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Names – Feynman Diagrams and Didgeridoos

December 4, 2010 Leave a comment

So, after some comments by a couple of friends of mine about a photo of the latest medusa, a very geeky physics joke (well, joke is maybe stretching it a bit as I am not sure how funny it really is) came to mind. Usually I just keep such things to myself but somehow this one got out. Anyway, here is another picture of the instrument,

Medusa model November - December 2010

Medusa model November - December 2010

and here is a picture of a Feynman diagram.

A Medusa Feynman diagram

Feynman diagram

So… What do you get when you cross a didgeridoo with a Feynman diagram?? My mate Florio suggested that it is a Feyndidge, a cute name indeed. So I am now confronted with a dilemma. Is my new musical instrument an Electric Medusa or a Feyndidge, or both, or neither. ..

Maybe the Feynman diagrams without closed circuits lead to Meduse (the Medusa diagram!). I still have a project to try some tunings with loops in the circuit and in that case the Medusa story (Electric Medusa = Collection of electric Serpents) does not really work anymore. They would certainly be Feyndidges:)

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Categories: Opendidge

Tuning and Timb(e[r)e]

November 20, 2009 Leave a comment

I have been pretty busy lately working on some new models of the Electric Medusa and continuing work on the realisation of a musically interesting Harmonic Opendidge (the basic ideas of which I have already discussed in an earlier blog entry). More news about both of these soon once I have resolved a few technical issues. Also coming up is a gathering of didgeridoo players on the 5th of December here in North-East Italy and close to the beautiful and spectacular ex-fortress (designed by Leonardo da Vinci) of Palmanova. During the afternoon I will also give a workshop on the opendidge, from the acoustics to construction and tuning, and the evening during the concert will play a few pieces that I have composed specifically for the Electric Medusa.

I will now turn to the next few questions of Dubravko Lapaine, that are once again addressing some of the first questions that I had faced in developing this instrument and which are part of the surprising things that I found after discovering the basic idea.

The questions are the following:
2. Can you tune it to any scale? At least theoretically..
3. How much can you change timber, and in what spectrum is change the strongest? Can you “emulate” different materials of classical didge by changing timbre?
4. How much does material of EM affect the sound – and in reference to “normal” didge?

Three questions about tuning, timbre and effect of materials on the sound.

Tuning: In principle with enough finger holes you can tune to any scale. In practice this is limited by the number of fingers that we have on our hands. With a three tube model and
three finger holes you have eight possible combinations and the lowest note for each finger combination together can form part of a scale. These can be tuned to correspond to major or minor and various other scales. I plan to make available here a simple computer program that helps calculate the various finger hole placements and tube lengths needed to attain a given tuning but I would like to pretty it up and test it a little more first.

Timbre: The timbre of a given note is related to the proportion of the different resonant frequencies present in the sound spectrum when that note is played. The opendidge has
a unique characteristic that distinguishes it from all reed instruments due to the fact that the playing position is never precisely at the point of greatest air pressure variation. The result of this is that different frequencies can be excited in different proportions, depending upon the precise playing position.

A simple example is a tube 2 metres long (for example..). If we place the mouthpiece half way along the tube we can only excite the odd-harmonics of the tube in this
case producing in the spectrum of the fundamental (about an E2) other frequencies at
B3, G#4 etc… If instead we place the mouthpiece one third of the way along the tube at about 66 cm, then we produce the fundamental (E2) the octave E3. After this we miss the
third harmonic at B5 and then produce E4 and G#4. Clearly then by further shifting the mouthpiece one can create other timbres. In addition for an instrument like the Electric Medusa with three or more tubes there are more options for timbre and even the possibility of having a single instrument that produces two or three different timbres.

In principle one could, with some calculation, find combinations of tube lengths that would produce a desired timbre but I prefer to think of these timbric changes as a feature of the opendidge and provide us with a huge extension of the timbres possible with a didgeridoo.

Timber (or materials): It is certainly true that the material from which the Electric Medusa is constructed will have some influence on the sound produced, but this will not be significantly different from the way in which different materials influence the sound of a didgeridoo. Depending on the elasticity and sonic absorption of the material some frequencies may be accentuated or attenuated. I hope to be able to say more about this once I have started making instruments from some different materials. If anyone has already done so and has some comments to make please do so:)

Back soon with some more news and info.

Categories: Opendidge

Deep notes on the Electric Medusa

October 26, 2009 3 comments

This is the first of the questions sent to me by Dudo (Dubravko Lapaine). There are others but each merits its own blog entry so we will do them one at a time.

Dudo: How deep is the deeepest practical EM and how deep could the deepest impractical one go?

Martin: The deepest Electric Medusa that I have made so far arrives at a low A (la) at around 27.5 Hz. It is not too difficult to play the note, certainly much easier than playing the same note on a very long cylindrical tube a little over three metres in length and with a diameter of 35mm or so.
Making the diameter of the mouthpiece a few millimetres larger than the current Electric Meduse mouthpieces (30mm) one can certainly arrive at a low E (about 20 Hz and the lower limit of human hearing) and probably lower without too much difficulty. I will prepare an mp3 or video as soon as I can and post it here and on youtube.

