Sunday, March 30, 2008

Drilling the Flintstone Gamelan

Each of the hard limestone slabs I chose from the stoneyard has areas of maximum resonance, and dud zones. It seems to make no difference whether the stones are supported on the car tires at the nodes or anywhere else, they are so dense.

I drilled 3/8" holes in locations therefore that are suitable for securing the stones to the right size of tire edge, not for acoustic reasons.

In order to help players locate the sweet spots I etched circles and expanding concentric patterns on the surface with a screw driver, giving a nice petroglyph effect that can be continued in other areas of the playground.

Burroughs Makes Music

Armed with Stamping Tubes, Balloon Bassoons and Balloon Flutes for (almost) everyone we had a jam session at Burroughs. Dividing the class into chamber-sized mixed ensembles, each group, after a brief confab, gave a little performance. Each was different in texture, integration and dynamics.

Now the practice period starts, but things are looking promising for some musical results in a few weeks.

Webster Makes Balloon Flutes

We met in the woodshop and were joined by the Principal and a photographer from St. Paul Illustrated to watch us make 50 balloon flutes.

These are made by cutting 1" thin walled PVC conduit into 6-12" lengths. You smooth the burrs off the ends and drill a 1/2" hole off center which you then file flat to make a clean edge tone. Using all your finger strength and a helper you then pull qualatex balloons over each end and tighten them like a drum. When blown they sound like a cross between a shakuhachi and an ocarina with unpredictable overtones based on fingering the rubber endcaps.

We looked at nose flutes, pan pipes and slide whistles. Next is embouchure training and what kind of music you can make with dozens of these being played outdoors.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Burroughs and their Story

We started off with some Push Hands exercises, touching fingers and mirroring in space. That grew to groups of four and began to look like dance...

Then we made our one-word-at-a-time story:

Once upon a time
there was a dog called Pooch that liked to eat elbows.

There was a cat named Lulu who liked Pop-tarts with mayonnaise
and popsicles. They went out to the backyard to play games.
Lulu kick-boxed while eating Pooch.
Pooch was jumping on a trampoline and Lulu played catch with mailmen.
Then he cried. Also the mayonnaise exploded. Pooch was poking the mailbox and
he jumped to Edinburgh. Then dinosaurs killed butterflies and shot the grandma's pet.

Then a giant pineapple with an apple destroyed the universe.

Pooch ate pickles. Next he dug a black-hole and died.

Pooch came to Scotland during the spring.
He lived in a house. Then my mom sat on Pooch, dreaming of exploding potatoes.

And they all lived happily ever after.

With such a tale, who could resist acting it out in mime?

Then we got out the new instruments and arranged ourselves into pods. Lead by some conduction we orchestrated some dense, complex and raucous music together.

Webster: Stamping Tubes and Balloon Bassoons

We calculated the ratios for the first 9 intervals of the harmonic series, went to the woodshop and cut tubes to those lengths. The students at Webster also made an extra set for their counterparts at Burroughs so everyone now has his/her own stamping tube or balloon bassoon. Next we will decorate and personalize them.

Monday, March 17, 2008

The Flintstone Gamelan

Taking advantage of the first above 32ยบ day I went to Lauseng Stone in Lake Elmo to select ringing stones. They have large piles of stones from quarries all over the US but only a few of them resonate convincingly when struck and all of them are heavy and hard to reach.

I ended up find a dozen slabs of flagstone, some grey limestone from Grand Rapids and some red flagstone from Colorado. These seem large enough to sit on car tires and too heavy for anyone to bother making off with. In fact this instrument weighs 775lbs; slightly less than the world's heaviest orchestra; the Thai Elephant Orchestra.

Soon they will have holes drilled at the nodes (if I can find them) and be bolted down to their supports. The tires were a generous gift from a local tire store that made me swear I was not going to put them on a vehicle, crash, and hold them liable. They act as resonating cavities as well as soft supports but they need to be matched to their particular stone size for the best result. Right now some of them sound more of a tuned dull thud than stones I have used in the past; still effective enough for this outdoor space.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Webster 2: March 11

Today we met in the drama room so we could spread out and start moving. We improved our time on the Cat Nap circle and began mimicking gestures while watching them evolve. Then we did guided listening spheres, from deep inside to the immediate surrounding, to distant galaxies; we heard some amazing things.

We did the mirroring Push Hands in pairs, even with eyes closed. Then we sang "Oh say can you see" and "Twinkle, Twinkle" stretched out to long tones. Not everyone matches pitch well so maybe we'll go with juicy clouds of dissonant chords in the end.

