What is a musical instrument? It is an object that creates sound for the purpose of creating music. The definition of“music” is a topic for another post, but for our purposes here let’s assume that we all know what music is, or at least have our own interpretation of what constitutes music. Regardless, musical instruments have been a vital part of human culture that dates back to the dawn of human history. There are reports of flutes made from mammoth ivory found in Germany that are dated to be close to 43,000 years old. These early DIY musicians had a different means for securing instruments than we do today: they made the instruments themselves. In contrast, in today’s world, many of us think of musical instruments as products made by a manufacturer in a factory, or meticulously crafted with the highest quality tools and technology in a professional workshop. They are consumer items that we consider products to purchase from music stores or bought used from other musicians. However, we must remember that for the majority of human history, instruments were
handmade, and most likely by the musician themselves. Below are three impactful instruments assembled by the musicians themselves that create stunning results, ranging from
the simplistic to the complex.
DIY Percussion: Power Through Simplicity
Very likely the first instruments created by man were percussion pieces, as they require little effort to produce. Anything, really, can be used to create a drum. Related to this, my personal favorite DIY instruments are percussive as they can be so simple and yet used to create incredible rhythmic performances live and in the studio. One drumming set up that deserves recognition is the construction-bucket drum sets that are used in cities throughout the world by street musicians. They are used on streets throughout Washington DC in the United States and traditionally have been used by street musicians to play DC “Go-go” beats, a rhythmic music that originated in and is special to that particular city. These drums are made from buckets that originally held paint or plaster and have been tossed from construction sites, coupled with the orange cones used for caution during road repair and construction. Ingeniously, a player mounts two buckets atop the cones by simply draping the metal handles over the top, one on each side for balance, and voila, a drum set. Different sized buckets produce different tones, and often the players use pieces of wood instead of traditional drumsticks in the true DIY spirit. In addition to this set-up, I have also seen “bass drum” accompaniment in which a drummer simply uses an upside down massive plastic trashcan. Generally, shopping carts are used to move the set from location to location. This may seem simple to create, but often the beauty of genius is its simplicity. Furthermore, the beats that the players produce can be top-notch.
following video must be included as well, as these Chicago street drummers take
DIY to its most basic level, simple and awesome, one bucket each.
Pipe Guy: Unique Flair with Techno Intent
percussion instruments are mallet driven instruments such as the xylophone and
the marimba, glockenspiel, and the vibraphone. A musician named Jake Clark, who
goes under the moniker “Pipe Guy,” creates a similar type of instrument, but
with his own unique flair. And, his mallets are flip-flops. He uses PVC pipe to
build elaborate multilayered instruments, beaten with flip-flops, to produce
dance music, which is astoundingly sonically similar in tone to synth sounds
used in traditional house and techno music. He began on the streets of
Adelaide, South Australia, and has since moved to the stage. He has a presence
on Facebook under the user name pip3guy and seems to be constantly
building new set-ups. His creations are difficult to explain so viewing this
video is the easiest way to understand.
impressive element of Pipe Guy’s instruments is the original way in which he
plays them as dance music instruments. Pipe Guy’s use of PVC pipe is in the
vein of a multitude of DYI instruments such as flutes, xylophones, rain sticks
and more that can be created with PVC pipe. But Pipe Guy personally takes the
material to a higher level of complexity for DIY instrument creators and
carries it into a specific music genre: techno. Now, it must be stated, there
are similar and more massive instruments created by the producers for
professional outfits such as the Blue Man group, easily found on Youtube and
wildly impressive. However, Pipe Guy is one-man-show, a true DIY musician.
