Wok Music: Music of the Hemispheres

The process of obtaining ‘miraculous agitations’, as I’ve written before, revolves around chance occurrences.  From a purely intuitive standpoint, it’s hard to pin down the catalyst that transforms a vibrating apparatus from a ‘bone-idle-tone’ into inspirational ‘tone-drama’ (that is, the once-in-a-blue-moon complex and inspiring acoustic stuff).  It appears as a chance convergence of microscopic parameters: an imperceptible movement of some element suddenly causing an emergent state…

The standard stainless steel cooking bowls (un-wok-like), with a paucity of tone-ballast.

The cauldron is perhaps the paradigm of all this tone-drama-seeking malarkey.  In fact, it’s surprising that cauldrons aren’t used more often in improv gigs.  Objects may be placed in a vibrating cauldron and stirred until the much longed-for ‘tone-drama’ emerges.  The cauldron body would be resonated electromagnetically, and eventually, with enough stirring trials, there will arrive a point where a highly specific configuration is obtained, bringing about pulsing rhythms or harmonic progressions.

When I was angling to incorporate pseudo-cauldrons into resonant assemblies, the adage “beggars can’t be choosers” manifested itself in the galling fact that dishes and bowls receptive to magnetism are very hard to find.  If you walk into a shop, all the stainless steel bowls will be non-magnetic.  This is frustrating, as many of the most resonant bowls will not be suitable for resonating via the electromagnetic field method (a non-contact method of resonating).

Looking in bins and trade waste containers can yield older steel bowls, where the steel was treated differently during manufacture, thus retaining its ferric virtue and allowing for EM resonation.  Although, these are rare.

Wok mounted to a sounding board with resonator and pickup coils.

Whereas in the past the poverty and unemployability that necessitated my dumpster-diving actions lent a teeth-gnashing restrictive atmosphere, it’s now obvious that this impoverished flâneur approach embraces chance happenings: a good thing.  One day, a wok presented itself.  Woks can be easily adapted to resonate.  When a wok handle is removed, woks resound like Tibetan bowls…  And they’re always (in my experience) responsive to magnetism too.  Woks are also somewhat hard to find, but they’re easily spotted, at least, whether in bins, car-boot sales, or vistas of ruin.

When a resonator coil is fixed in proximity to a wok’s rim, several harmonics can usually be obtained.  The most harmonically rich woks happen to be Ken Hom woks – this particular brand was the heaviest/densest I’ve so far found (the chrome handles of certain Ken Hom wok lids also make excellent subharmonic-generating objects to place inside woks).   The polarities and phase of the resonator coil / pickup coil combo can be arranged so that a descending scale of harmonics can be elicited by moving the pickup anticlockwise around the rim, on the right-hand side of the resonator (as shown in this scrawling).  When subharmonic ballast is added, a veritable sonic stir-fry is formed… with all the potency of the paradigmatic cauldron: thaumatacoustics in action.

So far, I have found four woks.  It is interesting to note that the resultant chords obtainable purely from the woks themselves – without adding objects inside – are chords of chance provided by the trade waste bins.   A convergence of people all deciding at a certain time to discard their woks resulted in this very specific chord.

I recorded a short and unpolished study simply to display aspects of this chord. (Please excuse the unskilful pickup collisions)….

Bookophone Outing

I comprise one quarter of the improv quartet Oscillatorial Binnage.  Last Thursday we played a short set at the AMM book launch.  Due to an alleged paucity of electricity sockets at the venue, it seemed an appropriate occasion to test drive an acoustic oddity I devised which I call a bookophone.

A bookophone consists of a paperback book and a rod/pipe ‘activator bow’ of some description.  The rod can be metal, plastic or lacquered wood, and it is drawn perpendicularly across the book’s textblock in a bowing action.  It produces acoustic pseudo-shepard tones and, with some practice, a variety of barks and yelps can be produced.

Bookophone technique: A metal ‘activator bow’ is rubbed across the book

The AMM event was one of the more off-the-wall performances of recent memory.  The two new books being discussed that night were Ben Watson‘s Blake in Cambridge, and 1839: The Chartist Insurrection by David Black and Chris Ford, both books published by Unkant.   (Tangentially, whilst setting up the space, Ben Watson found convenience in my bookophone’s ‘activator bow’ in liberating from the ceiling the Union Jack bunting left over from a Queen’s Jubilee celebration some days earlier).

Interestingly, Watson chose to launch his own book by giving a platform to its critics who proceeded to denounce various aspects of its content, creating much debate (which also encompassed ventings on AMM’s anti-academic stance).   Watson – an expert in language-defying tone poetry and mega-freeform vocalistics – then encouraged Oscillatorial Binnage to acoustically ornament/mimic the ensuing debate, which was already agitated by Watson’s occasional divergences into his hyperconfusing wordjazz.  Electronics, crackleboxes, bean slicer, clarinet, squeaky toilet paper holder combo, harmonica and bookophone (among other things – mostly stuff found in bins) culminated in a noisome uproar.  Regretfully, some of the younger people present did not at all enjoy the ultra-high pitched amplified blasts.  (All recordings can be heard here).

To change the subject slightly…. My shoes are always broken.  Earlier that rainy, rainy day, I had been in the second-hand book basement of a King’s Cross bookshop, trying to identify a louder £1 book for bookophone implementation (without actually compromising the shop’s stock by bowing the book edges).  Owing to a hole in my shoe, rainwater had made ingress to my sock, making an unpleasantly wet foot; an irritating feeling which distracted me and so impaired bookophonic sonic book judgement.  Abandoning the search, inspiration made me hop to the British Library where strong plastic bags can be obtained – most convenient!   There, I made myself a plastic sock to place inside my shoe thereby offering protection against the rainwater.  This provided comfort, not just for the rest of the day, but for the next week too.

[Such a feet/feat of necessity is perhaps worthy of Vladimir Arkhipov’s attention: specifically his Home Made series of books cataloging folk artefacts borne of such necessity].

However, by the time the AMM book launch began, the plastic sock had started to smell really bad.  There’s an esoteric quirk of hygiene that sees unventilated feet turn odorous.  Yet by the unpremeditated combining of the bookophone sounds with the ‘British Library bag-sock’ footsmell generator, I had fused both scent and sound into a new emission-sensation.  However, the other members of Oscillatorial Binnage were undecided and mildly dismissive of it.  I did wonder what the academics and anti-academics would make of this multi-faceted concept-fusion of bookophonics, British Library bag-socks, bad odour twinned with questionable bookwhine sonics…  It is probably too irrelevant or ‘lumpenproletarianesque’ to even contemplate.