The fun really started with the group-generated story. It had to start with "Once upon a time" and end with "...and they all lived happily ever after" but in between, each person adds one word. It has to make grammatical sense, though the total result may be surreal and bizarre. With this story in hand, we may make more, act it out, sing it, base characters and movements on it. Who knows?

So here's the story in its raw form:

Once upon a time, there was a dog whose name was Peggy Macaroni. One day she walked down a street. She saw a chicken running quickly from a car, and it got her tail wagging.
Peggy Macaroni started chasing the chicken who was in trouble. She caught the chicken: Yum! Yum! She ate all the fur (feathers? Or is fur funnier?)
Then seventeen more chickens tried to injure (chased? Appeared?) Peggy Macaroni. The chickens attacked Peggy Macaroni.
Peggy had to get twenty-five more dogs to attack (to chase?) the chickens.
After that, Peggy Macaroni ate seven ugly ducks.
Along the way, the bald chicken started dancing with a magical creature named Mr. Cheeseball. Moonlight reflected on Peggy Macaroni. She and the magical Mr. Cheeseball fell in love and lived happily ever after in their macaroni cheese castle.

Saturday, March 8, 2008

Visual Idea: Aboriginal Burial Posts

As I was looking at the pile of 100 red mailing tubes in my car and around the classroom floor, I wondered what these instruments would look like during the performance outside. Yes, they could be kept backstage in a tent and only appear when players carry them into view and move around with them, but what if they became part of the set itself, in plain view the whole time?

This reminded me of the incredible installation I saw in Canberra at the National Art Gallery of Australia, the Aboriginal Memorial. A common traditional practice among aboriginals is to place the bones of the dead in upright hollow posts to allow the spirits to connect with the next world. These hollow posts are decorated with lines and dots in various colors indicating the tribe or clan of the deceased. The burial posts look a bit like didjeridus but are sometimes called Pukamani or Dupeng.

Maybe we can make our own versions using personal designs with colored tape and magic markers, and place the tubes vertically over stakes in the grass; a magical red forest that we pull up and start sounding...

You can watch the video HERE
and look at the Quicktime VR HERE

First Sessions: Burroughs

Yes, I was late for my first meeting at Burroughs Community School (yucky snow and traffic) but the students made good use of the first few minutes learning the Mexican National Anthem to add to their repertoire. Music teacher Pete Hoffman gives them plenty of great vocal and solfege skills so this group is going to be musically quite savvy. With Mr. Hoffman and Janel McGreavy we have great resources and made fast progress.

The students haven't done much with instruments together as a group so after some warm up exercises we had everyone play Stamping Tubes: First in quintets with two per player, then as a vast throng, one each but separated in two groups far apart. This got some good call and response things happening and brought out the rapid organizational thinking among the players.

Burroughs doesn't have the facility of a woodshop with tools so the focus of the process will be a little different from that of Webster; we will still make and decorate some of the portable instruments though, and voice and movement may take on a larger role.

Next time we'll start generating some story texts, and singing and acting them out.

First Sessions: Webster

So March 4 we met at the Ordway with Webster for the first time for an inspirational site visit. The weather was frigid so we warmed up indoors with some games (Catnap, Telephone, and Pass It On). We got out some of the portable instruments and tried out some small group performances. Here are three bamboo xylophones that make a pleasant combination of tones no matter what. The students all showed signs of promise; listening, responding and improvising creatively.

Stamping Tubes (made from cardboard mailers and cut to proportional lengths of the Harmonic Series) are going to sound great in the outdoor space. Their sharp impulses will excite the echoes off the walls. Several groups had a chance to make melodic and rhythmic patterns together. Having much larger groups doing the same thing may lead to undifferentiated chaos sop we may develop multiples of these smaller group separated by distance.

Germs are a potential problem for people who share Balloon Bassoons, so we will need to make several of them and/or bring disinfectant wipes. These instruments need breath and a perfect angle of incidence to make the latex flap on top vibrate like a membrane, but the effect is profound; somewhere between a sick elephant, fog-bound ship, and virtuoso sax player. We can cut extra mailing tubes to length so more people have a chance to make and play these fine noisemakers.

Outdoors we refined the techniques involved in twirling Whirly Tubes or Bloogle Tubes around one's head. I turns out these instruments are harder to play in winter because your puffy coat sleeve is likely to obstruct the flow of air down the tube. It's fun (and surprisingly hard) to twirl and match the pitches with your voice at the same time.

We then went back to school and watched some Youtube videos of what other people have done with creative instruments: Stomp, Blue Man Group, the Vietnamese Dan Da lithophone, Phillippine Kulintang gongs, and the Japanese Melody Road