One of the things I’ve most enjoyed about developing the Llif/Flow project has been the development of a family of marble-based instruments. Lisa and I's original plan was to just amplify the marble runs – the slate, the metal, the plastic pipe – on the slopes at Pontio because they sound great as the marbles travel along them.
And we were delighted to find that left over building materials onsite at Pontio, look and sound great as marble runs....
We always use found materials to create our marble runs. Not only because they are free (yay!) but also because they create a sense of place - culture, materials, vernacular, history and so on. There's something about using 'waste' that makes it almost impossible not to think about time and change. These materials make you look at things more closely too - we have spent a lot of time working out which materials came from where (in Pontio's case, cladding of the building, mostly).
But as the R&D developed on the Llif/Flow project, and we found out more about different types of flow, we started to create different instruments to explore the sounds that these types of flow might make. We've now got an ensemble of marble instruments - I’m thinking perhaps we could call them LlifFlowioffonau. According to myinternet research, their ‘genus’ could be considered to be (mostly) ‘Idiophones’.
As Wikipedia says: “Idiophones are any musical instrument that creates sound primarily by the instrument as a whole vibrating—without the use of strings or membranes. It is the first of the four main divisions in the original Hornbostel–Sachs scheme of musical instrument classification (see List of idiophones by Hornbostel–Sachs number).”
[Wikipedia also warns us not to confuse an idiophone with an ideophone - the latter is sound symbolism in language: interesting in itself but I'm trying to stay focused]
So here is my amateur attempt to classify/describe the LlifFlowiophone ensemble.
"Struck idiophones" - made to vibrate by being struck with a marble
Stagnatoffôn (or Turbuleffôn)
The Stagnatoffôn uses the 'stagnation points' created behind each nail to create sound as the marble stops there temporarily. The resulting flow of marbles is turbulent (rather than laminar), and another name for this instrument (and prefered by our oceanographer, Jonathan) is Turbuleffôn, to distinguish it from the laminar flow in the Laminarffôn. The Stagnatoffôn can also be turned into a racetrack, making use of the impossibility of predicting which path will be fastest.
"Friction idiophones" – made to vibrate by the marble rolling along them
Most of our instruments come in this category.
Made from a wind chime I found in a skip in Beddgelert, the Laminarffôn sounds lovely, and looks like one of Jonathan's diagram of 'laminar flow that gets slower towards the bed'.
Made from an old light found at Tescos in Llandudno, the Forticiser sets up a good rhythm based on the flow of a vortex. (For non-Welsh speakers, an F is pronounced as a V in English).
Originally made for Gwyl Afon Ogwen last year, it turns out that the run that I've dremmeled out of this Ash branch from my garden sounds lovely when amplified ... and explores the idea of the 'most likely path' of a flow (in this case, the marble usually runs down the branch, but sometimes falls off).
Vortiquarium (big and little)
Lisa has always loved a vortex, and vortices are central to Jonathan's research as an oceanographer. So, inspired, Lisa has created two vortex experiences which make the most primal and unexpected sounds when amplified.
Deterministic runs (ie runs where you know the marble is going to go, for sure) are surprisingly tricky to create when using found and natural materials. This Determinoffôn made from scaffolding from Pontio and Jonathan's garden, and it makes no mistakes.
"Hybrid Struck-Friction Idiophones" – made to vibrate with a combination of rolling and striking
The LlechiCanuFfôn is made from a range of different types of slate, from Crawia to different sized roofing slates (empresses, wide ladies etc) and random bits found around Nantperis and Bethesda, including in Afon Ogwen. Some slates 'sing' and others don't: the singy-ness doesn't seem to be anything to do with the size or shape of it (that seems to more determines the pitch). If lots of singing slates are selected, they sound beautiful together.
The K-clampiffôn is still in development, made from an old shower enclosure from a barn in Nantperis. It celebrates the sound of a marble running (and skipping) through and along different metal and textured surfaces - reminding me of the 'random walk jump' term Jonathan uses in his research papers.
"The chordophone" – marble vibrates string or strings stretched between two points
The Lyre Marblan, the last in our collection of instruments (so far), was suggested by Dave Hopewell (chief in charge of sound at our show), based on the interesting sounds he gets when he records the sound of winds on fencing wire. This is made from old fencing wire from my garden and offcuts found in our shed.
So that's the end of our LlifFlowioffonau round up. Our show is next week. Here’s a 27 second taster of the sounds from the instruments, together with the sounds of Sioned on the clarinet and Katherine on the violin. Performances (which will also include bilingual flow poetry by Rhys Trimble) are at 2.30 and 4.30pm, and you can play the instruments, experiments and runs anytime 2-6pm.
And there are more marble instrument sounds here:
And an after-thought: In terms of classifying our instruments, I also liked this ‘Physics Based Musical Instrument Classification’. Although I suspect that it might be more intuitive than real physics, i can relate to the way they were thinking about inventing and classifying instruments, and their relation to physics. I wasn't quite able to work out which of ours would fit in where though...