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Listening to art. Playing with audio. Sounding out technology. Composing in code. Rewinding the soundscape.

Disquiet Junto Project 0003: “The Expanded Glass Harp”

The Assignment: Pay tribute to Benjamin Franklin and his armonica

Each assignment in the ongoing Disquiet Junto series of projects serves several purposes. The underlying purpose of these initial ones is to help define what, exactly, the Junto is all about.

Certainly it is about the use of constraints to stoke creativity. That is the Junto’s stated purpose. But one constraint was to be avoided from the start: the Junto is not a sample-of-the-week endeavor. And thus, at the risk of being met with mass disinclination, the third project was designed to test some boundaries. It required the participants to record a live performance. This meant no post-production, which is something of an anomaly in a realm of music-making that, oftentimes, takes place entirely in a creative zone that would be considered “post-production.” Despite some initial concerns on my part about potentially limiting turnout, almost three dozen musicians uploaded finished tracks.

These were the instructions:

This project is in honor of Benjamin Franklin, after whose Junto Society our little group was named.

In an effort to expand and refine the glass harp, Franklin developed his own lathe-like glass harmonica, which he called the “armonica.” Marie Antoinette took lessons on it and Beethoven composed for it, but Franklin’s invention proved expensive and fragile, and it had a limited lifetime. And it may have given its frequent users lead poisoning.

You are not being asked to build a Franklin armonica. But like Franklin, we are going to expand on the glass harp. In our case, we are going to do so digitally.

You’re being asked to use the more common instrument, the glass harp. That involves the familiar “rubbing the top of a wine glass that has water in it” approach:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Glass_harp

The Junto assignment is to record a live performance on the glass harp, and to employ live processing in the performance. There should be no post-production. And there is no length limit for the piece, though I would suggest that anything over 15 minutes may limit the size of your potential audience.

We could just as easily — more easily, really — used samples of glass harps and harmonicas as pre-made building sonic blocks for the piece. But the goal was to be true to Franklin, whose Junto lent its name to our collective endeavor. Franklin was as famous for his inventions and scientific inquiries as he was for his role in the development of the United States government. (An inveterate constructor of organizations — not just of his Junto, but of fire departments, militia, schools, and lending libraries — it’s quite possible to see the U.S.A. as the largest club he helped invent. Our ambitions are not so large.) And since the armonica was developed by him as an instrument for live performance, it seemed only right to use the glass harp in a live setting. (Just as a side note: the title of the piece was inspired by the concept of “expanded cinema.”)

Here, for further background, is an excerpt on the armonica from the Benjamin Franklin biography written by Walter Isaacson:

The assignment was made late in the day on Thursday, January 19, with 11:59pm on the following Monday, January 23, as the deadline.

View a search return for all the entries: disquiet0003-glass. As of this writing, there are 35 tracks associated with the tag.

Visit, listen to, and consider joining the group at soundcloud.com/groups/disquiet-junto.

A full list of Junto projects is housed on Disquiet.com.

(The images up top are from the tracks contributed, going clockwise from upper left, by: Matthew Barlow, Mark Rushton, Brian Biggs, and Ted Laderas)

By Marc Weidenbaum

Tags: , , / Comments: 6 ]

6 Comments

  1. all n4tural
    [ Posted February 1, 2012, at 8:00 am ]

    just came across this:

    “Did Ben Franklin kill Beethoven and Mozart?” http://www.physicsforums.com/showthread.php?t=85856

  2. Marc Weidenbaum
    [ Posted February 1, 2012, at 8:05 am ]

    Ha. Thanks. Benjamin Franklin: Classical-Composer Killer, a good follow-up to the one in which Lincoln slays vampires.

  3. all n4tural
    [ Posted February 1, 2012, at 8:12 am ]

    ah, the plot thickens: http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=5041495

    “New tests confirm that Ludwig van Beethoven suffered from lead poisoning. ..”

  4. Marc Weidenbaum
    [ Posted February 1, 2012, at 8:16 am ]

    During the Great Wikipedia Blackout of, well, half a day or so in January 2012 there was a fun thread on Twitter called #FactsWithoutWiki, in which we all tried to assist high school and college students trying to make due without their dependency. I submitted several including the “fact” that Benjamin Franklin had developed the armonica primarily as a clandestine attempt to assassinate Marie Antoinette.

    • all n4tural
      [ Posted February 1, 2012, at 8:20 am ]

      i remember that! very funny.

      i was smiling out loud at a lot of the tweets under that hash, gave me a bit of hope for humanity.

      feels like approx. 42 kadzillion years ago ..

      • Marc Weidenbaum
        [ Posted February 1, 2012, at 8:26 am ]

        It does feel like between 17 and 63 kadzillion years ago.

        Every Saturday afternoon I read through the list of ([email protected]) tweets that I sent in the previous seven days, and I am astonished by just how long ago so many of them feel.

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  • about

  • Marc Weidenbaum founded the website Disquiet.com in 1996 at the intersection of sound, art, and technology, and since 2012 has moderated the Disquiet Junto, an active online community of weekly music/sonic projects. He has written for Nature, Boing Boing, The Wire, Pitchfork, and NewMusicBox, among other periodicals. He is the author of the 33 1⁄3 book on Aphex Twin’s classic album Selected Ambient Works Volume II. Read more about his sonic consultancy, teaching, sound art, and work in film, comics, and other media

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