The Hugh Davies Project, in collaboration with Access Space, hosted an instrument-builder residency and workshop with Anton Mobin, from 29 February to 14 March 2016. This page documents those activities day by day. A PDF version of the documentation is also available.
19-20 Feb. 2016: Winding Pickups
This preparatory work in Paris with Is a Fish takes part of the Hugh Davies Project residency. Julien Bancilhon (Is A Fish) build his own unique hand made slide guitars in aluminium blocks he names “poutre” and he also creates all the manufacturing of his magnetic pickups and implantation in the instrument, which was fascinating for me to discover.
I had a sort of initiation of several steps in the process of an ancestral way but I mean in a basic way (no frills of geek) to build my own magnetic pickups. Expand knowledge and diversify practices was still up in the Do It Yourself approaches and is part of a logical evolution process in my work thanks to the meeting and sharing. Furthermore, the specifications of Hugh Davies Project Residency seemed to me to induce de facto the use of pickup and manufacturing.
For the new instrument i built in advance two single coil Strat magnetic pickups with a ceramic bar magnet with about 6 500 winding turns. From an aesthetic point of view, I have chosen the bar magnets which I find are less reference to micro guitar with small magnets. In addition, a practical standpoint, the first set of tests with this type of magnet offered me feel good. To be honest, i did not test the pickups… I am sure it works ; nothing went wrong during the process and i’d like to keep the surprise for the residency.
I planned to build several others magntic pickups during the residency at Access Space, different one, different shape, different magnet and many elements to design in the vene and manufacturing with the 3D printer as the blades and mounting brackets…
Lacquering step before winding to fix together the fiber blade with the magnet.
Here the single coil Strat magnetic pickups, type Humbucker i built myself !
“Poutre”, musical nstruments manufactured by Is a Fish
1 March 2016: Landing…
First day full of excitement with his little sterile side in creation but tons of things done!
Last purchases with Jonathan Cook (who hosts me with Anesia and Andrew in his home); a nice shop of electronic components where I found some wonderful pieces and The Guitar Shop where I fell for two used bass’s pickups! And the seller who was kind enough to draw me this reminder !
Reception in date of the 10 Dual Humbucker pickups for the workshop at the end of residency (12-13 march) and reception of the metal roll to create slats for kalimba…
Before starting anything at the residency, I had the idea (fun but serious) to make a series of photos of my toolkit, in tribute to Hugh Davies, that his authentic “Tool kit of electro-acoustic musician ” is on display at Science Museum, Blythe House in London. So, shooting to capture all of these items en vrac I want to integrate into my new instrument.
Do It Yourself // Do It With Others
This will be the watchword of this residence ! For many years, I am working on different aspects of D.I.Y. (releases, artworks, events…), often alone for my own stuffs but yes! that’s really better to do it ourselves! Several minds, several ideas for a better result. I realize myself it and you will read in this day by day journal there’s many person involved on this project with me! Such a chance to be in good company! (to develop)
Then I took the best for last, the discovery of the parcel from Silvia Caviglia and Roberto Lazzarino happened last week at Access Space. There’s a lot to say about this parcel, that’s a real collaboration. The time to accurately analyse and assess in detail the work of my two Italian friends, I discovered the instrument that I drew which corresponds line for line in my assembly plans.
It’s pretty amazing also! Silvia and Roberto have done a wonderful job and brought me suitable mounting solutions for this instrument.
And then in the afternoon I started to re-drill the entries for the aluminium cones which are now fully integrated into the left flank of the instrument. And I managed to cut my finger the first day!
2 March 2016: Learning by watching…
During all this second day, John X. Moseley at Access Space helped me to make decisions about where to drill the holes for the microphone inputs, potentiometers and especially switches where we have to seriously disburse wood.
Anyway for the moment, maybe it’s not specially clear for those who read here… I have to develop and write more about the impressive work done by my precious friends in Italy Maria Silvia Caviglia and Roberto Lazzarino who have a deep study in feasibility or not of my drawings and assembly plans i did for the project. I have to come back later on that point, i need to skype them before, well… But i very impressed by all that love put on my project, I feel so honoured ! For now I have a little trouble understanding the instrument, its dimensions are impressive; 50 cm x 30 cm x 19 cm and before finishing the assembly of the frame it is quite difficult to think of mic placement and objects.
