Drums 03 Santa Fe
Drums are pretty simple. Technically they are categorized as membranophones.
A membrane (traditionally an animal hide) stretched to tautness over a frame will generate sound when it is excited to vibrate (usually struck with a hand or a stick). Its thickness, stiffness, tightness, surface area, etc. will determine what sort of sound waves (in terms of loudness and pitch) it generates.
When a body is connected to the membrane, its shape, size, and open or closedness will tend to amplify particular frequencies within the generated waves and suppress others. Tubes will tend to support specific frequencies (based on their lengths) and bowls will tend to do the opposite.
In addition to these factors, how and with what the membranes are struck influence the sound.
The technology of drum making is simply about finding a way or ways of tensioning the head. Most of the time this is done by stretching the skin around a hoop and then tensioning it with a rim. More traditionally it was done by attaching the wet skin to the body and allowing it to shrink to tautness, or by tightening the skin with some sort of lacing.
My musical intent with most of these drums was to provide lower register beat patterns with a minimum of tonal information. More often than not I want drums to thump rather than crack. This keeps them sonically out of the way of middle register instruments and (to me anyway) provide more of a rooted sense of beat than conventional (plastic headed) drums do. Plastic heads give a lot of bounce and facilitate fast playing (lots of rolls), but they lack the kind of ‘depth’ in sound that animal hides provide. My primary agenda with drums is a bit removed from the conventional function (providing fills and accents) of rock and jazz kits. Every instrument functions as a drum (insofar as they are played with rhythm in mind), so I prefer to use the subdivided beats (fast drumming) for parts with more tonal flexibility –metal (as in a xylophone type instrument) provides a lot of bounce too but with far more specific and varied choices of pitch and timbre.
I generally play these with rubber mallets to further limit their brightness. This also limits the speed with which they can be played as mallets are heavier and bounce less than ordinary drumsticks.
Some of the drums I have built.
Adrums 00-10 chilmark, santa fe, tucson
This ‘set’ evolved over time.
Thump, the lowest drum has a black leather head (the sort of thick leather used for chaps, tool belts, and durable handbags. It’s body was (I believe) a water tank, probably from a commercial fishing boat. It was the first drum I built that still exists. The softness of the head and the size of the body produce a low, dull sound.
Squat, has a cowhide head with hair. It’s body was 20lb propane tank. The hair on its head muffles it slightly and the relative thickness of the cowhide produces a flat sound. The closed tank dampens the sound a well.
The drum seen left front (I stopped naming individual drums) has a goatskin head with a circle of black leather glued to it. Its body is a section cut from the lower end (including some of the curve of the rounded bottom) of a pressurized gas tank (I don’t know which gas). The leather circle lowers the pitch and dampens the sound preventing it from ringing. The open bottom and cylindrical shape produce a specific pitch (close to D).
The drum seen left rear has a goatskin head with hair (hair side down) and a small circle of leather glued to it. Its body was a 14.9 cu ft helium tank. The leather, the hair, and the closed body all dampen its sound.
Blowdrum 02 chilmark
This drum has a black leather head. Its body was a water tank. A pipe runs from the bottom of the tank to a breathing tube. Since the drum is airtight blowing into the tube effectively tightens the head and raises its pitch. The black leather head produces a dull sound and (depending on the tightness of the head) a low register sweep of around a fifth is obtainable from it.
Palindrums 08 Tucson
This ‘set’ has a pair of large dumbek shaped drums made from 20 lb propane tanks and 6” black iron drain pipe. One has a black leather head, the other a goatskin head with hair. The heads and the shape both contribute toward giving them a low dull sound. The two smaller drums have thick rawhide heads and are mounted on bodies of 6” and 5” black iron drain pipe. They have a higher, brighter, ‘wooden’ sound.
Twolong 08 Tucson
These tube drums have cowhide heads with hair mounted on 6” black iron drainpipe. They tend to play about a half step apart depending on the tension of the heads. The large diameter of the tubes relative to their length makes them sound more like drums than specifically pitched instruments (such as Rowotoes).
Rowotoes 11 Tucson
These thirteen drums produce an octave of pitches (A to A, chromatically). The heads are rawhide held in place by muffler clamps. The bodies were cut from 2 1/2” (I.D.) electrical conduit. Their mountings allow them to be arranged in any order. The stiffness of the heads produces a sharp initial attack. These are similar in musical use to the “PVC” instruments popularized by the Blue Man Group.
cerb 12 Tucson
This has parallel goatskin heads one with hair exposed, one with the haired side in, mounted on a 9” wheel hub from a garden tractor. Its pitches can be raised by blowing into a hose attached to its valve seat. The tamborine mounted to it was built by J.Francine Tomasello.
Tuffram 12-14 Tucson
Tuffram is a pair of frame drums. The larger is 17” in diameter, the smaller 14”. Both of them have goatskin heads with hair. Framedrums, having no enclosure tend to emphasize the way and the place the head is struck and the tension of the head. They offer a wide range of (generally bright) sounds.
Panzoot 14 Tucson
These are a pair of steel drums tuned a fourth apart at their centers. A few other pitches are available from other areas of the surface and along the curve of the ding. Aside from being made by hammering out 55-gallon drums tempered in a bonfire, they don’t (and weren’t intended to) sound like traditional Trinidadian steel drums. Panzoot played live
Snayer 15 Tucson
This drum uses store-bought plastic heads and snares mounted on a shop-made body. It sounds like an ordinary snare drum. Plastic heads give a much faster bounce-back than skin heads do and allow for faster playing (drum rolls) and a brighter attack. I made this to play as a traditional (sit-down) drummer in a punk band and have a fair amount of ambivalence around including it as a part of Anarchestra. I don’t love the plastic head sound, but I’ve ended up using it occasionally anyway.
Other drums (not described as they are simple variations on those already described) or drums in different arrangements.
Big Drum 04 chilmark (shown with blow drum)
Tubes 03 chilmark
Thump & Squat 00 chilmark
Now included in Adrums
Goatskin drums 04-06 Santa Fe
Now included in Adrums and Smelly Old Harry
Blowjob 06 santa fe
eventually became a component of Adrums
Bordrum 12 Tucson
Now half of Tuffram.
Paired 00 chilmark
Smelly Old Harry 09 Tucson
Snark 11 Tucson
Triffid 06 santa fe
Now part of Smelly Old Harry
Thundrms 16 tucson
Steel drums (30 ga, 20 ga, 16 ga) with cowhide heads.
Leatherhead 16 Tucson
20 ga. steel drum with black leather head. Similar to Thump but lower in pitch.