Opening Reception: Space is the Plate, Shifting Resonances in Contemporary Instrument Design
Artist Talk and Demonstration
Thursday, May 10, 2018 6-9pm
7pm: Panel discussion moderated by Bart Hopkin
7:30pm: Demonstrations by Tom Nunn, Brooks Hubbard III, Bart Hopkin, and Fred Long with David Michalak.
Many musical instruments employ soundboards – that is, thin boards, plates, sheets or diaphragms designed to provide a surface for radiating vibrations into the surrounding air. Inevitably these sound-radiating surfaces have their own internal resonances that color the sound even as they project it. If the radiator is made of sheet metal, and the metal sheet flexes, this causes variations in its predominant resonances, which in turn causes ongoing fluctuations in the tone quality. A similar fluctuation in resonance can be created by water moving on the surface of the metal. For further variability and complexity, the resonances of the sheet metal may simultaneously feed back into the initial vibration source to alter its behavior. Depending on the instrument, the effect may be subtly enchanting, or roaringly energetic. Several contemporary instrument makers have made use of these shifting resonance effects, and this exhibit highlights some of their instruments.
Works by: Tom Nunn, Richard Waters, Neil Feather, Fred “Spaceman” Long, Brooks Hubbert III, Bart Hopkin, & Brothers’ Quarrel (Saxton/Samas) after Harry Bertoia
About the Artists
Richard Waters: The Waterphone evolved in 1968 from a humble can with tines to the bolted prototype seen here, and into the contrabass Waterphone on display. In these instruments, the initial vibration from a metal rod or tongue feeds into a metal vessel, where it is modulated by moving water on the surface of the flat bottom. After Waters’ death in 2013 his work was carried on by Brooks Hubbert III, who has continued the evolution of the instrument, creating the Cymapan through independent studies in a therapeutic context for people with autism and PTSD. The water allows the sound waves to be observed in cymatic displays.
Tom Nunn: Through the 70’s Nunn and Waters explored the sonic universe by brazing bronze rods to sheet metal creating unusual inharmonic percussion instruments. The Crustacean (1977) represents the pinnacle of Nunn’s explorations from that period while City Park was created in 2016. Nunn is an inventor, performer and author of Wisdom of the Impulse, a treatise on free improvisation. He continues to innovate from his SF garage studio where he hosts local avant performers for a series at “the Nunnery”.
Neil Feather: The Nondo is a string instrument which uses a flexible sheet of mild steel as both as a resonator and as a bow to keep tension on the strings which varies with flex. An iron bar acts as a floating slide and a variety of techniques are then used to activate the stings. Inventor and musician, Neil Feather has been a key player in Baltimore’s vibrant music and art community and a founding member of the Red Room Collective and the High Zero Foundation.
Fred “Spaceman” Long: Oakland-based “26th century troubadour” Fred Long has created a family of instruments “for the future” using a mix of rigid and flexible metal components including springs and sheet metal. In addition to modulating the tone acoustically, flexing may allow further modulation by altering the positions of pickups relative to the sounding bodies.
Bart Hopkin: Aquaalt and Wobble Steel Guitar are stringed instruments which use the sheet steel as both a resonator and a filter, one through the rocking of water and the other through flexing the plate.Instrument inventing guru and publisher of the infamous Experimental Musical Instruments journal, Hopkin continues to invent from his Marin workshop, performing locally with Pet the Tiger Inventors Collective.
Brothers’ Quarrel after Harry Bertoia: though totally unlike his Sonambiants, Bertoia’s cast bronze split gongs hang from above, are smooth, round, and explore the hybrid of gongs, tuning forks and split plate gongs called the “Umpan” or Cloud Plate which dates back 2600 years. Here we also see an evolution of these traditions by David Samas which, in keeping wight he theme of using new technologies as they develop, was water jet cut on a computer-controlled system, then painted with patina by hand.
Special thanks to Tom Nunn for the loan of the Waterphones, and to Sally Davis for the loan of the can with tines; to Neil Feather for the Nondo Plans, and to Ian Saxton who cut the split gong and fabricated the Nondo.