Posts tagged ‘Instrument’

March 31, 2013


The fotdella was an instrument invented and constructed by Jesse ‘The Lone Cat’ Fuller, an American one-man band musician, who needed an accompaniment instrument beyond the usual high-hat (foot-operated cymbal) or bass drum favored by street musicians. Dreaming it up in the early 1950s, while lying in bed, he set about constructing a foot-operated bass instrument. It ended up as a large upright box with a rounded top, vaguely shaped like the top of a double bass, with a short neck on top. Six bass strings were attached to the neck and stretched over the body.

To play the instrument, there was a homemade set of foot pedals, each one bringing a padded hammer to strike a string when depressed, like the action of a piano. With these six bass notes, Fuller could accompany himself on the 12-string guitar in several keys. The name ‘fotdella’ was given to the instrument by Fuller’s wife, who took to calling it a ‘foot-diller’ (as in the then-current expression, ‘killer-diller,’ meaning ‘exceedingly good’); later, it became shortened to just fotdella.

July 24, 2012

Prepared Piano

prepared piano

A prepared piano is a piano that has had its sound altered by placing objects (preparations) between or on the strings or on the hammers or dampers. The idea of altering an instrument’s timbre through the use of external objects has been applied to instruments other than the piano, including the guitar and harp. Richard Bunger wrote a book ‘The Well Prepared Piano’ in which he explains how John Cage prepared his pianos and even which pianos are suitable, because of the deviation of string lengths within different brands.

Bunger also clarifies why the preparations were done in such ways; in other words, which adaptation creates which sounds (harmonics obtained, timbrel effects, etc.). The timbre of the instrument changes dramatically when preparations are introduced. Much of the technique is related to the harmonic positions of the strings. For instance a preparation on 1/2 of the string length causes a different sound than on 1/3. The preparations don’t cause a random sound, as is often assumed.

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March 20, 2012



The SynthAxe is a fretted, guitar-like MIDI controller, created by Bill Aitken, Mike Dixon, and Tony Sedivy and manufactured in England in the 1980s. It uses electronic synthesizers to produce sound and is controlled through the use of an arm resembling the neck of a guitar in form and in use.

The neck of the instrument is angled upwards from the body, and there are two independent sets of strings. The fretboard is continuously scanned and sends signals to synthesizers which produce the sound. The left set determine the pitch played, through contact with the frets on the neck and by sensing the side-to-side bending of the string. The right set of strings are velocity sensitive; these strings can be plucked, strummed or damped in the same manner as a guitar’s. A keyboard made up of nine keys can also be used to trigger notes instead of the strings. An electronic tremolo bar can be used for standard whammy bar effects, or can be redefined to produce different MIDI output (e.g., filter cutoffs, volume, etc).

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January 26, 2012


roland mc 303

akai mpc

The term Groovebox was originally used by Roland corporation to refer to its MC-303 mobile music synthesizer, but the term has since entered into general use. It refers to a self-contained instrument for the production of live, loop-based electronic music with a high degree of user control facilitating improvisation.

A groovebox consists of three integrated elements: one or more sound sources, such as a drum machine, a synthesizer or a sampler, a music sequencer (recorder), and a control surface, i.e. a combination of knobs (potentiometer or rotary encoder), sliders and buttons, and display elements (LED and/or LCD).

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January 4, 2012



teenage engineering

The OP-1 is a synthesizer, sampler, and sequencer designed and manufactured by the Stockholm-based company Teenage Engineering. The OP-1 is Teenage Engineering’s first product; it was released in 2011. The OP-1 is well known for its unconventional design, OLED display, and eight synthesizer engines. It has received some criticism for its physical limitations; however, according to Teenage Engineering cofounder Jesper Kouthoofd, these limitations were programmed into the synthesizer in order to stimulate the design process and the creativity of the user.

The design of the OP-1 was influenced by the VL-Tone, a synthesizer and pocket calculator manufactured by Casio in 1980 that is known for its toy-like novelty sounds and cheap build quality, as well as its inorganic design. In an interview with Damian Kulash of OK Go, Kouthoofd explained that he worked in a music store when he was young, and he was inspired by Japanese synthesizers of the 1980s. He has also stated that ‘limitations are OP-1’s biggest feature.’ The synthesizer’s designers attempted to use the limitation of physical hardware to encourage the unit to stimulate creativity, which might become unfocused in a limitless environment, such as a digital audio workstation.

January 1, 2012



The Kraakdoos (or Cracklebox) is a custom made battery-powered noise-making device. It is a small box with six metal contacts on top, which when pressed by fingers generate all manner of unusual sounds and tones. The human body becomes a part of the circuit and determines the range of sounds possible — different people will generate different results.

