December 9th, 2006

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giant hurdy-gurdy photos

Here are some blurry cameraphone pictures I took tonight of large hurdy-gurdies. Both hurdy-gurdies were made by Providence musician Steve Jobe, who also plays violin, viola, and regular-sized hurdy-gurdies.

The occasion tonight was an open rehearsal for a production that's planned for September of 2007, a collaboration with three dancers. As such, they're currently still working on nailing down exactly what they're going to do and how the production is going to work, and after they ran through a piece they would ask the audience if they had any questions, suggestions, or other feedback. It was pretty neat! I was there for about an hour, and would have stayed longer except that I had another social engagement I wanted to go to. (If I didn't have a show tomorrow I would try to go back then, just to see what changed between the two rehearsals.)

Steve Jobe is, as I understand it, the head musician for the production -- he designed and built conceived of most of the instruments (which, apart from the hurdy-gurdies, included some glass bells and a gong-drum, which is sort of like a bass drum whose heads have been replaced by gongs), and he wrote most of the music (although it sounds like some of it is improvised and other of it is emerging somewhat organically over the course of the rehearsals).

One of the hurdy-gurdies is, I believe, the first large hurdy-gurdy that Steve Jobe built. It's basically a drone; unlike other hurdy-gurdies there aren't the buttons that allow you to change the pitches of the strings while the instrument is being played. The body of the instrument is based on half of an oil barrel, and the frame reminded me of a cannon's enclosure or, to a lesser extent, a wheelbarrow. There's a basic hand-crank at one end, which drives a wooden wheel, which agitates the strings, which provides the notes. Here are a couple of pictures of it:

The cart's wheels occasionally squeak loudly as the instrument is wheeled around. The dancers drag it around and crawl over it during the show, and there was a discussion at one point as to how best to avoid getting maimed while they were doing this.

The other hurdy-gurdy is more complex, and unfortunately I didn't get to see it be played. While hurdy-gurdy #1 just has four bass strings and no way of changing the notes, hurdy-gurdy #2 has strings in three different registers and does have a bunch of buttons or stops which can be used to play notes in the top two registers (if I understand its working correctly). Each of the registers has its own hand-crank, so playing this instruments takes three people (one to man the bass crank, another to man the other two cranks, and a third to press the buttons).

On Steve Jobe's website there are some links to videos showing hurdy-gurdy #2 being played. They take a really long time to load, unfortunately, but they are pretty cool. movie #1 movie #2 (I would probably watch the second video first).

The strangest thing to me in watching hurdy-gurdies (of any size) being played is that, because of the way they work, they tend to be at a pretty constant volume -- which means when someone plays one they tend to go along full bore until the end of the piece, when the music abruptly stops as soon as the crank stops being turned. With pretty much every other instrument there tends to be a bit of reverberation or quick diminuendo even after the player stops playing the instrument, but this doesn't seem to be the case with the hurdy-gurdy, and it takes a bit of getting used to.

I signed up for Steve Jobe's mailing list and when the show actually opens I will try to tempt people I think might be interested to come to it. Be warned!
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Voice Post:

846K 4:11
“This morning I took my car in for a tuneup and also to generally get looked at because it seems like it hasn't been driving as smoothly as it has been in the past. So I dropped it off around 10, and then took a little walk around, had some lunch. Then I got a call back from the dealership asking me to head over there so that the mechanic could show me what had been causing the shimmying and stuff. And when they said that to me I though to myself, "Well that sounds like something expensive is about to happen." But I went over. It sounds like the main cause for the shimmying and whatnot is the rear brakedrums which are kind of full of crud, so I have to get those replaced. The front brakes are wearing pretty thin which may not be helping so those should be replaced also. And the guy said that he thought one of the tires the, one of the uh, belts was slipping, um, but for that he said-- he thought that it was worth just rotating the tires for now and seeing if that helps and if not then I should get the tires replaced. I think they might actually be under warranty. So all that's gonna cost $1200 about, uh, which is more than I was hoping to spend today, but hopefully after I spend it the car will be, um, more pleasant to drive than it has been. But that also means that you know they're going to hold onto it for another couple of hours, so thats another couple hours or driving around, er walking around scenic Warwick. One of the things that I've seen in my walks today is a hairstylist. The name of the hairstylist is sunny spelled Sunny and Shears. And a lot of hairstylists have puns in their names but that's gotta be just about the worst one I've ever seen. It's kind of impressive. The hairstylist also had a sign a big sign that said,

more for long hair

So that's a definition of the world _all_ that I don't think I was familiar with previously. While I was having my lunch I was somewhat productive: I put together some songs to play at tonight's show, and I also made some more CD labels. The guy who organizes the series of shows that I'm playing in said that, he, he claims that uh the crowd that tends to come to these shows is interested in buying CDs from the performers, and I was down to my last [three|few] CDs so coming up with more labels seemed like a good idea. Uh, it's perf', I, it--I'm really <chuckles> looking forward to, you know having time to sort of sit down and come up with my next CD which I hope will have more standardized labels that are not as labor intensive or creativity intensive as the current series. But, so, we'll see how it goes. Hope everyone's having a good weekend. So long.”

Transcribed by: cpr94