Thursday, July 3, 2014

Memories Of Static

"Languorousness" figured increasingly in commercial Hawaiian music in the 1930s and 1940s (despite King's alarm at its "jazzing-up"), and it certainly remained a key motif of the Hawaii Calls radio program. Broadcast weekly from Honolulu, and heard around the world from 1935 until its cessation in 1975, the program promoted an image of Hawaii as earthly paradise - one that visitors were encouraged to physically visit, as well as imagine. Staged "under the old banyan tree in the courtyard of the Moana Hotel," the "liveness" and seductive authenticity of the setting was much stressed. Indeed, some mainland listeners to the original broadcasts apparently imagined the oscillations in the shortwave signal to be the sound of the waves lapping on Waikiki. When the signal was improved the producers received complaints from listeners, and thereafter a microphone was placed near the water to pick up the real ocean waves.

Echo & Reverb
Fabricating Space in Popular Music Recording 1900-1960

Peter Doyle
Wesleyan University Press


Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Tromba Marina


I had the good fortune to visit the Cité de la Musique in Paris quite recently and spent a criminally short period of time moving through its permanent collection of musical instruments in the Musée de la Musique.

A multilingual headphone and console setup allows you to dial into a multitude of recordings of the actual instruments on display as well as sync up with several interesting short video documentaries covering subjects ranging from the history of the contemporary orchestra, lutherie and brass instruments through to indigenous tribal music performances and the more modern Avant-garde incorporating all manner of electronic and computer-based music synthesis.

The collection includes many ornate early keyboard instruments,
 including this rather ingenious 'portable' harpsichord.
Amongst the variety of stringed instruments  once holding pride of place in the orchestra are various Viola da Gamba, this strange monstrosity (below, left) and the even stranger and very scary sounding Octobass (below, right)
At nearly 3 and a half meters in height it requires a certain degree of elevation for the player and further assistance from a series of levers and pedals to fret the instrument. Typically a second player is responsible for bowing.

Speaking of awkward stretches there was also a 'gymnasium for the hands' designed to stretch, strengthen and otherwise contort the hands of the most accomplished piano soloists as well, I assume, a horde of wannabees?
Further treats lay in the modern electronic music section of the collection which included a Theremin and Ondes Martenot.
Ondes keyboard (left) and Palme diffuseur or speaker (right) with sympathetic strings. Edgard Varèse's Ionisation gongs can be seen in the background.

Still very much recognizable as musical instruments, Ondiolines, early Moog synthesizers and EMS VC3 synthesizers eventually give way to the hardware of the consoles of Musique concrète and the synthesizers of music academia.


Pierre Henry console (left) and Gmebaphone (right)

In spite of all of the above and  a rather fascinating 'World Music' exhibition, the true highlight for me was the discovery of the Tromba Marina.


The Marine Trumpet (also known as the Nun's Trumpet - women were not allowed to play actual trumpets in the church in Germany in the 1600's) is essentially a bowed monochord. It is fretted by lightly touching the nodal points on the string to excite its natural harmonics. A specially constructed bridge that is allowed to move and vibrate freely against the instrument's soundboard produces a buzzing sound with each bow movement making a sound not dissimilar to a trumpet.



The instrument eventually fell out of favor in the 1800's. Small numbers still exist due to revivalists and enthusiasts and - thanks to the Musée de la Musique. And no, no Dulcitones in sight.



Monday, May 13, 2013

The Knock

Another Cheap Seats performance is available to view. this time for the song "The Knock"



The performance of "A Man to Avoid" is available here
For other Cheap Seats performances go here

Thursday, March 21, 2013

A Man to Avoid

A Man to Avoid

This here dress,
I want you to put it on.

This here Foley,
I want you to make the sound

Of desire
and disgust

This is a man to avoid.
You fall in late,
you fall out with him.

This is a man to avoid.
He'll pour his name into your veins
and shame you in a crowd.


This is a man to avoid.
You fall in late,
you fall out with him.

This is a man to avoid.

Desire, disgust

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Cheap Seats

"A Man to Avoid"
Ramon Galvan, Nick Da Silva

New Cheap Seats portrait: Ramon Galvan, A Man To Avoid. Performed and shot in Cape Town



Thanks to Dirk Hugo and Gareth "Danger" Jones for camera, audio recording mastering and film edit and inviting us to take part in this ongoing project.

