The Antenna Repairmen
For the Los Angeles Bienniel five sign wave oscillators tuned to the fundamental frequencies of five large vessels, created a modulating subsonic environment. Collaborating with composer/percussionist Art Jarvinen, I created sixty instruments in clay, inspired by classic Indian and African talking drums. Art’s ensemble, the Antenna Repairmen performed and recorded a composed and improvisational work.
Udu drums are traditional Nigerian instruments. The women play them as they sing. Like Ghatams, they were originally for carrying water. The slanted design is a Repairmen/Freedman innovation. Combining several into one larger instrument is decidedly non-traditional. The Ghatam is a traditional south Indian instrument. Originally a water jug made from ordinary clay, it was picked up by musicians and now enjoys notoriety as one of the most unpleasant hand drums to play. The Repairmen don’t even pretend to use it in any traditional way. Their’s are made of porcelain, which would make the pain associated with traditional performance practice nearly intolerable but makes them good for beating with sticks. The piece was named in honor of this lowly water jug which became a staple of some of the most sophisticated percussion music the world is likely to know. The three-chambered vessel was a Stephen Freedman experiment, done with the idea that it could be played by more than one person. It’s resonant properties suggested the inclusion of air sounds in the piece. Besides being struck and scraped with hands and sticks, it functions as a variable resonator for a dijeridu. The Jaltarong occurs in various forms in several Asian Cultures. The basic idea is that one hits rice bowls with chopsticks. The Repairmen hit them rather hard, so Steve made the bowls of porcelain. The array of tubes, at least as played by the Repairmen, is not directly related to any specific traditional instrument. The Vietnamese have “klong put”, which are bamboo tubes of specific pitch which are not, however actually struck. They are activated by clapping one’s hands near the opening. Various tribes of Papua, New Guinea use tubes to strike the ground, producing musical tones. The twenty-four tubes used in Ghatam are open at both ends. They are struck in various places with foam sandals, pucks, slit blocks of wood, and sticks of different kinds. The actual content of this section is the most closely related to traditional music. It is based on some of the bata rhythms employed in the music of Santeria.