Music for resting in tension or demanding change?   A simple, proto-music generator that while easy to get started playing, requires persistence and patience, fine motor control and close listening to reveal its unique sonic qualities.

Metaphones are low-voltage, electrified stringed instruments that I started making and playing with 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.  The string can be set in motion in many different ways but the most aesthetically pleasing to this writer’s ears is when it is bowed. Essentially unstable when manually operated, a multiple speaker, plectrum-fan driven version is currently on the workbench.

Besides its use as part of my improvising vocabulary, I am very much interested in its use for communal/community music making.  The ensemble incarnation of this instrument originated as a meditation in memory of a friend and fellow improvisor 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 (and available here as streaming audio).  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.

The most recent community sounding with the Metaphones – Astorian Metaphonia – utilized a set of 9 using all pitches of A220 and instructions limiting choices to the 2nd, 3rd and 7th overtone.  This resulted mostly in a sizzling, roaring dominant 7th, the 2nd set of an Omake & Johnson performance in Astoria, OR.  I didn’t get the same amount of preparation as the first large ensemble, this one featured interested performance attendees learning the simple score moments before we started.  While having a “tuned set” held some interest, I think getting folks to bring their own instrument leads to a greater level of engagement and the diversity of pitches adds that infinitely mysterious quality that causes me to listen again.

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I remain interested in making large, interactive group pieces; if you are interested in getting involved in future sound making actions, please contact me at dk/at) dksc\ dot(org

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