For other Cheap Seats performances go here

EDIT:

A little bit of publicity and background from Rollingstone SA website here

Several years ago an avant-garde rock band named Blackmilk was making a name for itself on the circuit in Cape Town – there was a period where the weird and interesting was appealing in that city; outfits like Benguela and sound artist James Webb were finding regular gigs at otherwise "commercial" nightspots... and drawing fair audiences.
Blackmilk frontman Ramon Galvan took some time off in the mid 2000s it is said, and all but disappeared from the playing schedule. OFF THE RECORD was made aware this week by producer and debatist DjF Head, however, that the singer/guitarist has in fact continued to work, producing at least one full album (that we know of) entitled Outer Tumbolia(2009).
In the video below, Galvan and long-time The Galvan Trio collaborator Nick da Silva execute the track "A Man to Avoid" live in a room at their home in Cape Town. As the aforementioned DjF Head put it: "one of the most underacknowledged talents in the land. Hopefully this footage goes some way towards rectifying that."

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Restore VI

I had not intended to do a further post on this, as I think the previous five posts summed up the past two years of toil quite well. Then it dawned on us that a small video demonstrating that the dulcitone not only looked good now but sounded pretty good too wouldn't be such a bad idea.




The last few percent of improvements were some of the toughest to achieve with meticulous note taking about what element or component was hindering performance. Multiple sweeps of each key was required and along the way certain concessions and resignations were required when margins of improvement were, for now, outside of our grasp.

So, there are still some forks who's tuning had drifted somewhat and some keys and hammers are a little "lazy" in returning to their default positions which can create the odd dead spot when playing. I would imagine some bespoke overhaul of some hammers or the sourcing of similar hammers from a grand piano supply might be an option in the future, but for now she has taken place of pride in the domicile-cum-studio and has already started contributing to some new recordings. So watch this space!

Also a final word of gratitude to Americo, my father for his tireless assistance, ingenuity  and camaraderie during this project.

EDIT: Parts 1,2,3,4 and 5 of this story

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Restore V

The dulcitone was taking shape and the first time fitting the legs was encouraging, but also a little worrying.


The real problem sat between the two newly assembled legs and is covered in fur, is very curious and prone to bouts of extreme hyper-activity. That and the fact that the dulcitone's new home would be on a very springy wooden floor lead us to want to slightly over-compensate on the rather top heavy instrument's stability.

We made a decision to steer away from the classic original design and introduced a cross bar that could be easily removed to get a bit more rigidity when standing upright.


The design decision was rather fortuitous as the refashioned damper pedal ended up being attached to this cross bar. This, in my opinion, was a vast improvement on the original design both from an aesthetic and practical standpoint.



As is evident from some of the preceding photographs, the exterior has a polished shine to it, so although this is described far better elsewhere on the web, I will briefly describe the French polish process.

This involves first very carefully and smoothly sanding all of the instrument's wooden surfaces, followed by the application of literally hundreds of layers of alcohol dissolved shellac in order to produce a mirror like, "tiger's eye effect" sheen out of the wood.

We opted for an orange/brown shellac mostly due to availability, although would perhaps have preferred a darker hue.

Not all shellac is created equal. Some has a higher wax content which means you need to add less olive oil for lubrication when applying to the wood. The wax buildup rises to the surface of the wood and can be cleaned of with some alcohol charged gauze.


A 2oz solution of shellac was mixed and applied with a cotton pad which housed a gauze core. First planar motions followed by more random figure of eights and circular motions are used to apply micron thin layers of shellac to the wood surface. The odd few drops of olive oil can be used for lubrication every now and then, if needed.

Optionally, tiny amounts of FFF-grade pumice powder can be used to work into the wood pores for a really smooth finish. The pumice behaves both as a filler and as a slight abrasive to encourage wood and shellac particles into small pores in the wood surface.

We struggled to purchase pumice powder in small enough quantities (50kg!!) so we opted to work a pumice stone with a file in order to get powder. Whether this was fine enough or whether it is really worth going the pumice route (for this type of project) is questionable. Our experience, using the materials we had at our disposal, was somewhat mixed.

After 40 or so sessions of shellac application, with each session adding multiple layers, you start to see a finish that is both pleasing to eye and fingertip. Final polishing is preceded by fine sanding with 1200 grade sandpaper in order to smooth out any irregularities.

All of the above steps need to take place in a dust free environment with lots of good light so as to prevent and identify blemishes and uneven application as soon as possible.

The final polishing is done with a 1oz solution so just add the same amount of alcohol into the bottle of solution you have. A few applications should be sufficient to finish of the job.


You should just be able to make out the leather belt we added to the base to secure the folded legs during transportation.

EDIT: Parts 1,2,3,4 and 6 of this story