With Roberto we met met through the web in 2010, sharing common interest on home-made instruments, tapes and improvisation. I remember i did know at all at that moment that Roberto was such a beautiful musician, guitarist and saxophonist (aka Riipus), but also artisan in music as he works in piano renovation in his studio in Acqui Terme in Italy with Silvia Maris Caviglia, who build clavecin and psalteriums. Since then , we met in real with Roberto in Paris first and we recorded some tracks i want to release on my new forthcoming label “Middle Eight Recordings“, and we met last year in Italy where we play at the chapel Santa Maria and recorded a splendid duo, “Attr Act live at Santa Maria“.
I had the chance also to met Silvia Caviglia and share passion around lutherie and i felt in love of her bows for psalteriums. I get two of them, totally unique!
Well, during that time John was working on the WOOD, i worked on the sound installation I proposed to Access Space. The module is the very first one i produce… a prototype, WE have to redo some parts with the laser cut… but that’s a nice beginning which give a lot of smile in the venue and a great satisfaction to see that a simple drawing can give such crazy result.
“Autonomous Object # 1” is the first autonomous object directed by Anton Mobin and thought to the establishment in a group exhibition at Access Space in Sheffield, UK.
Designed in a stand-alone form, the object also knows to transform and adapt to a performative form.
The object provides the rotation of a long flexible spring fixed at both ends; one is on a fixed point and the other about a vertical axis on the same level. The fan turned on has a rotation of the spring touches to the nearest or crashes in contact with the magnetic pick up that amplifies the electrical signal.
This first autonomous instrument i create offer amazing rythmical possibilities; the constant flow allows the musician to integrate some different objects in interaction, play the tension of the spring playing on the vertical supports, adding some others microphones to use the autonomous objects as a source of sounds to be mixed.
At the end of the day, I experimented a magnetic pickup and a contact mic on the module and play with them… More recordings tomorrow !!!
Here a part of a document from Hugh Davies where he described his work, available at the British Library : i feel exactly the same about the ratio “humorous / serious”, i though it was important to integrate this quotation in the journal.
3 March 2016: Gathering ideas
First recordings of the “Autonomous Object”, manipulated with different metallic parts and amplified by four different microphones such as a phone coil, a magnetic pickup, two contact-mics. 30minutes of pleasure with this instrument totally crazy, such a infinity of possible variations in the rhythm and great textures with the pickup combinated to the contact-mics, no surprise but a great pleasure to play and it turn to be an real element of the new Prepared Chamber !
4 March 2016: Developing ideas
I started to get my bearings to access space and I finally rearrange my space into three work areas, laptoping office, artworking desk, building table. I get the speakers upstairs and suddenly we work with music! Today was Frédéric Le Junter !
Here’s where I am:
Before coming in Sheffield, I had three months to prepare plans and stuffs (even if i had before the idea to develop the “Prepared Chamber” i sent my first attempt in my application form) and I showed my drawings to my friends, talk a lot with them, sharing ideas and listening what was to improve, also accept you do not have always the best idea… Well, My good friend Victor Jorge was the first to tell me about resonant wood. It appeared as obvious to an acoustic instrument! How I have not thought about before… Thank You Victor! This is obviously the great evolution in this instrument construction project, the WOOD ! So I figured directly in my friends in Italy, Silvia Caviglia and Roberto Lazzarino who get their own business in Acqui Terme : Silvia manufactures psalteriums, bows and harpsichords. Roberto manufactures and restores pianos… Lazzarino e Caviglia !
