Origins, reasons, etc.

“In late 1999 I was working as a welder/metal sculptor in Providence and having a series of conversations about music with Mike Rinaldi. On New Year’s Eve 2000 we were at Fort Thunder and he suggested that we make some instruments.  Over the next two months we made a pair of xylophones and several kalimbas using formulas and suggestions from Sound Designs by Reinhold Banek and Jon Scoville.

I left Providence at the end of February and moved to Chilmark. I got hold of Bart Hopkin’s book Musical Instrument Design and began working on Dubass and Pedal Guitar. The idea for the pedal operated capo-fret came from a street performer, Eric Royer, I’d seen in Harvard Square a few years before, who’d had an ingenious one-man-band set-up.

My idea at that time was to integrate homemade instruments with standard ones to allow percussionists to contribute tonally, i.e., replace bassists and rhythm guitarists with drummers.

A year later, in addition to Dubass and Pedal Guitar, I had made La Bas, Pilon, Thump, Paired, Lamellop, Harp, Bish-Bosh, Pig, E3W, Croon, Chant, Sir Gamelan, and the two bowed instruments that eventually became Bosco.

In March 2001 I began recording them, mostly to examine how the instruments could be amplified, still intending to integrate them into a traditional band.

The results, which I eventually named Rumor, changed my mind. I realized that the instruments worked well together and formed a band in and of themselves. I would have continued recording, but the ADAT I was using self destructed while I was working on the last piece.

That summer the instruments were included in a series of local performance/shows called Cafe Mobius and were played simultaneously for the first time by a group that included Paul and Scott.

At the second of these I met Rod Welles, a film-maker, who was documenting the show. The following summer he invited me to install the instruments (several more had been built by then) in his barn at Labyrinth Speakeasy in West Tisbury.

On August 22, 2002 the instruments were played by a large group of people under the name Anarchestra for the first time.”

(Alex Ferris, 2004, from “History”

Several different reasons for undertaking the project.

“One day I was hearing a bassoon in my mind and I thought it would be cool to have one.  So, I went to Art Shell on 48th St. to see what they had.  The guy, very nice, sympathetic, dude told me he had a plastic one that was kinda broken but fixable that he could let me have for $1500 as was.  It dawned on me then that I’d never be able to afford to have more than a couple of instruments and if I wanted to get a variety of sounds into the music I made, I’d need to find another way than buying them.”  (conversation with Karl Whitaker, 2008)

“I was living in Providence off and on in the 90’s and it was kind of the epicenter of noise music at the time so I was hearing a lot of interesting, fresh at the time, things people were doing with signal processing.  As the novelty wore off I began to feel kind of oppressed by the similarities within it, like I got used to the algorithms that were manufacturing the sounds.  Y’know, like, ‘here comes the pitch shifter, there’s the looper’, all that.  And all those square waves, oy, I kinda hate square waves.  And also, I had a real disconnect between hearing these really dense massive sounds, all this sonic violence, and seeing a couple of dudes fiddling with some pedals or immersed in a laptop.”  (interview with Clio Landor-Toomey, 2003)

“Musicians are a weird demographic.  One the one hand, I totally sympathize with anybody who wants to give their life over to exploring and working with the soundworld, like, that’s my tribe, right?   But I want to do things with other people too.  Less so as time goes by, but musicians tend to be overwhelmingly male, which bugs me, and they also tend to be, I dunno, defensive personality types —not their fault, the world, at least in the here and now america, tends to shit on us a bit, make us feel unimportant, marginalized, extraneous, all that and, naturally enough, we tend to counter that by egoizing and generating sort of bubbles of elitism around ourselves.  So, anyway, I wanted playing with groups of people to be more like my real life, with the solidarity of working with a crew, like we’re just normal people working together, doing something.  So many times I’d hang out with someone and just think ‘Damn, I wish you could play something so I could work with you and spend all those hours on the road in your company instead of so-and-so who’s a great bass player but drives me up the wall as a person’.  I figured if I could make instruments that anybody could play we could replace a few ‘musicians’ with normal people.”  (notebook, 2005)

“I made these things, because, after a lifetime in music, I got really tired of everything sounding the same.”   (documentary “Strange Musical Instruments Never Seen Before” Special Head, 2015, YouTube)

“For me this was to know about music a different way, to know about sound a different way, and get into its nuts and bolts.  . . . doing this has allowed me to de-emphasize myself as a player, which I always was . . . to get out of that little hamster-on-a-wheel kind of situation . . . this allowed me to be a thoughtful musician.” (documentary “Um . . . yeah, so I did this”, 2013, YouTube)

“Our music should reflect the kind of society we want. And so, the music that I do reflects that too, I want everybody to join in and do it and have fun.  And play and feel enabled and empowered and take some responsibility for how it comes out.” (documentary “Um . . . yeah, so I did this”, 2013, YouTube)

“I want people to participate.  To me, that’s the real meaning of folk music, is folks playing music, together, y’know, tribal, village, whatever sense you want to call it, a community, making music together.” (documentary “Um . . . yeah, so I did this”, 2013, YouTube)