With the combination of a mouthpiece of the appropriate dimensions and then smaller tubes exiting from the mouthpiece one can achieve deep notes without too much difficulty due to the increased backpressure as compared to a cylindrical tube. Although an instrument of this type will not radiate acoustically as does an instrument with a large bell, the electric medusa has amplification built into the mouthpiece and this responds very well to both low and high frequencies obviating the need for the large bell and thus simplifying the construction of the instrument considerably.

I like to think of the electric medusa as an electric guitar, or maybe more appropriately an electric bass. Without amplification the sound produced is of very low volume while attached to the amplifier it is very powerful.

Of course the question of deep notes is also strongly related to playing technique. A really good exercise for loosening up the embouchure is learning to play notes in the really deep register. A reasonable definition of the really deep register is from a low E and down (below 40 Hz say). I will write a separate blog post on deep notes in the near future.

Categories: Opendidge

Ruminations and a picture

October 22, 2009 Leave a comment

For almost a year now, there has not passed a day, (well every now and then some days have passed but there are not too many of them), that I have not thought about, designed, built or played one of my meduse or opendidges. And at least when doing the thinking and designing some strange shapes and designs may spontaneously appear from the fog and I sometimes even manage to get them onto paper. So here is another…. a lot more medusa-like than many of the others.

medusa6

On a slightly different note,
I often receive questions about the medusa and recently my mate Dubravko Lapaine has kindly asked me a few interesting ones. In the next week or so I will dp the best to answer his questions here thus sharing some hopefully interesting information with all the (other) people reading this blog..

Categories: Opendidge

Some Medusa Music by Francesco

October 17, 2009 Leave a comment

To my great pleasure I was informed of a new video on youtube made by my mate Francesco from Venice. He was one of the first (two) buyers of one of my electric medusa. I really like the way that the tubes curve to a convenient set of finger holes. Thanks Francesco and lovely playing:)

Categories: Opendidge

The harmonic didge

September 22, 2009 Leave a comment

The harmonic didge is an interesting variation on the general opendidge idea and I have been working on it over the last month or so. This variation grew from a desire to make an instrument that can play sequences of notes that are in harmonic relation to each other while using only a minimal number of tone holes. The version of this instrument that has finally emerged is indeed quite simple although it can also be very long…

The instrument that I was playing with last night is 340cm long. The lowest note is a G1 (49Hz) and then subsequently opening the two tones holes one at a time you can play A1, C#2 and E2. The form is purely cylindrical and as it is an open didge you can play all harmonics above each of these base notes. As also is characteristic of the opendidge a few of the overtones may exhibit low back pressure or zero back pressure and are not musically useful. The scale that one can play in the 2nd and higher octaves is based on the Lydian mode with a flattened 7th – the Lydian Dominant scale.

For the moment, the pickup is of the electric buzzer type (costing about 1 euro) which surprisingly in this case can be plugged directly into the high-Z input of an electric guitar amp.. I was amazed especially as the first time I tried I plugged it into a cheap and old and badly treated Vester (50 watt) amp and the sound was really sweet…

The instrument presents many interesting musical possibilities and once I have explored them I will put up a video.

If you want to try to make one you just need 340cm of pipe of internal diameter 25mm and a t-junction (for the mouthpiece). The mouthpiece t-junction should be located 1 metre from one end and there should be a hand-hole 40cm from the same end. The long side should have a second hand hole one metre from the end. You should put a couple of curves in the tube so that both hand holes are reachable when you are in the playing position.

The idea to find an harmonic version of the opendidge was inspired by the Fujara, a harmonic flute that comes from Slovakia. A truly beautiful instrument which also has the form of a long cylindrical pipe with three fingerholes and then from the harmonics has a range of almost 4 octaves based on the mixolydian mode. I am still working on finding the ideal configuration.

Categories: Opendidge

How I found the OpenDidge

September 17, 2009 1 comment

From the time that I started playing didgeridoo, quite some years ago now, I have been playing with modifications of the form and timbre of the instrument. In a parallel process I have spent many years learning and refining the playing techniques of the Yolngu people, an Australian Aboriginal population coming from the North-East of Arnhem Land. To learn more about the Yolngu and their art and the yidaki (didgeridoo) in their culture go to the Buku-Larrngay Mulka.

This study and pondering on form and structure has lead me to doodle
in a good many scattered notebooks.

A medusa doodle

A medusa doodle

The final result of this doodling is the concept of the opendidge and its many varied forms.
Looking back, the opendidge is the natural evolution of all of these years of messing around, but I certainly could never have imagined the strange twists that lead me to the final uncovering of this concept – as surprising as it is simple. There are some videos of the opendidge and electric medusa on my youtube channel – martindidge. Here is the one with the explanation of the basic principles of the opendidge.

Actually in its most essential form the opendidge is a tube that is open at both ends and with a mouthpiece in the side of the tube. The exact location of the mouthpiece determines the timbre and playable overtones but the fundamental note remains the same.

Categories: Opendidge