So, I sent Silvia and Roberto all my drawings and assembly plans I did during the three months before the residency, asking them at first if it was possible or pure fantasy. Everything seemed possible, they have worked hard to adapt some details or poorly designed, or I did not have the technical knowledge to think about it, etc. They also found adequate mounting solutions for the instrument that is to say that I can remove the bottom to both access the “e” (connections) but also to be able to change the traversing strings inside. It is a marvel composed of 5 different woods:
Soundboard is red spruce , the chassis is ash, parts of the bridge are oak, a kind of tail piece is oak also, the real bridge is ebony and the bottom is plywood.
Silvia Caviglia here prototyping my new “Prepared Chamber” in her workshop at Acqui Terme, Italy.
In my previous versions of the “Prepared Chamber” I used to place to microphones in a double bottom. I kept this idea but develop it strongly through a real musical element of the instrument but also as a new part of violin techniques for me.
For this double bottom, I drew a lot of assembly plans and diagram but again i needed help to be sure it was possible! IT IS!
Cones of the double bottom are fixed with three strings (G, B, E), traversing this double bottom and back to the opposite side of the instrument on a “violin” bridge, then the strings are attached to tuning pegs which are harpsichord mechanics. The bottom is in plywood and the soundboard (harmony table) is red spruce usually used for acoustic guitar.
(Roberto diagram’ modifications on my plan)
I get this idea of a rosette which really refer for me to acoustic instrument, but I drew a simple form as a circle to have a “hole” in the top board, but it turns like a real rosette ! Silvia wanted to find a form that matches well and drew some plans, I joined here below, and here is the result of his work! It’s just wonderful !
What is amazing is that this form of eight, infinity, which both reminds two small fans but also refers to the new label “Middle Eight Recordings” I want to start up soon and the first two productions are already ready, but for lack of time I have not yet launched the label.
Silvia’s preparatory drawings for the rosette
Below, the very important evolution in this version of my instrument and that might seem trivial or even worse being an aesthetic detail, is nothing more than a solution for security and comfort provided for live performances.
In short, with the second version of the “Prepared Chamber“, I had installed a mechanical bass guitar and I adapted a game with this tuning /detuning system with the peg, but when I abuse of detuning mode, the string is wholly up out of the mechanics which created a moment of panic during live performances …
Discussing with Julian Bancilhon (Is a Fish) about this problem, he showed me a particular model of banjo mechanics, both in type ‘I’, which gives the peg as “a potentiometer” in front of the instrument and not which projects upwards, but especially i can lock the string inside the mechanics ! I had never seen that before! And even better, the ratio “turn (mechanical) / tension (string) of this banjo mechanics is much more interesting and tenfold compared to a conventional one. Julien, thank you again !
Laser cutting test with John X. Moseley to create kalimba support : John drew lot of possible kind, we also had a attentive look to Bart Hopkin ways to hold the kalimba slats but it does not work very well, the appropriate wood to use the laser cut is too soft and absorbs all vibrations of metal and finally the easier and simpler way will be the best…
Then, in the evening, I had the chance to have a lot of business in the workshop, the first reactions are very positive, which is encouraging but for now there is nothing to hear. I like to listen Jake Harries present my work … And in the evening, I had the chance to meet percussionist Charlie Collins who played with Hugh Davies ! My friend Will Connor told me to meet Charlie, it’s done ! Thank you Will !!
5 March 2016: Testing…
I tried to go ahead on my idea of bass kalimba. The slats are so massive and the pressure is so powerful that it’s quite hard to maintain the kalimba and play at the same time. Not sure i like it and i think to abandon the idea to integrate a kalimba for the moment in the new instrument… but it gives ideas for the future… Kalimba is a complex element to build in a D.I.Y. way and could a entire workshop or residency in his own.
And i was testing some different possibilities to add a bridge for my two strings section on the front side. I found the solution with the glass bottleneck which is very fine, but it can allow me to play all techniques i develop further on the previous “Prepared Chamber”.
We have to built a bridge !
I tried to practice a lot with the elements already in the box and recorded some acoustic pieces : recordings made with Nagra ares M2 very close to the source.
6 March 2016: Celebrating !
Mother day in UK and Grand-Ma day in France !
