A striking aspect of folk music is the spirit of invention that sometimes arose from a dearth of resources – to be blunt – poverty. A hambone can be used to create rhythmic expression without a drum. Other bones: castanets. A single wire tethered to a front porch railing becomes a slide guitar; cornstalk fiddles boast shoe-string bows. And rhymes and lyrics memorialize facts and place-names.
Although I have invented a few things, most of my experimentation involves tweaking an existing idea. Below are some things I’ve been working on in my Kawartha Lakes sonic laboratory.
My good friend and collaborator Teilhard Frost (Sheesham Crow) is an instrument-maker whose gourd-banjos are world-famous. From him I have learned some of the finer points of making instruments with gourds and skins.
In the course of learning to make west-African instruments I have developed alternative tunings for the kamele n’goni, the bass kamele n’goni and the 8-string djeli n’goni, to facilitate their use with western folk instruments and styles.
I have been an enthusiast for this universal instrument since recieving my first at the age of five years old. Most of my work with jaw-harps has been to try to project the sound while preserving the ability to articulate its sound orally.
Perhaps the most ambitious aspect of my jaw-harp work has been the development of the Automatic Jaw-Harp, which has been in the process for 6 years.
The banjo is my main instrument and I have been working on several modifications. The most recent has been the modification of my Gold-Tone CB-4 cello style tenor banjo. I have added a fifth playing string to the headstock, effectively converting it from cello range to one which includes viola, creating the world’s first Banjello-viol. I am also designing a special bridge to create the first Stroh-style horn-powered banjo.
Another modification I have made is to take an old Supertone banjo-uke and tune it like a 5-string banjo, omitting the low string and playing it in two-finger or claw-hammer style. Three tunes on my latest recording “Lotus Wight’s Ode the Banjo” are recorded on this banjo; Leslie-loo, Blue Goose, and The Boatman.
The Sepiaphonic Monophone is an invention developed for Sheesham and Lotus as a vocal projection tool for public performance in the field. It was used in our show for eight years until it was discontinued in 2014, and is now being considered for display at the Smithsonian Institute in the United States of America.
The Contrabass Harmoniphoneum was developed as a way to project the acoustical frequencies of a bass harmonica while performing on a conventional banjo. I designed it when I lived in Kingston, Ontario with metal artist Rick LaPointe. It has been noted for its curious sonic qualities as well as its pleasing visual cosmetic effect. The Contrabass Harmoniphoneum is now on its third prototype design and continues to be developed for accuracy, comic effect and amplification.