Tag: Orchestral Percussion

Northern Lights Musical Sculpture: (part 4: Legs and rails)


The biggest problem that I had whilst building the main structure was logistical; it was simply too big to fit in my workshop.  This meant that I was forever moving things around to squeeze it in.  It is a good job that I decided to make all machine stands and benches on wheels after ruining myself by carrying and lifting when moving into this workshop.

As can be seen in the video and photograph below, I needed to tie each leg together using the rails that the cityscape will sit on.  Therefore I needed three legs connected, one either side of the connection plates that I was making.

Musser M55 Vibraphone (Job no: 1468)

“Made for the UK market”

What a familiar sight the above image represents! This vibe must be nearly three years old and just look at the build quality. In the UK we have a different voltage power supply to the centre of the universe, and our instruments are still tuned to A=440Hz. So when instruments are sold to the UK we get a wall wart adaptor for the voltage and the note bars are stamped 440 as opposed to 442. For me it is not really good enough, these instruments cost the same as a small car (which is ridiculous on so many levels but is the state of the world we live in), so how about putting a damn transformer and UK plug on the instrument for export and even tuning the bars to the correct pitch instead of just selecting the zero stamp.


The Northern Lights Musical Sculpture: (part 3: top cone)


Maybe it is a bit old school, but I like to get pen and paper out and do a sort of technical drawing before I start making things. “Sort of” because I am not using 0.3mm and 0.5mm technical pens and following the strict methodology that I learned whilst at university, but for something like this sculpture I am using a drawing board, compasses, geotractors, rules and of course erasers. What I find is that the act of drawing helps me to understand the concept, or rather the limitations in my mathematical knowledge, so then I go back to the computer and draw it on there. After drawing it four times on the computer to obtain four different lots of results I got totally fed up and went back to pen and paper and just made some decisions like this angle will be 57.2° and started making stuff.

The first thing I did was to make the ring. I quickly decided to use steel square section instead of my original intention which was to use wire rope. Partly this was because I have the steel in stock, but mainly it was so that I could create a series of lines that would become reference points or datum lines. This enables me to orientate the ring and position the legs.

Now I know roughly where the legs will attach to the ring I can calculate roughly where they will meet at the top and start to make some visible progress.

With the top cone made I can now make the joints which connect the lower legs to the upper and ultimately connect to the ring.

Musser M55 Refurbishment (Job No: 1410)

Originally this vibraphone had a “field frame” which is one of those massive bloody things with huge wheels that Musser created for the farming community. In true entrepreneurial style some clever person at Musser discovered that literally millions of farmers worldwide get so bored when ploughing their fields that they often feel the urge to learn a musical instrument, so why not the vibraphone? Hence the field frame was developed by Musser and I threw it in the bin as crap.


The Northern Lights Musical Sculpture: (part 2: Conceptulisation) (job#1457)

Some of the footage shown in the introduction video is repeated in the video included in this post, but only a small element. The previous video was edited by Nordic Music Days to satisfy their publicity requirements. Just how do you advertise and promote something that doesn’t even exist? I’ll leave that job for those that specialise in that area thank you very much! In contrast I edited this video for my purposes, which are to document and demonstrate how I approach the creative process.

A word of warning. Although I am trying to reduce the length of my videos, I just can’t help being a chatterbox – it is a curse! Anyway this is a bit longer than I wanted, but hopefully illuminating and entertaining.


The way I shot this video was literally to set the camera rolling and start drawing and talking about what I was doing. There was two to three hours of footage to wade through, so I won’t be doing that again! Inevitably there were several creative cul-de-sacs, which I omitted from the video. Some of these blind alleys were much longer than others. There are many things that are going through my mind simultaneously; I was thinking both about the visual and acoustic aspects of the aurora borealis as well as making decisions on whether that particular idea would translate into a sculpture that would look cool, and how practical or successful it would be to make. Gradually some of the concepts start to work and a design is created.