We talk about clock with Jonathan and Anesia looking for springs, I went to a flea market and bought two old mechanical clocks, boning to retrieve the coil springs. Really not easy and the spring are so strong inside i do not think it will works…
Anyway, i get a beautiful surprise in one of the two clock…
Anesia gave me a quartz clock which get inside a little coil, with about 300 or less turns, I don’t know really… I took the coil and did my first recycled magnetic pickup !!!!! Adding two ceramic bar magnet on the steel that one part enters in the bobbin, plus two solderings : it works !!!!
7 March 2016: Trying !
Few days ago, discussing with James Mooney about Hugh Davies sound installations, James presented me a kind of unknown instrument of Hugh Davies, which is in fact another version of his well-known “Spring Board”. James showed me a photograph from the Science Museum titled “springboard XI prototype” and looks very curious and not concluded, it seems. A raised board with four cleats and the beginnings of a grid with springs and a magnetic pickup (probably) on its middle.
Drawing by memory by James Mooney about this different version of the “Spring Board” by Hugh Davies (around 1975)
Here my version in tribute to Hugh Davies’ work “Spring Board” !
i used a wooden board, a metal circle, an egg-slicer, 6 carpenter’s nails of different sizes and 11 springs. I think this object is a really nice one for kids to discover music made with objects and the round in the middle was done with the laser cut.
A lot of things done today thanks to John Moseley: some objects have been set in the box
as the chime of an old clock that I will play with his hammers and my third string will be finally a spring! And we did important holes through the soundboard and the wooden batten to to create an access for the wires and develop a diagram to not forget something important ’cause after it will be too late ! All this seems trivial but it was very stressful…
…And i bought a Stagg cymbal to integrate in the new instrument !
8 March 2016: Laser cutting !
For the fans part of the instrument, I thought about the possibility to change the speed of the fan, I do not really know if it’s useful when playing (might be!), anyway, it seemed fun to do it with an 1A power supply kit. And John Moseley did it ! More of that he continues the idea of this element with a box to protect the system, hold the battery and the whole to be fixed below the instrument.
9 March 2016: Winding Coil !
Today, i enjoyed a lot using the new coil winding machine for the first time. I built myself two magnetic pickups to be integrated in my “Prepared Chamber” : one is the same done in Paris with Is A. Fish, a Strat blade single coil pickup but with more turns of coil (8542) and the second one more powerful, more accurate is Blade Humbucker with a steel blade inside and two ceramic bars magnet on the sides with 6001 turns. John Moseley helped me a lot as all during the two weeks and he designed/produced with the laser cut the support to encrust the pickup !
10 March 2016: Connecting !
Here we are on a important part of the building process which is all the electronics part. This part evolute a lot during the pre-residency due to massives discussions with my good friend Bertrand Larrieu. His expertise was very precious and and he always get huge tons of good ideas which push me to consider that you can’t always have the best idea ! Bertrand is one of the finest sound engeneer i know and we worked together on different recording projects since year (as the trio with Benedict Taylor and Naoto Yamagishi, to be released soon on my label Middle Eight Recordings or the last Crash Duo recording). Bertrand never just plug microphones and press “rec” button; he get a real sensibility and a real talk about the recording process. Discussing with Bertrand is always a great moment because he perfectly integrate my activity and can adjust the wishes with the needs, what he did again that time regarding the third version of the “Prepared Chamber”. Again, the first assembly plan was not realisable in his whole part and mainly the front side gave me a problem with all the connectics in front which was in conflict with the wish to re-integrate bass strings on the same front side. Probably i should have found the solution alone but i always think we are stronger when united. The idea from Bertrand was to gather all the eletonics elements and connectics in another double-bottom which is below the resonating box allowing all the wires to come from the same hole from the above, traversing the harmony table and a cleat to appear above the ply wood of the double-bottom. This drill process was probably the most stressful to do as it was the first time i did that. But with hindsight, we should have done different entries for the wires and not only one unique, to avaid all the wires in the box but that is a detail to correct in the next version ! More than gathering all the eletonics elements in the same emplacement, Bertrand’s idea went further in an interesting technical point of view which was to integrate in this electronics part some caractéristics of the mixer. It was not easy to understand what he meant, often tech guys are a bit geek but with some reflexions and talk about that idea, it appears evident that there’s something very interesting to explore in this way. When writing “some caracteristics of the mixer” i mean some possibilities offered by the mixer desk, as “mute” of just control the volume from the instrument and not from the mixer, even if you can do so, of course. This is what i did: in the instrument, there’s 5 different microphones : 2 piezo-electric contact microphones linked on a trigger on/off and 3 magnetic pickups. All the mounted on a long shaft volume pot and only one get a trigger on/off integrating in the pot (which really better and it might be the next elements to change in this instrument to have an on/off position on every pichup). Switches on contact microphone interact very well and could correspond to the “mute” button on a mixer. Volumes are volume! Minimal interacting which looks like more an on/off with a very quick change around 7-8 level. Anyway, all these are test and prototype and can be consider as something else more successful. But I am pretty sure I dig some ways to think how to make sounds nowadays and bring some clues to manufacturing a new instrument.
