Starting a topic without really knowing what to expect from it. I am playing at a gig outside in two weeks, and have to find some speakers. I can borrow some from friends, but I have been trying to transform issues into contextual challenges that impact (positively?) my music. So I am looking from alternative ways to emit sound. And, maybe irrelevant but still, I am playing next to a small gorgeous waterfall. I think this is awesome.
This is the context. I am not starting this topic to solve this specific question (although it would be a nice collateral) but to open a discussion about “exotic speakers”, DIY, lo-fi etc…, interesting things with a plug at one end and sound at the other.
If you get a couple nice surface transducers you can pretty much turn any surface you want into a set of speakers. Tables, the wall, panes of glass, pots and pans. The sound will adopt the characteristics of the object’s natural resonance so you can get some interesting effects from them. Very easy to do, you just need a way to securely mount the transducer to your object.
A piezo is pretty similar if you just plug it into an audio output, just much weaker. I originally got a transducer to pair with piezo pick ups for turning random objects into plate-reverb-type-thingies and it can be a lot of fun.
Dayton Audio are the only ones I’ve tried, and they work really well. They have all their products listed and described here. What you get will depend on how much power you need and what you plan on sticking it to, but you should be able to find what you need there.
Also worth pointing out that you can essentially do the same thing by ripping the driver out of an existing speaker. But transducers are cheap so that doesn’t really make sense unless you have an unused one sitting around somewhere.
Leslie speakers are fun. I have one ripped from an old organ which i need to fix up a bit to make it more easily usable (add legs/a box, plus I need to wire up a switch to change speed; it has two separate motors rather than any actual speed control electronics!) but my quick test sounded great. It’s basically a large down-facing speaker over a spinning polystyrene scoop, would actually be easy to build. some kind of motor/turntable and weird-shaped styrene or other material constructions to create different sounds could be interesting
Fascinating topic; I’ve been exploring unconventional speakers in a studio and performance setting for a while now.
My findings so far – except for what has been cited already – revolve around speakers with a diffusor: take a regular speaker, mounted in a regular enclosure or on a large plate (open-back), and put a plate of metal/wood/acrylic on top of it, so as to block all sound (must be airtight). Then pierce a large hole in this plate, more-or-less aligned with the center of the speaker, but smaller than it. The sound diffuses at 180 degrees (like radio waves in a radar), and gives a very different feeling than traditional unidirectional speakers. I’m experimenting with hole numbers, sizes and placements and getting very varied frequency responses.
Also interesting (to me): dropping/attaching various objects (metal, cardboard…) directly on loudspeakers cones, or blocking the travel of the coil in various ways to create distortions/rattlings. Requires some assiduous dumpster diving to find old speakers to experiment with
Oh, bonjour Matthias ! I was just reading your interview on Hannes’s blog.
Horns didn’t cross my mind but they’re indeed a great solution. + I guess you’d need less power to get the same dB. Reminds me of this great festival that took place for a few years in the French Alps called Echo, maybe some of you know it. I got some images for you :
I’ve been reading about the various speakers used with the Ondes Martenot and I really want to try creating something similar to the Palme speaker. Has anyone tried anything like this? It looks like the transducers are somehow connected straight to the bridge that the strings are connected to, so they get a stronger excitation signal than if they were relying purely on sympathetic vibration.
I imagine a zither could work really well for this, but I’m going to try some experiments with my guitar and cello once I get ahold of a properly sized transducer.
EDIT: forgot to post this article as well–goes into much more detail about the Palme itself and mentions an instance of someone who seems to have created a similar device from a zither.
I’m not sure this answers your question but I hope it’s interesting enough for this thread to share:
For a few years now I’ve used a Vibesware GR-1 Junior, which is this magnetic transducer on a gooseneck that you set up on a mic stand. The way it’s supposed to be used is as a hands-free EBow, although more realistic in the way it feeds back since it has a wider magnetic field and vibrates several strings at once. How I tend to use it is plug a synth into it and then resonate some other string instrument (or a sheet of metal, it can give you some very interesting results as well).