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A new thing for me with this project is having to justify myself. I couldn’t believe it! Normally with these projects (as well as my general work) what happens is that people ask, “Paul would you do this for me/us?” and I reply yes or no and with a price tag. I deliver whatever I have come up at the appropriate time and they are delighted with the results. So to be questioned about my capabilities came as a bit of a shock. So in order to satisfy the South Bank Centre which is the venue, I had to do some better drawings and thus certificate my professionalism. As you can probably tell, what I feel is a huge cultural void between people who work in a large organisation doing highly specialised roles and me, an instrument maker who works by himself and does everything to run his own business. What they fail to understand is that I fix things, but in order to fix something I need to know what the problem is and that requires speaking the same language, and I just don’t speak theirs.

However, I am not a negative person, the opposite, I will go out of my way to help people. Most people take advantage of my nature, but they the arseholes; those that don’t become my friends. It is not altruistic, I get something from the interaction too, be it feeling good about myself for helping a stranger in the street, or pride in my work because I always do my best. So because the South Bank needed help in visualising the concept, they needed sketches in context or some such jargon which meant, “Paul can you show us what it will look like outside the centre please?” Now I have an understanding of the problem, I can come up with a solution which was to draw it on the computer so I could insert the image into a photo. This avoids my inability to do pretty drawings quickly but also gave me the opportunity to work the design more, expose areas that didn’t work and fill in the gaps a bit more.

Northern Lights Concept drawing

And what a useful process this has proven to be. Only positives have come out of the time that I spent doing it. Oh the irony! When I start building the sculpture things will change and develop again, but it is such a useful reference point to show people. I forget that I am exceptionally good at visualisation, I can can close my eyes and go through a whole job; most of the time what I make in my imagination is realised in the material world. I make musical instruments, so of course I am good at it. But I forget that most people don’t have that skill and when questioned I get defensive and irritable, which makes me the arsehole!

sculpture in location

The Northern Lights Musical Sculpture: (part 1: Intro)

Nordic Music Days host an annual festival to celebrate and promote music from all over that vast region. This year for the first time the event will be held somewhere else and they have chosen London. Running from September 28 to October 1 it will be held at the South Bank Centre. The theme for this years festival is the northern Lights.

To celebrate this event I have been commissioned to create a new instrument. Below is the promotional video using footage I shot at the very beginning of conceptualising my ideas.


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Musser Kelon Xylophone For Sale (Job no. 1396)

FOR SALE £ sensible offers

As well as the marimba I also have a Kelon xylophone for sale. Again this is on a field frame, which is even more disproportionate than the marimba considering how light xylophones are. The frame was also damaged so speak to me directly about the options for replacement. This instrument would be perfect for a school or college (or marching) and put on a fixed frame with no nuts and bolts to ever come loose.

The note bars are in good condition. These are the Kelon bars which are a type of glass fibre and so are impervious to atmospheric conditions which makes them perfect for outside use. Like on the marimba they sound OK, but because they are synthetic they completely lack the timbral quality of wooden note bars. However, as I have said I am picky when it comes to sound quality and know what I like and that is wood. Additionally, Musser, like most of the manufacturers fail to make the bars thick enough, which means that, for me, the notes are too resonant. All that said, just like the marimba, I was actually pleasantly surprised that the bars sounded the way they do – my expectation was low and that I would hate the sound and actually they sound okay.

Musser 5.0 Octave Kelon Marimba For Sale (Job no. 1393)

FOR SALE £ sensible offers

I have a Musser Kelon 5 octave marimba in my workshop for sale. I also must confess it has been in for a while – it is always good to ask if I have anything for sale because I generally do! The delays are generally having the time for me to sit down and write this blurb, clean, repair and set up the instrument for photo’s and video. Because 5 Octave marimbas are massive, they take up a huge amount of floor space which means that the workshop needs to be pretty empty in order to do that, and that never happens. So because the instrument has been hanging around for a while I decided to write this blurb and will upload the photo’s and video later.

