Iceland Rocks!

July 31st, 2013

So a few weeks ago I wrote about using nature to create music and today I want to return to that theme and travel to Iceland. And what’s not to like about Iceland, beautiful people, scenery, music and a role model for the rest of the world on democracy and how to deal with banks. But I digress, I really just want to focus on one person and that’s Páll Guðmundsson.

Pall is a visual and musical artist that for the most part uses material from the natural environment to create his art. Paul makes and plays lithophones which, in general terms, resemble a xylophone.

From Wikipedia…
“ A lithophone is a musical instrument consisting of a rock or pieces of rock which are struck to produce musical notes. Notes may be sounded in combination (producing harmony) or in succession (melody). The lithophone is an idiophone similar to the bars on instruments such as the glockenspiel, metallophone, xylophone and marimba. “

Pall makes a cameo in the film “ Heima “ and you can see him exploring various rockslides trying to find candidates for a new instrument.
Pall and Sigur Ros have played and collaborated together and although I don’t see him credited on any of their studio albums, I’m pretty sure I can hear his unique instrument on a few tracks. Pall claims the pitch of his stone harps, Steinharpa, is perfect and he plays with other musicians they frequently use the Steinharpa to tune their own instruments.

And of course my blog would not be complete without a video sample or two. Pall in his studio…

and here’s Sigur Ros playing one of Pall’s creations…

And that’ s all for this week, short and sweet.

Music in the MInd

July 17th, 2013

Last week I looked at how blind folks use their sense of hearing to play football. This week I will focus on the senses again and this time it’s being able to feel and interpret vibration via the body and not the ear. And who better to illustrate this than Ludwig Von. As you may or may not know, he began to go deaf at a relatively early age.

From Wikipedia…
Around 1796, by the age of 26, Beethoven began to lose his hearing.[47] He suffered from a severe form of tinnitus, a “ringing” in his ears that made it hard for him to hear music; he also avoided conversation. The cause of Beethoven’s deafness is unknown, but it has variously been attributed to typhus, autoimmune disorders (such as systemic lupus erythematosus), and even his habit of immersing his head in cold water to stay awake. The explanation from Beethoven’s autopsy was that he had a “distended inner ear,” which developed lesions over time.
As early as 1801, Beethoven wrote to friends describing his symptoms and the difficulties they caused in both professional and social settings (although it is likely some of his close friends were already aware of the problems).[48] Beethoven, on the advice of his doctor, lived in the small Austrian town of Heiligenstadt, just outside Vienna, from April to October 1802 in an attempt to come to terms with his condition. There he wrote his Heiligenstadt Testament, a letter to his brothers which records his thoughts of suicide due to his growing deafness and records his resolution to continue living for and through his art.[49] Over time, his hearing loss became profound: there is a well-attested story that, at the end of the premiere of his Ninth Symphony, he had to be turned around to see the tumultuous applause of the audience; hearing nothing, he wept.[50] Beethoven’s hearing loss did not prevent his composing music, but it made playing at concerts—a lucrative source of income—increasingly difficult. After a failed attempt in 1811 to perform his own Piano Concerto No. 5 (the “Emperor”), which was premiered by his student Carl Czerny, he never performed in public again.

But have all the possibilities ,as to the cause of his deafness, been explored. The following is a never before seen glimpse into the life of the composer and the trials and tribulations of composing in the 1800”s. You may find some images rather shocking…

And just how did he compose if he was deaf?
There are a number of ideas and perhaps there is no wrong or right one but rather a combination of all or many is probably true.
Since he didn’t begin to loose his hearing until the age of 26, he would have gained a sound knowledge of symphony instruments and how they sounded, their timbre and limitations. Composers of his caliber are able to hear music in their mind as they write and seldom write using an instrument as reference. It seems reasonable to me that he could compose in this way even while deaf.
An internet article, From squidio. “ How did Beethoven compose if he was deaf? “, postulates that he tried new and different ideas as his deafness became more pronounced. In 1817 he asked piano maker Streicher to adjust a piano to make it as loud as possible.
“ He may have touched the strings of the piano with a wooden stick (now in Beethovenhaus in Bonn, West Germany) clenched between his teeth. Schindler reports that another piano manufacturer, Conrad Graf, made a sounding board that when placed on the piano helped conduct the sound. “ And there are unconfirmed reports that he removed the piano legs and played sitting on the floor to absorb more of the piano’s vibrations.

Whatever the case, he was a truly remarkable composer and perhaps as his world of sound grew smaller and smaller he reacted with such grandiose music. So let’s end with a bang!

