Music for resting in tension or inspiring change?   A proto-music generator of deceptive simplicity – easy to get started but requiring patience, sensitivity, and close listening to reveal its more resplendent sonorities.

Metaphones are low-voltage, electrified stringed instruments that I started making and playing during Jeph Jerman and Aaron Wintersong’s weekly improvised music sessions at the old Anomalous Records space (above the Artificial Limb Company, across from Piecora’s on Capitol Hill, Seattle), c.1997 .

The instrument is essentially a simple circuit consisting of one AA battery, a speaker and a vibrating metal string.  The period at which the vibrating string completes the circuit produces a tone of the same frequency from the speaker.  Depending on how the string is set in motion, the transmission of tone can be highly variable: plucking, tapping, or bowing manually, and automated mechanical or electromagnetic induced vibration all yield different sound fields. Essentially unstable, playing the instrument is an exercise in gently directing noise toward tone.

Performances Besides its use in my improvising vocabulary, I am interested in communal/community music making.  The ensemble incarnation of this instrument originated as a meditation in memory of friend and fellow improvisor, Matthew Sperry, who was killed while bicycling to work in 2004.  A memorial concert was held a year later and this 28 minute, 14 member “Sperry Sounding” piece was performed live on Sonarchy radio (14m excerpt on SoundCloud).  Each member of the group was instructed to bring a tuned metal string.  Among the instruments were pvc tube with mounted string, guitar, cello, violins, viola, electric bass and multiple other string sources.  Pitches were entirely undetermined and randomized to the one string that each member of the ensemble used to connect to their metaphone.  Lower frequency (larger magnet and/or speaker cone) instruments were considered in balancing their placement along a circle arrangement.  The instructions for the score were to “Find a pitch and sustain it.”   Hear as each member of the ensemble finds and sustains a tone amidst the deafening din of attempt.

A community sounding on the Oregon coast – Astorian Metaphonia – utilized a set of 9 metaphones tuned to A220 with instructions limiting choices to the 2nd, 3rd and 7th overtone.  This resulted in a sizzling, roaring 2nd set of an Omake & Johnson performance in Astoria, OR.  

A metaphone performance by text and graphic score ensemble Eye Music Ensemble was performed at the Good Shepard Center Chapel in December 2023.

NOISE BATH – a metaphone workshop is scheduled for Monday, April 1 at 7pm at the Recreational Psychoacoustics Laboratory in Seattle’s Greenwood neighborhood, 601 NW 80th St.

Metaphone Sound Guides & instruments will be available for participants

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large, interactive group pieces occur periodically, if you are interested in getting involved in these future listening-based events, please contact me at dk/at) dksc\ dot(org

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