Pipe Guy has tuned his instruments to use a minor scale, common in traditional
techno. Essentially, he uses the same physics of sound employed by anyone
creating an instrument from piping, regardless of material. Basically, making music
with pipes occurs through creating pressure waves by beating on one end of the
pipe. The length of the pipe determines the note, as different lengths of pipe
create different wave lengths. Interestingly, the width of the pipe changes the
tone of the sound, but not the note. The thickness of Pipe Guy’s choice of PVC
affords him the deeper tones and most likely his choice of rubbery flip-flops
affords the buzzing electronic sound he is creating. A drumstick would create a
higher faster popping hit, whereas the flip-flops provide a softer punch and
perhaps allow the pipes to reverberate more. Here is what happens when Pipe Guy’s PVC instrument meets a street
bucket player called “Techno Hobo”:
Mark Applebaum: The Ultimate Level of DIY Musical
The third example of DIY musical instruments
requires the high technological know-how and the creator is a PhD and an
associate professor of music at Stanford University, named Mark Applebaum. He
is a renowned composer and has made significant contributions in orchestral,
chamber, operatic, choral, and electro-acoustic music, which has been performed
throughout the world. He states that after learning and mastering different
types of musical instruments he becomes bored, and therefore creates new
instruments. While there are many examples of fresh new instruments, it may be
that Applebaum’s creations take the cake. He specifically states in the below
video that “boredom,” not lack of funds, or the need to build something, is the
catalyst for his creations. In other words, he is inspired by his boredom and
makes incredible creations as a result. He is tired of traditional instruments and
music from the traditional cannon, such as Beethoven and therefore has created in
this instance a musical instrument that is, simply, incredible. This instrument,
called the MOUSEKETEER is demonstrated at 4:42 in this video:
As shown, his fantastic conglomeration of objects
constituting the Mouseketeer includes a massive array of items such as door
stops, combs, whistles, strange pieces of metal, wood, and plastic, bells, as
well as a live bank of electronics that the somehow influences the sounds
emitted. The instrument appears to be a one in all entire orchestral percussion
team. It is more than that, in fact, it produces both musical sounds as well as
sound effects. He can play this with mallets and a bow, and most likely in many
other ways. The mix from the instruments apparently is fed through the
electronic sound bank.
As he states, humorously, he is the “world’s
greatest Mouseketeer player.” Which is true if one considers this interesting
statement. A DIY musician is truly the greatest player of their instrument in
the world as their instrument is unique and they are the unique creators. They
are inventors, as Applebaum calls himself. Musicianship and invention go hand
in hand because what is original music, but a fresh invention of sound. Musicians
and sound designers are inventors. They are designers of material and sound.
Whether simple or complex, all three examples in
this post are impactful, rather through their raw musical power such as the
bucket drums and drummers in the first example, the novelty and originality and
unique presentation/vision of Pipe Guy, or the complex technological design of
Mark Applebaum. All three are DIY, though of course Applebaum’s takes special
engineering and knowledge of electronics. The point is, music can be created in
an infinite multitude of ways for an infinite number of purposes.Any object, or set of objects, coupled with a
unique vision and the intent and motivation of the inventor/musician will
result in new musical creations.Surely
in the future we will continue to see people make fascinating new combinations
of materials that create never-before-seen instruments. Only the imagination of
the human mind limits the possibilities, and the human imagination is
Traditionally, post-secondary education in Western culture for years has been hinged on both parents and students desiring education that “rounds out” the student’s mind, ie a “liberal education.” This concept of the liberal education still commands the trajectory of many high-achieving students who graduate high school in the US, and gymnasium in Europe. The goal, as many still believe, is to then attend an expensive college or university to learn the higher concepts of Western academics: philosophy, literature, history, and the social sciences. However,
as the world changes based on obvious technological advances involving computing, the internet, and digital production, there are now new choices for those students and families who choose not to adhere to the beaten path.
Simply put: there are now more
choices to post-secondary education and one path is sound and music and media
production.This is a good thing.
Two schools, one in the United States, and one in the United Kingdom, exemplify this forward motion into the future of post-secondary education by emphasizing education based on media production, and de-emphasizing traditional courses in Western philosophy, for example, Shakespeare. The two schools covered below offer real degrees or certificates and more importantly, practical career benefits upon graduation. They differ somewhat in their approaches, degrees, and course selection, but are similar in their intent: to provide pragmatic post-secondary education to talented and creative young adults who are intent on pursuing creative passions while earning real incomes after graduation. The two schools covered below are Full Sail University in the United States and the Point Blank School in the United Kingdom and this article simply intends to lay out the presentations and claims of both for any student seeking a higher education in sound and media production. The contrast between the two is rather striking. However, both are sound, no pun intended. Simply put, for readers heading toward a career in sound, music, and media, both schools are worthwhile, high quality, and have a track record of success among their alumni.
Full Sail University is located in Winter Park, Florida in the United States and bolsters an interesting and vibrant history. The inception of the school began in 1979, as a recording workshop called “Full Sail Recording Workshop” in Dayton, OH, by a Mr. John Phelps. Throughout the years, driven by student interest and teaching success, the school now commands a 192 acre campus with 49 degree programs and 2 graduate certificates which include nearly every form of digital media production avenue available to future digital media content providers. They provide degrees in music and recording (including studies in sound recording and design), games, art and design, technology, media and communications, art and design, and media and sports business.
