Saturday, May 5, 2012

Unusual Instruments: Found Objects Edition

Herbie Hancock: Watermelon Man


Billy Jonas: Old St Helen


As we have seen all week, human beings have built an amazing variety of musical instruments, and made an amazing variety of music with them. But I wanted to close with two songs that feature objects that were never intended to be musical instruments at all.

The first is one you may remember as a science experiment from back in your school days. If you take a bottle and fill it part way with water, you can blow over the top of it and it will make a musical sound. Fill several bottles with different amounts of water, and you can get different notes this way. For his 1973 album Head Hunters, Herbie Hancock had his (usually) percussionist Bill Summers do this, and the result was the unusual sounds that open and close the song Watermelon Man. I know of no other case of anyone recording this “instrument”, and I can’t imagine how it was done live, but it still sounds amazing after all these years.

On the other hand, I know of plenty of cases of Billy Jonas‘ unique “drum kit“ being recorded, and I have had the great pleasure of seeing him play it live. This “kit“ consists of a seemingly random collection of plastic objects played with wooden spoons and other household objects. This is the only percussion Jonas plays, and, in concert he invites his audience to join in on shaken car keys, claps and finger snaps, or any other method of percussing you can find. I like to slap the knees of my jeans myself. A great time is had by all.

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