Anyway, this instrument is on one of those massive field frames pictured above and consequently is built for the US market where they like things to be ridiculously heavy and ironically not very strong! My advice would be to ask me to replace the frame with something made a lot more transportable and usable. The frame is functional, but not very user friendly; spanners are needed to assemble it and this in itself suggests that it is meant to be transported whole which means that you would also need to buy a long wheel base van! My frames are bespoke, so we can discuss your requirements and I will advise accordingly.

The note bars are in good condition. These are the Kelon bars which are a type of glass fibre which makes them impervious to atmospheric conditions which makes them perfect for outside use. They sound OK, but because they are synthetic they completely lack the timbral quality of wooden note bars. However I am a bit picky when it comes to sound quality and know what I like and that is wood, but I am pleasantly surprised that the bars sound the way they do – my expectation was that I would hate the sound and actually it’s on the okay to nice scale (if that makes sense).

Because it is a marimba, the resonators are massive too! these are the wide ones which amplify the fundamental and give a really rich tone. For me, it is these resonators that is the reason for buying, everything else can be easily upgraded at a later date, but making resonators like these would be very involved which means very expensive. So they sound great, but they are big, and big things are heavy. It’s the general theme of this advert.

5.0 Octave – C2-C7
Bar Graduation – 1.625″ – 2.5″
Tuning A = 442
Drop cover included

Ludwig Professional Timpani For Sale (Job no: 1390)

SOLD

For Sale a set of 4 Ludwig Professional Timpani with discs and covers.
[serial nos: 32″=5220, 29″=5218, 26″=5219, 23″=5126]

These drums have been in my workshop for a while now, which is too long for such a good set of timps to be unused.  Obviously this means that the price is too high, but all of my prices are just a starting point for the negotiations which follow.  So I am going to try an alternative method; you suggest a price and we can go from there…

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Those of you who read my blog and watch my videos already know that I am rubbish at remembering model names and numbers, I classify it as useless information, why retain it in my head when it can be easily researched if needed. However in this case, I think that I just told or learned the name incorrectly, so when I was clarifying exactly what to call the drums I discovered after many many years that Ludwig don’t even make Pro-Symphonics! They do make Grand Symphonics, but what the difference would be between a set of Grands and Professionals with the optional extra of hand hammered bowls will have to remain a mystery to me since they would both be made with exactly the same components. The answer of course would be the price tag. Anyway I digress; I apologise for getting the name of the drums wrong in the video, but the name is correct everywhere else.


What is in a name anyway?  It doesn’t alter the fact that these drums are in a really nice condition.  Equally, they rarely come up for sale second hand.  Because of the condition of the drums when I collected them and their inherent value, I decided that I had to do some work on them.  This work mainly consisted of giving everything a good clean (oh and isn’t that a massive understatement!) and going over the chassis making sure everything was tight. However I did have to spend a day working on the set up to make sure that they work properly.  Normally after all this I would put new heads on as a matter of course, but these drums are not mine and are in for sale not an overhaul. This is a compromise, and I know that they would sound better with new heads on, but this can be left to the negotiations…

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Above are some photos of the drums for you to have a look at, I tried to get the worst of the bowl imperfections visible. Below are some close up photos of the damage that I referred to in the video. There is nothing more I can really say about these timpani, for those who are looking for a good set of timps, proven over many years to produce a great sound reliably, you will know what you want and you will see that these drums are in great condition. For those who are thinking about other drums, well I would buy these everyday in preference to the gimmicky new crap that is popular at the moment – in ten years I fully expect that I will be doing very expensive repairs to those drums whereas in ten years, these Ludwigs might just need another clean and service. They are in my workshop available to be viewed, I can of course deliver if needed, and I will handle the whole transaction so it will be nice and easy to accomplish. To discuss viewing and prices either email or phone.

26″ bowl dent

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Bowl corrosion

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29″ bowl dent

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32″ timp disc
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29″ timp disc
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broken strap
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