11 March 2016: Performing !
Prefect timing ! My “Prepared Chamber” third version is built and ready for tonight performance !
This instrument finally doesn’t looks like the very first drawing I sent in my application form for the residency. No plan was asked but as I had this new version in mind I would prefer base my proposal on an evolution of the “Prepared chamber”. Numerous physical elements came in opposition to the firt plan i did and mainly the fact that it was impossible to fix some parts on the harmony table. As a guitar, it should have been delicat to drill the table to fix some springs and so as i had in mind so that’s main critera that give the actual shape of the “Prepared Chamber”. Another critical point have been the springs : in my fisrt assembly plan, i projected to create a kind of spring checkerboard crossed at different level in the box for what i needed a large qualtity of sprints to meter… and which we did not find in Europe for the residency period. According the previous versions of the “Prepared Chamber” full of objects everywhere in the box, the first reaction of Bertrand was “is it finished” as it looks very epurate. Maybe it’s just looks like more an instrument and not a flea market! I wanted something more visible, leasable which impose a new practise, more visible play…
Today is really special and I am honoured to host my friends and precious collaborators since years at Access Space for a night of performances.
Viola player Benedict Taylor is coming from London : we work together in Paris and London since 2012 as soon as they met at the Boat Ting. Since that they tour intensively on short period and record their first album in duo “Stow | Phasing” released on Raw Tonk Records.
D.I.Y artist Adrian Beentjes is coming from Wigan : we played several times in Paris and collaborated since 2010, their first duo collaboration released on suRRism Phonoethics “Wired Fruits” and in 2011, a long term collaboration on the internet to compose “Micro Sounds Biopsy”, released on Zeromoon label in the USA.
And Sheffield-based artist Alex McLean is joining us and this will be the first time Alex and me have played together.
Photo by Jake Harries
These improvised performances bring together for the first time four musicians from four different areas of musical instrument creation: Anton Mobin (mic-ed acoustic “prepared chamber”), Alex McLean (performing with his own Livecoding software, Tidal), Adrian Beentjes (who creates electronic instruments to his own design) and Benedict Taylor (crazy viola player and improviser).
photo by James Mooney
12 March 2016: Workshop, day#1
Here begins a great musical and human adventure.
My first workshop with “adults” and… I should say with artists !
All started with this sheet of paper, done by John, for cutting the wood :
All participants were assigned the same materials, namely a magnetic pickup dual Humbucker, two contact microphones, two female jack inputs, two triggers on/off and the amount of wood needed to build a box, with the following dimensions: 35 cm X 20 cm X 12 cm.
Some of them, Lou, Jonathan, Peter and Toby bring some elements from their collection to include in the project which is very nice to discover for me.
Access Space provided all the necessary hardware boneless: fans, motors, more triggers, recycled screws, etc.
The group took the project very quickly to their account and have embraced the basic principle to integrate their own knowledge in the project. Some elements of bricollage step were thought to simpler and following my experiences with children, but this group has evolved the draft considerable way, doing better !
