Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Shake, Rattle and Role

Sometimes I find as an electronic musical artist that I can get so wrapped up in the technical aspects of my music that I forget the simple joys of sounds. As many of you might now, I have a great deal of appreciation for what music therapists do. One aspect of their work is their delight in simple musical instrument. For example, I have really enjoyed "Building a Rhythm Band on a Budget" from Natalie Mullis, a certified music therapist and also Kat Fulton's blogs about Boomwhackers and drum circles.

Their influence has been so great that I now have built my own rhythm band complete with egg shakers, boomwhackers and even a giant boomwhacker. Of course, no electronic artist can resist the mangling of samples into something new but working with the raw sounds has taught be a lot.

Lets take egg shakers for example. They have been around for a very long time. Well, not really egg shakers in modern plastic motif but rattles that seem to dominate every culture going back to the time man first learned to bang two rocks together. Many have used hollowed out goards with some material inside to make an effective rattle.

In her video Natalie observes that the egg shaker is non distinct, that it has no sharp rhythm so it's good for children as they learn to develop their sense of rhythm. In a sense, egg shakers are a form of granular synthesizer. The beads inside the egg act literally like the grains of granular synthesis. The same principle is true of rain sticks, ocean drums and and Maracas.

What is interesting is how prevalent the broader term "rattle" appears in many cultures throughout musical history. On my vacation in a few weeks I plan on visiting the Metropolitan Museum of art which has a very large collection of instruments including, yes, several rattles. The books I also have on musical instruments show how prevalent the rattle has been in musical history.

Another musical instrument I have found to be a favorite of music therapists is the Boomwhacker. While in some sense this is a children's toy, it has many ties to other instruments. For example, I have been using an effect called corpus and a synthesizer called Prism which act like waveguides in a sense much as these two synths and effects do.

Prism uses an impulse, comb filtering and a feedback look. The impulse is very much like striking the Boomwhacker with a hand. Corpus has a tube option which also behaves like sound played through a Boomwhacker.

It's clear that observations of simple instrument provide a useful framework for talking about the development of instruments new and old.

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