There is credence to their degrees. They are licensed by the Commission for Independent Education (Florida Department of Education) to offer Associates through Masters degrees. They are also accredited by the Accrediting Commission of Career Schools and Colleges (ACCSC), an organization that is recognized as a national accrediting school by the U.S. Department of Education. Meaning, and this is very important for students who desire a valid BA, Full Sail provides degrees that will be recognized by other schools in the United States if a student may want to achieve a Masters Degree in Sound Design or other media discipline at another university or college in the United States. In addition, their Bachelor programs are efficient and can be completed in 20 to 29 months. Programs begin monthly and therefore there is no need to wait through semesters of time to begin studying. Many of us perhaps remember slogging through low paying jobs during summers waiting for school to begin. This waste of time does not happen at Full Sail. Graduation for the hard working student can come in half the time of a traditional 4-year college. This will give any graduate an edge in entering the workplace at younger age than their peers, ready and prepared for their career possibilities of the future.
In addition to their massive array of course offerings in multiple media disciplines, Full Sail functions as a proper university, providing financial aid and housing options near the campus. Upon graduation, they provide assistance for career development and work on job placement. They use a unique combination of technology such as networking with classmates and easy access to instructors online, continuous technical support, video conferencing, the ability to create via laptops from anywhere at anytime, and the use of cutting-edge media creation software to teach multi-media production. They couple this effective use of technology with the traditional model and rigors of a 4-year bachelors, requiring many hours of study and a wide array of courses needed to earn a degree. In all, Full Sail appears to provide a solid education in a wide array of media disciplines and the school and staff work diligently to aid their students in careers after graduation. One quick glance at their Alumni page attests to the success of their graduates, who work in film and sound capacities with the top media production firms throughout the world. This school is a valid option for students passionate and interested in media production.
The second school mentioned in this post, is the Point Blank School, an Electronic Music School that teaches music production and performance skills and techniques in London, England, Los Angeles, US, Ibiza, Spain, and online. At the onset here, one must agree that it would be hard for anyone interested in music production not to salivate at the possibility of attending a campus to study electronic music on the island of Ibiza. This would be a young DJ’s heaven. On the island of Ibiza, specifically, it appears that students study by day and then at night are given the opportunity to rub elbows with highly successful DJ’s and are afforded the opportunity to perform at internationally renowned nightclubs on the island. This sounds like a win-win for those who can afford to attend. Regardless of the three locations, it is clear that Point Blank is a successful electronic music school that attracts globally successful DJ’s and producers as instructors and most likely is helping to create the next generation of electronic music producers. On an academic note, Point Blank School has a an affiliation with Middlesex University, which validates their Higher Education classes and those who complete the Point Blank set of courses receive a certificate and award upon completion. Middlesex apparently also “validates” the BA Music Production & Sound Engineering program.
To sum it up, both Full Sail and Point Blank provide top-notch media production education. The location in which you live may determine your preference. Clearly, if you are in the United States, then Full Sail is more accessible and if you are in Europe then Point Blank is the closer option. Full Sail has a longer history and a vastly larger set of course offerings. They have managed to achieve accreditation as a “four year” university that bestows actual BA’s that in theory will transfer to other schools. The programs are steeped in a wide array of disciplines and many of their students move into the media industry with great success. For the youngster graduating high school in the US, or those willing to trek across the pond and can afford it, Full Sail is a valid, excellent alternative to the traditional liberal arts education and provides not only electronic sound and music production, but video arts and other media productions fields as well. They also have, which has not been mentioned yet in this article, a massive film set/lot where Hollywood sized films can be created. They command one singular massive campus with a four year college degree experience.In comparison and contrast, Point Blank is equally passionate and active in their own realm. Their realm is more singular however, catering to the world of elite DJ-ing and production and focusing on electronic music production and performance only. Clearly, the school has succeeded in attracting excellent talent to instruct and built campuses in three of the most illustrious places in the world (London, Los Angeles, Ibiza) to be an electronic music artist. Clearly their combination of talented instructors, course layout, and very importantly the exposure for current students to the club scenes of their various locations, are all major pluses. It depends on what one’s goals are as an aspiring sound/media artist and the degree you would like to have upon your graduation. Full Sail will give you legitimate academic credentials, serious professional contacts, a community, and support. On the other hand, Point Blank will give you expert skills for rocking dance floor, a certificate and perhaps a BA. Mostly, though, it seems it will give you high level contacts and experience in the world of globally recognized DJ’s. Both schools rock. Hats off.