Here some interesting drawings and assembly plans by Clayton Jackson :
Here another interesting one by Adrian Beentjes, who stayed all the first day to assist to the workshop and help participants who had questions about electronics, as Lou Hazelwood who wanted to integrate electronics elements and circuit bending from a “magical carpet” for kids in her instrument !
13 March 2016: Workshop, day#2
Here the result of the two-days workshop at Access Space ! To be honest, I am totally impressed by what happened during this session : the eight participants are wonderful people and totally passionate about the project. As the first minutes of the second day, everyone went to work in his corner, on his plans, some change direction, some other gone ahead with they have began the day before : the night had to be tough but focused advices !
“How Aimable” by instrument-builder Jonathan Wilson (aka The Filthy Don).
Amazed to see radical extensions ! A beauty !! http://www.thefilthydon.com/
by Michael Dunn : one of the most efficient including the first ever fan’s suspension !
Great sensation, great sounds ! Well done !!
by drummer and percussionist Clayton Jackson : a very percussive box with full of rhythmical micro-elements totally adapted by Clayton to his way of playing !
“EA_Test_Bed_MKI” by Peter Czerwinski : the most fun ! This box has had different forms during the weekend to finally turn into a real daily objects box, with an obvious reference to Hugh Davies by using a tin lid !
by artist Lou Hazelwood : the only box with two pickups as Lou added a telephone pickup for her voice ! http://louhazelwood.blogspot.fr/
“Infinite possibilities” by George Rogers (in progress at this step)
Probably the most complex box created during the weekend, George really pushed the use of laser cut and the script to customize the instrument including a great visual effect on the fan section and a beautiful solution to insert the strings. Also, best kalimba ever done during the workshop ! arkstudio23.co.uk
by composer, musician Toby Wiltshire, very design with 4 motors and a beautiful shine from an old clock ! https://soundcloud.com/tobywiltshire-1
by performer and drag Dan J. J. Khan : Dan had a very specific idea of an instrument he wants to achieve: a harp with steel strings for an upcoming show, amplified by magnetic pickups and piezoelectric contact microphones. The instrument is great and already works perfectly even if it was not finalized in two days… http://alacroart.com/
“The birdbox” by John Moseley has two piezo contact microphones attached to springs that are fixed lengthwise. A hole in the soundboard allows sound and small birds to enter.
This workshop gave me far more than the satisfaction of a well done job, but opened my eyes to the scope of my work and interest that everyone, to their level, can find on it. Music has always create powerful links between those who shared his passion and it still was during these unforgettable days. I was filled with intense and deep emotions and it’s not a secret I could not contain a flood of tears of joy…
Here the final version of the artwork realized at Access Space during the whole period of the residency, using mainly stamped objects (springs, coil wire, metallic parts, pizza slicer liner…), 3D printed elements and papers found at Access Space, glued coil wire, china ink drawings. This artwork have been completed by George Rogers and Jonathan Wilson at the end of the workshop, with dots realized by Jonathan with a similar technique I used : Stamped daily objects with a circular saw : strong contrast between the object and its rendering: a very aggressive object filing delicate pints on the support !
14 March 2016: Lecturing !
First presentation of my work and my new “Prepared Chamber” for students in composition at University of Leeds, with Dr. Scott McLaughlin. It was very great experience in a beautiful room for rehearsal with full of percussions, piano… Nice environment ! Thanks to Tenley Martin to show me how to bow this little cymbal !
To be just in terms : we can say this instrument : The “Prepared Chamber” version 3
– Have been designed by Anton Mobin in Paris and assemblied by Anton Mobin and John X. Moseley at Access Space, Sheffield
– Magnetic pickups are home-made by Anton Mobin, half in Paris and Sheffield
– The idea to use tone wood have been thought by Victor Jorge
– The wood have been manufactured by Silvia Caviglia & Roberto Lazzarino at Acqui Terme in Italy
– Modifications of the double-bottom drawn by Roberto Lazzarino The rosette is drawn and realized by Silvia Caviglia
– The technical and electronics part of the instrument changed discussing with Bertrand Larrieu, re-orienting the needs thanks to his expertise.