For those of you who are into the technical bits that go on behind the scenes in a NEXUS concert, I asked Garry what instrument he was playing at last Wednesday’s performance of John Cage’s The City Wears a Slouch Hat. To me, it looked like a portion of his Baschet (pictured at Left) – a Baschet without the speaker cones. Garry’s Baschet instruments are from the French Baschet brothers’ ‘educational instrumentarium’ which they developed for young children to experiment with musical sounds, and Garry describes them as “acoustic sound generators”. He is able to tune them, and chose an ancient Grecian scale from the 7th century BC. What I saw at the “…Slouch Hat” performance was mostly the rods. Garry explains that one of his Bacshets “has threaded rods, like a giant mbira, and the other has acrylic rods, which are rubbed like a wine glass to get a sound” and that for this Cage piece he opted to use part of one of his Baschet sound sculptures in place of playing on the bass strings of a piano. He removed the usual speaker cones and instead “I had a violin pick-up mic attached to it and played it through a keyboard amp along with the sound effects I played from a computer.” (You can hear the Baschet instruments on NEXUS’ CD “out of the blue”.)
Garry has been an instrument creator and designer himself since the early 1970s when he enrolled in a course on instrument making while teaching at Northern Illinois University. Using the metal tubes from discarded lawn chairs, his first creation was a metallophone (much like a xylophone but made with metal rather than wood). You can check it out by clicking here. For last June’s Greenwich Village performance Garry created wooden akadinda-style xylophones for a NEXUS rendition of Steve Reich’s classic Piano Phase. From the akadinda Nexus moved on to play a set of horizontally positioned tuned wind chimes and then, changing from mallets to ping-pong paddles, on a vertical set of tuned plastic tubes! Garry dubbed the new arrangement “Mallet Phase”
Not surprisingly, Garry is a member of the Acoustical Society of America and was invited to present a paper at their Spring 2011 gathering. Garry also wrote the introduction to Dr. Thomas Rossing’s seminal book, Science of Percussion Instruments (World Scientific Publishing Company, 2000). Dr Rossing had been Garry’s college physics teacher.
You should also check out Garry’s wonderful workshop, The Science of Sound in which Garry talks about the builders of instruments and how they use science to make these tools. In turn, performers can use this same science to make improved musical choices.