Here is his famous 9th symphony sung by a choir of 10000 people…

Hearing footsteps

July 10th, 2013

Monday night I played 7 aside football (soccer) at UBC. We played the late game under the floodlights and as I leapt up to head the ball, I lost sight of it in the glare of the lights. Luckily I had timed my leap and judged the distance correctly and I came off looking like a pro. Ha ha. But I thought afterward, I wonder if blind people can play football? We’ve all heard that when a person losses one sense, then he or she becomes more sensitive with those that remain. So how would a blind person see to play football?

Seems that blind football is more common than you might think with local leagues as well as international tournaments.

From Wikipedia
“ The sport, governed by the International Blind Sports Federation (IBSA), is played with modified FIFA rules. The field of play is smaller, and is surrounded by boards. Teams are reduced to five players, including the goalkeeper, per team. Teams may also use one guide, who is positioned off the field of play, to assist in directing players. The ball is equipped with a noise-making device to allow players to locate it by sound. Matches consist of two 25-minute halves; with a ten-minute break at half time. “

So let’s have a look at the ball. Inside the soccer ball is a noise making device and this could be a rattle, ball bearings hitting each other or tiny bells. In this next video we get a real treat as David Beckham has a go playing blind football. The sound of the ball is quite pronounced.

Pretty cool huh? In the next video you will see highlights from the 2010 world championship and man are these guys talented.

By the way, the blindfolds are actually used to protect player’s eyes getting poked and jabbed unintentionally by other players and has nothing to do with esthetics.
Short and sweet this week. I don’t know about you but I would love to try blind soccer and if you have any leads on where to play please share.

Audio String Theory

July 3rd, 2013

The first instrument that I learned to play was the guitar and it’s still one of my favorite instruments to this day. I have quite a long list of influences and at the top is Jeff Beck and somewhere around the middle is Pat Metheny. And it’s Pat that I want to talk about today and more importantly one of his rare guitars – the Pikasso 42 string guitar. And when I say rare, I mean, there are only two in the entire world.
Here is a picture of the amazing creation…

Of course there will be a video of Pat playing this later on but first I want to honor the creator of this instrument – Linda Manzer. Linda is a Canadian who plies her craft in Toronto. Believe it or not, I met her in a bar called the Jack Russell back in the 90’s and I can’t remember which guitars we talked about but it was cool to meet her.
Anyway, enough name-dropping! The harp guitar was built in 1984 for a whopping zillion dollars! Actually no one knows how much she sold the guitar for but I’ll bet it was a lot of money. Her 6 string Metheny-Manzer Signature 6 acoustic guitars (only 30 created) have a price tag of $32000 each.


In 1984 Pat Metheny asked me to design and build a guitar with “as many strings as possible.” The resulting collaboration was the Pikasso guitar. In 1992 I was asked by the late Scott Chinery to build a strictly acoustic version of Metheny’s Pikasso. Thus, Pikasso II. This second Pikasso was recently on display at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts in a show called “Dangerous Curves”.
Indian Rosewood Back and Sides, German Spruce top, Mahogany Necks, Ebony fingerboards, bridges and face plates, Pau abalone decorative trim Boxwood, Rosewood, Abalone Rosette Brass insets for mounting on stand.
Four necks. Two sound holes. Two access doors; one on the upper player’s side and one at the tail block (based on a panel door design by the brilliant -Abraham Wechter).
The “WEDGE” (TM 1984) is a special feature I designed specifically for this instrument. The body is tapered so that the side closest to the player is thinner than the side that rests on the players knee, thus leaning the top back towards the player for a more aerial view. This is also more comfortable under the player’s arm. This feature is available as an option on all my flattop guitars. This instrument was outfitted with a complete state of the art piezo pickup system (designed and installed by Mark Herbert, Boston). This included a hexaphonic pickup on the 6 string section that allowed Metheny to access his Syclavier computersystem thus triggering any sound including sampled sounds. (Saxophone sampling can be heard on the song “Mob Job.”) Two mounting holes on the treble side (knee side) are such that the guitar can be mounted on internal brass insets attaching to a stand, leaving hands free for playing or viewing. Brass side bridges were made by Linda and machinist Bruce West.
This instrument took 2 years to build (approximately 1000 hours), and when the 42 strings are tuned to concert pitch, the Pikasso is under approximately 1000 lbs pressure. It weighs 6.7 kg (14 3/4 lbs).
And now for a video of Pat Metheny playing the Pikasso…
Thanks and keep on picking! Psst, maybe you should start with 6 strings!!!!!


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