADVENTURES IN FRICTION

What’s in this article: An overview of different ways of creating friction vibrations, a discussion of principles and techniques pertaining to the making of stick-slip instruments, and short descriptions of several friction instruments I’ve made. In recent years I’ve...

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FUNDAMENTAL, HARMONICS, OVERTONES, PARTIALS, MODES

As many readers will already know, most musical sounds contain multiple frequencies. These frequencies come about as the results of different modes of vibration -- that is, different patterns of vibratory movement -- coexisting in the physical body that is the source...

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ALUMINUM DISK GONGS (Article #2)

Article 2: A More Sophisticated Approach In an article posted prior to this one, I presented the basics for making simple aluminum disk gongs.  This follow-up article assumes that you’re familiar with the approach described there, so if you haven’t read that article...

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ALUMINUM DISK GONGS (Article #1)

Easy to make, wonderful sound.  If you decide to make them, you can choose whether to keep it simple or take a more sophisticated approach.   Article 1: A Simple Approach I have recently made a number of simple flat gongs out of aluminum disks.  If you can get your...

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ALTERNATIVES FOR PITCH CONTROL IN WIND INSTRUMENTS

When it comes to homemade instruments, simple wind instruments can be among the most rewarding. They can be compact yet versatile, loud enough to be heard without requiring pickups or amplification, and in their simpler forms they can be fairly easy to make without...

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PLAY HERE

In recent years there has been a three-day street festival each fall in San Francisco called the Market Street Prototyping Festival, sponsored by the city and the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts. The organizers commission people to create installations and exhibits...

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SOUNDS AND SILENCE

For many years I lived in a very quiet place.  Then I moved, and for the next several years I lived in another very quiet place. More recently I moved again, this time to my current place, which is not so quiet. Even though this place is not on a main road, there is a...

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ENGRAVINGS OF EARLY ACOUSTICAL APPARATUS

This post presents a collection of old engravings of acoustical apparatus. I first ran into these many years ago when I was editing the Experimental Musical Instruments quarterly journal. A few different readers wrote in at various times to mention the existence of...

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NORTH-SOUTH/EAST-WEST CHIMES

Some time ago I posted on this site an essay under the title “Orientation of the Oscillation.”  In it I talked about the importance of the direction of the oscillation in an instrument’s main vibrating bodies (strings, bars, tines or whatever): how the orientation of...

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MASTERY VS. GO-FOR-A-RIDE

In music schools, people spend a great deal of time in practice rooms pursuing mastery of their chosen instruments. Many people who aren’t in music school do the same thing in their bedrooms or living rooms. As a result there are a lot of astonishingly skilled...

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OVER-UNDER SCALES

  For people that spend time in the world of new music, especially in academic circles, one of leading themes of the last several decades has been alternative intonations systems – that is, tuning systems other than the standard western scale known as twelve-tone...

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THERE IS NOTHING NEW UNDER THE SUN

Many years ago, I conceived and built an instrument that I called Bentwood Chalumeau. It was a type of glisssando clarinet, a precursor of the instrument that I now call ‘moe which can be seen in this site’s instrumentarium. It had an unusual pitch control system,...

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OVERTONES HARMONIC AND INHARMONIC

I very much enjoy unusual musical tone qualities, including ones in which the pitch-sense of the tone is ambiguous or fickle. In a companion essay  to this one I spoke about being attracted to sounds in which elements of identifiable pitch are blended with pitchless...

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THE TERRITORY BETWEEN CLEAR PITCH AND PURE NOISE

What is it about some sounds that gives them clear pitch, while other sounds come across as pitchless noise? The simple answer is that pitched sounds have a steady repetition rate, or frequency, that the ear can pickup up on and identify. Noisy sounds are more chaotic...

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ORIENTATION OF THE OSCILLATION

This aspect of musical instrument design isn’t always talked about, but I encourage instrument makers to take it into consideration, because it’s often instructive and illuminating. For many string instruments and idiophones, it can be useful to think about direction...

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SYNTHESIS vs SAMPLING

It’s interesting to notice that several decades back, in an earlier era in electronic music, there was a great deal of energy and excitement around synthesis – that is, the creation of sounds, either new or imitative, by building them from scratch, using electronic...

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SLOPPINESS

Most of the music in the world today uses a particular type of musical scale known as twelve-tone equal temperament. At the same time, for the last several decades in contemporary music circles there’s been a resurging interest in other intonation systems, both...

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SCALE AND TIMBRE

Since his death the American composer Harry Partch has had a profound impact on contemporary music, at least in academic and intellectual circles. His main contribution has been that he got people seriously thinking about tuning systems. He wasn’t alone in this, but...

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