Instruments of Invention

Craft & Design Music
Instruments of Invention


Photography by Sam Alvar

Bob Dylan was born in his hometown, but Duluth TankPodDrum’s shell is a hollow, 6″-diameter, performance artist Tim Kaiser has a different musical 14″-tall stainless steel vessel that Kaiser scored for hero: Harry Partch (1901-1974), an underappreciated 70 cents at a salvage yard. In his home studio, he composer who invented new microtonal scales for used stove bolts to add a right angle fitting from a instruments he built himself. hot water heater, brass bells from a rotary phone, a

“He was a curmudgeon and a brilliant musician comb of rods from a toy piano, music box tines, bits who couldn’t stand convention and created his of chrome, and rack handles. When Kaiser bangs on own,” says Kaiser, who also coaxes foreign sounds the attachments with a mallet, the drum acts as a from far-fetched equipment made by hand. resonator. A pickup epoxied to the barrel’s interior As a teenage musician, Kaiser discovered a new connects to an amp or, if Kaiser is playing, a modu-auditory universe at the University of Minnesota lation delay that echoes and fades not only the pitch and began assembling avant-garde noisemakers but also the frequency. to suit his sonic tastes. His technique? Scrap parts After Partch died, the American Composers Forum and a junior high school electronics class. inherited the rights to his work and released more Some 20 years later, Kaiser has made more than than 100 of his recordings on the Innova record label.

150 instruments, including a stenography key- “I’ve always dreamed of being on Innova,” Kaiser says. board wired with the guts of a mini teaching piano, Dreams apparently come true. In June 2007, a green effect box with beehive lenses that loops Kaiser’s latest solo album, Analog, was released on a 2-second delay, and an old espresso bin called — you guessed it — Innova.

TankPodDrum, fitted with all things pluckable and tappable. Kaiser takes commissions, but saves his favorites for his own live shows.

Watch and listen to Tim Kaiser:

From the column Made on EarthMAKE 12, page 15 – Megan Mansell Williams.

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