I tend to use a squareneck dobro as the resonator, mostly because it’s what I have lying around but I also think its trebly metallic tone is very suitable for this type of application and also since its strings are further away from the fretboard, it doesn’t cause fret buzz as easily, which I’ve noticed this type of setup is very prone to with fretted instruments.
I also, just personally, prefer the diatonic tuning.
One thing I’ve noticed that is very prominent is that depending on the transducer’s position across the string it emphasizes very different harmonics, very similar to playing harmonics with your finger. I tend to find positioning it around the 4th fret to give the richest sound in terms of higher frequency harmonics, but that is totally a personal preference.
Here is an example of a synth by itself and then it going through the dobro’s strings, picked up by a contact mic (there is some bleed from a harp being played but I hope it’s fine for demonstration purposes), both completely dry otherwise:
I hope you found that useful. The sound I’ve been going for is very different from what I’ve heard of the Palme speaker (what I’ve heard of it has been imo too subtle in its effect to my purposes and I’m also not really a fan of its chromatic tuning) but the techniques are at least similar.
There must be something in the air. I’ve been recording lately with a guitar & transducer setup that was originally inspired by the Palme (but also by David Tudor’s Rainforest, and sustainer technologies like @oot is using), and @tristan_louth_robins recently posted a nice transducer- & guitar-based piece for the latest Junto.
I’ve used transducers / bass shakers to resonate electric guitar before too, which yields a less Ondes-y sound since, as with @oot’s setup, the resonated instrument isn’t inherently acting as a speaker, so you have the option to completely eliminate the “dry” signal and record or listen to the strings alone.
I also have a cheap electric lap steel that I initially bought to use with transducers as a compact set of sympathetic strings, but so far I’ve been too distracted playing it as a lap steel to use it that way yet. I’ll get around to it eventually.
Oh, and cymbals are amazing too. For the Métallique diffuser sound.
Out of curiosity, how, uh, “fiddly” is the GR? Do you find you have to place it very carefully and leave it there, or can you get nice results from changing the position while playing? The clip sounds great, by the way – I’d love to hear it in context with the harp. Have you released recordings with this setup?
The way I use it is usually to place the guitar on a stand and then adjust the GR-1’s stand against it, which is fiddly in the way goosenecks very often are – you turn it and find a sweet spot only for it to immediately slouch that cm or so from that position when you let go. I tend not to touch it once I’ve set it up simply because I always have some other instrument in my hands.
Moving an instrument like a guitar around it as it’s intended does however work really well and while the amplitude is quite different across the string, the same is true with the frequency content of the input signal, as you heard in that clip. I like using it with a compressor as often inputs that are less consonant with the string’s root note is are more interesting.
It does crossfade cleanly between strings (completely different from something like an EBow), sounds very interesting to do with percussion.
At my previous job I had the chance to listen to a pair of these Avant Garde horns with 4 stacked subwoofers (6 seen in the first photo here). Can’t remember exactly but I think they collaborated on some sort of audio installation recently as well? The horns sound amazing, but were very tweaky to dial in.
Wow, this is a fascinating topic of discussion! and thanks to @synthetivv for mentioning me and getting me involved in the chat. I’m looking forward to checking out some of the links that others have shared.
Yes, I’m a big fan of transducer/exciters for resonating surfaces. For the past year I’ve also be experimenting with the great DIY approach of ‘corked speakers’. I first came across this in Nicolas Collins’ wonderful book, Handmade Electronic Music many years ago.
All you do is find a decent sized speaker - say 8-10 cm in diameter - and affix a cork (ideally a fat champagne-style cork) to the centre of the cone. I made a few of these by fixing the corks with some hot glue to speakers of varying dimensions. Basically it’s a crude driver, whereby whatever signal/frequency you send through the speaker (depending on the amplitude/signal strength) will cause the cork to move/oscillate in tandem. You’ll get a great result by using pure waves at a frequency anywhere between 10-100 Hz, depending on the speaker, amplifier, etc.
I’ve had some interesting results by placing them in contact with resonant surfaces like baking trays, cymbals and wine glasses (be careful with this one though!) Aside from the resonance factor, you can place objects over the moving cork to create all kinds of rattling, shaking and sibilent sounds (alfoil and crumpled paper are particularly fun).