The concept was first conceived by Michel Waisvisz and Geert Hamelberg in the 1960s, and developed further in the 1970s when Waisvisz joined STEIM (STudio for Electro Instrumental Music) in Amsterdam. The kraakdoos is a simple device, based around a single operational amplifier (one of the earliest models to be produced) and a few transistors, and can be easily constructed by someone with a basic understanding of electronics.

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July 4, 2011

Sea Organ

Sea Organ

The Sea organ is an architectural object located in Croatia and an experimental musical instrument which plays music by way of sea waves and tubes located underneath a set of large marble steps. The waves create somewhat random but harmonic sounds.

The device was made by the architect Nikola Bašić as part of the project to redesign the new city coast (Nova riva), and the site was opened to the public in  2005. Chaotic reconstruction work undertaken in an attempt to repair the devastation suffered by the city of Zadar in the Second World War turned much of the sea front into an unbroken, monotonous concrete wall. The Sea Organ has drawn tourists and locals alike.

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June 10, 2011

Color Organ

color organ

The term color organ refers to a tradition of mechanical (18th century), then electromechanical, devices built to represent sound or to accompany music in a visual medium—by any number of means. In the early 20th century, a silent color organ tradition (Lumia) developed. In the 60s and 70s, the term ‘color organ’ became popularly associated with electronic devices that responded to their music inputs with light shows. The term ‘light organ’ is increasingly being used for these devices; allowing ‘color organ’ to reassume its original meaning.

The dream of creating a visual music comparable to auditory music found its fulfillment in animated abstract films by artists such as Oskar Fischinger, Len Lye and Norman McLaren; but long before them, many people built instruments, usually called ‘color organs,’ that would display modulated colored light in some kind of fluid fashion comparable to music. In 1590, Gregorio Comanini described an invention by the Mannerist painter Arcimboldo of a system for creating color-music based on apparent luminosity (light-dark contrast) instead of hue.

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April 11, 2011

Street Piano

steet piano

A street piano is a piano placed in the street which passers-by are encouraged to play. The best known examples is the ‘Play Me, I’m Yours’ project by artist Luke Jerram. The concept originates quite by accident in the early 2000’s in Sheffield, England, where  there was a piano on the pavement on Sharrow Vale Road.

It was left outside temporarily because the owner could not get it up the steps into his new house. As a social experiment he attached a sign inviting passers by to play the piano for free. This offer was taken up by a great many people and the piano became a part of the local community.

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February 23, 2011



The Moodswinger is a twelve string electric zither with an additional third bridge designed by Dutch luthier Yuri Landman. The rod which functions as the third bridge divides the strings into two sections to cause an overtone multiphonic sound. In 2006 Landman was contacted by the noise band Liars to make an instrument for them. Although it closely resembles an electric guitar, it is actually a zither, as it has neither frets nor a proper neck. The pickup and electronics are built into the neck instead of in the body like usual electric guitars.

After Liars received their Moodswinger, they started recording their fourth album ‘Liars.’ The song ‘Leather Prowler’ is played with the Moodswinger, in many reviews confused with a piano. In 2008 the Moodswinger II was released as a serial product. Jessie Stein of The Luyas owns a copy. In 2009 Landman created a derivative version of the instrument called the Home Swinger, for workshops at festivals, where participants built their own copy within four hours.

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January 24, 2011


keytar hero

A keytar is a relatively lightweight keyboard that is supported by a strap around the neck and shoulders, similar to the way a guitar is supported by a strap. Keytars allow players a greater range of movement compared to conventional keyboards, which are placed on stands. The instrument has a musical keyboard for triggering musical notes and sounds. Controls for pitch bends, vibrato, portamento, and sustain are placed on the instrument’s ‘neck.’ Keytars may either contain their own synthesizers, or simply be controllers, triggering notes on another MIDI capable synthesizer.

In early 1970s, Edgar Winter often performed with keyboards slung around his neck, but they were not technically keytars because they had no ‘neck.’ One of the earliest keytars commercially released and widely known was be the Moog Liberation in 1980. Notable manufacturers of keytar models have included Moog, Roland, Yamaha, Korg and Casio. As of 2010, the Roland AX-Synth and the Roland Lucina are the only mass-manufactured keytars on the market, but with the Synthpop revival of the late 2000s, keytars are enjoying a mild resurgence.

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January 10, 2011

Clavier à Lumières


The clavier [kluh-veerà [ahlumières [ly-myer] keyboard with lights) was a musical instrument invented by Russian composer, Alexander Scriabin for use in his work Prometheus: Poem of Fire. However, only one version of this instrument was constructed, for the performance in New York in 1915. The instrument’s keyboard lights up as synesthetic system, specified in the score.

Scriabin was a friend of Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov, who was a synesthete (someone with a neurologically-based condition in which stimulation of one sensory or cognitive pathway leads to automatic, involuntary experiences in a second sensory or cognitive pathway). Scriabin was also heavily influenced by Theosophy, which had its own different system of associating colors and pitches.

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