It's always fun to see what types of woodworking projects other woodworkers decide to build, particularly when the creativity and craftsmanship are inspiring. We recently came across one woodworker's site that truly deserved some exploration.
Sound Play, Inc. has been building outdoor musical instruments for over 25 years, and are one of only a handful of companies in America that design, build and install musical playscapes. Sound Play's master craftsman, designer and musician, Bond Anderson, has been an Artist-in-Education since 1981, and has conducted numerous hands-on design workshops for institutions such as the Smithsonian Institution and the Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum in New York.
Sound Play's recent works are on display (and may be played) in numerous locations around the world, including Zilker Park in Austin, Texas, the University of Chicago Children's Hospital, the Oklahoma City Zoo, the Da Vinci Academy, and many more locations. All of Sound Play's instruments conform to established guidelines for security and universal accessibility, using child-safe materials such as Brazilian Ipe', "Trex" brand wood/polymer lumber, stainless steel, aluminum, PVC pipe and more.
You may be thinking to yourself, "What does a wooden percussion instrument sound like?"
One of the most interesting aspects of Sound Play's web site is the audio files they have posted of sounds produced by these beautiful instruments. Not only do they sound really unique, but some of the drums, painted and carved to look like animals such as alligators, turtles and dragons, are quite detailed.
These instruments aren't restricted to playgrounds or schools either. If you like the idea of a musical playscape on your patio, Sound Play can fill the bill. The picture of the playscape deck on the home page shows one idea for a residential application.
We recently had an opportunity for a Q&A with Bond, to learn more about his experiences as a woodworker, musician and designer.
Q: I see your musical credentials on your site, but would you tell me a little bit about your experiences in woodworking (assuming that you do, or at least at the beginning, did the woodworking on the instruments)?
A: My father always had a wood working shop in the basement or garage wherever we lived and I enjoyed building things with him and refinishing furniture. I took woodworking and drafting classes in junior high, but didn’t get back to wood working until my wife and I moved to Georgia in 1978. I helped build her father’s home and remodel and make some furniture for a house my wife and I bought. I began making musical instruments with children through the Georgia Council for the Arts Artists-in-Education Program. I read a lot of magazines and books on woodworking and was a real pest with the inter-library loan service doing research on making musical instruments and music of other cultures. I bought tools and machinery when my bank account allowed, and slowly built up the collection in my shop. I even experimented with harvesting local woods and milling boards to see which had the best sound. Now, there are three of us in the shop making instruments, one part time helper and Meg, my wife, painting the animal drums and reluctantly doing the book keeping.
Q: What was the inspiration for your first playground instrument?
A: The children with whom I worked provided the inspiration. We would display the instruments they had made during my residency along with several other “found object” instruments: flower pot and milk bottle bells, brake drum and hub cap gongs, simple xylophones strung like a suspension bridge between trees. Everyone enjoyed playing them so much that it seemed like a worthwhile thing to find a way to make a more durable version of the instruments.
Children on the playground confirmed the need for outdoor musical instruments as I heard them play, teasing each other with chants about pants and France, playing clapping games and singing jump rope songs. Music was already an integrated part of their play. I built the first permanent installation with the students at Annie Bell Clarke Elementary School, Tifton, GA in 1982.
Q: I see where you use Brazilian Ipe’ for the tone bars on the Tenor Marimba and Amadinda. I’d assume you chose this species for its weather resistance. Even though it is weather resistant, do you find that any variations in the moisture content of the stock used for the tone bars causes an appreciable change in the tones created by the tone bars?
A: Yes, moisture content plays a role in tuning the bars, but so does air temperature, humidity and altitude. The instruments are going to live outdoors, so they are exposed to the elements and their intonation will fluctuate with the weather. Generally, as it gets colder, the sound of the instruments is softer because the pitch of the bar and the pitch of the resonator that amplifies the sound are no longer an exact match. As the weather warms, the volume increases again. We buy air-dried lumber and store it in our shed until we are ready to make the tone bars. We select the wood so we can get all of the tone bars for one instrument from a single board. The tuning process takes a couple of days. We rough tune the bars to a 3rd above the final pitch by cutting a band sawed arch on the bottom of the tone bar and then use a stationary belt sander to bring the bar closer to its final pitch. Routing edges and finish sanding the bars complete the process. We allow the bars to cool before the final tuning check and staining. After the bars have been in the shop a few days, we check the tuning again and correct any variation.