Well it sounds like it’s one that you’ve embraced. Was the inspiration for making and modifying these instruments one of necessity because you didn’t have a guitar player and you needed to do both, or was it something you were always intent on messing around with?
Kind of everything– wanting to be able to have control over a wider frequency spectrum with one instrument is one thing, and also reducing the number of people in a band is an interesting concept, and then just trying to get something unique and different that no one else is really doing.
A lot of people at MAKE are tinkerers from their childhood, or they have some background in fooling around with electronics or fabrication. What sort of stuff gave you that bug when you were younger?
I always had access to woodworking tools at home growing up. I studied music as a kid but it was always combined with a really deep interest in having control over the gear, having some access to either modifying or making the actual instruments that I was playing. That’s the way my brain works and I really like working with my hands so I got really into instrument making, electronics, making pedals, and amps. It’s something I’ve always been a real nerd about.
So you did instrument design for Blue Man Group, right?
Could you talk a little bit about that, specifically what sort of software you used? And did you use any physical computing platforms in the instruments that you made?
I’ve written software in MAX that I’ve used in Blue Man and there were a lot of trigger based instruments that I developed for them for their tour because they use these PVC percussion instruments. They were doing more loud, rock concert type venues and they needed to amplify these things and it was problematic because an acoustic instrument is not very loud. So I developed a theme instrument that was based around triggering samples from the actual instrument. So I got into that pretty heavily with them and wrote some software in MAX that could control that stuff.
What did you use as the triggers and how did that route into MAX?
Well I wrote software for MAX that was basically a MIDI note mapper that distributed MIDI notes across a whole instrument depending on what the song was so you could change the notes quickly. It was a way of controlling a database of MIDI notes that would then tell a sampler what sounds to play. The triggering is all piezo-based triggers that I built.
Do you build and modify instruments and effects for other musicians?
Sometimes, yeah when I get requested. I’m not searching for that often but it’s starting to become something that people have mentioned to me. I just made some special pickups for a friend of mine.
What’s one of the more interesting things you’ve worked on for a client?
I’m still working a lot with Blue Man freelance so probably the most interesting things I’ve done, I’ve done for them. They have these things called MIDI backpacks that they wear and they’re big sculptural, tubular things that they wear as backpacks but also play. That’s probably one of the more interesting things I’ve done for them.
The MIDI Backpack. Photo by Anirudh Koul
When you’re working in the studio do the sounds that you get from the instruments dictate the music or is it the other way around? Or a little bit of both?
It’s a little bit of both. Probably a lot of the instrument is dictating stuff, especially my instrument. It’s not tuned like a normal guitar at all so it’s both limiting and challenging but also liberating at the same time. I come up with parts I wouldn’t normally think of so in that way it’s dictating the music a lot.
What sort of gadgetry might we expect from Buke and Gase in the future?
I don’t know. Maybe more electronic stuff. My head is going in that direction but I don’t know what that means yet. Maybe using the instruments to either trigger other sounds or controlling more electronic sounds.
You said that you’ve built and modified your own pedals. Can you talk a bit about that and where your electronics background comes from?
My electronics background is mostly just me messing around– mostly self-taught that way. I had a recording studio in Brooklyn for a while and I would make a lot of the mic pre-amps and did a lot of tube-based electronics for that studio. I’ve done mostly distortion pedals and modified store-bought ones, but nothing too crazy. I’ve also done line mixers that I needed for the Gase to combine signals.
If you had a dream device that you would want a maker to come up with that you could use in your music, what do you think it would be?
Something that would make playing in this band a lot easier! We both find that because we’re multi-tasking so much it takes a lot of concentration to play our music. Anything that can liberate that amount of focus that we have to do when we’re performing live would be great. Like I said, I’m kind of thinking about ways our instruments could control other sounds, so maybe something in that direction would be great.