What’s the definition of ‘instrument?’ Well, in music everyone has their own definition. That’s why the sounds we hear and make are so diverse.
In order to keep making new noise, we have to continue creating new noise makers. These days a MIDI controller can be anything. And it’s great.
But sometimes you have to think outside the gear.
They may seem strange, but these instruments are all proof that workflow, and the tools you use, are everything when it comes to making music.
Here’s 10 pieces of gear that are defined by the workflows of the creators who use them.
Vangelis – Custom MIDI Rig
It’s easy to mistake this clip for a scene from a Ridley Scott sci-fi movie. But believe it or not, this is actually Vangelis’ custom MIDI studio setup.
The full setup is (thankfully) explained in full here. Vangelis’ rig shows that as your own process evolves, your gear should evolve along with it.
What you keep in your studio should allow you to get your ideas out in the easiest, fastest and best way possible.
Vangelis still uses this setup today. In fact, he even used it on his production work with GZA. Ridiculous.
Watch below and find out what a setup looks like after decades of perfecting:
Keith Fullerton Whitman – Modular Setup Built to Fit On Planes
Building your own gear isn’t always about the sound it creates.
Keith Fullerton Whitman’s “Live Performance” Setup is as much about WHERE he uses it rather than HOW he uses it.
This modular unit is built for touring. The case is built to fit in all carry-on overhead compartments. That means Whitman can tour without having to put his fragile gear on the checked bag roller coaster.
Whitman’s setup shows the importance of proper gear handling—especially if you’re touring.
Watch Whitman demonstrate his convenient setup below:
Harry Partch – Chromelodeon, Marimba Erioca and Boo
Harry Partch was dedicated to creating a new music. And he did.
He even documented all of it in his book Genesis of a Music. Part of his new music included his own 43-tone scale.
To achieve his unique sound Partch experimented heavily with building his own instruments.
His collection proves that if you don’t hear the sound you need, make it.
The names of his instrument’s—like the Chromelodeon, Boo, Eucal Blossom, Spoils of War and Marimba Erioca—are almost as unique as the music itself.
His collection proves that if you don’t hear the sound you want, make it.
Partch takes you on a tour of his creations below:
Allan Gittler – Gittler Guitar
The Gittler guitar is the brainchild of Allan Gittler.
Gittler was tired of the acoustic guitar template that was used when designing electric guitar instruments. He believed the classic appearance no longer suited the instrument.
So he created the Gittler: A guitar stripped of all those unnecessary things like a fret-board, a wooden body and pretty much everything else that comes with a “normal” guitar.
Gittler’s creation proves that an instrument’s function is more important than it’s appearance. And a reminder that the most important part of your gear is the sound it makes and nothing else.
But of course the looks of the Gittler are still worth noting… Thankfully for Police guitarist Andy Summers, the Gittler fit perfectly in this painfully 80’s apocalyptic video for Synchronicity II:
Linda Manzer – The Pikasso
If you think twelve strings is crazy for a guitar then get ready… The Manzer Pikasso has forty-two.
Canadian Luthier Linda Manzer built this guitar for jazz composer Pat Metheny.
Metheny’s request? A guitar with “as many strings as possible.” Manzer delivered on the request in a strange but beautiful way.
Metheny’s request? A guitar with “as many strings as possible.”
The final design questions what a guitar can be. 48 strings may seem absurd on paper. But Metheny uses it to perfection on tons of classic recordings.
Watch below as Methany flies around Manzer’s unique cubist creation:
Pink Floyd – A Russian Wolf Hound Named Nobs
Not all instruments come in boxes from a music store. Sometimes thinking differently about what you put on your tracks is the secret ingredient.
Pink Floyd’s live recording of Seamus Live at Pompeii is proof that the word ‘instrument’ has loose definitions.
The song features a Russian Wolf Hound named Nobs on vocals. Or maybe it’s howls? Either way it’s an interesting look at how unlikely sounds can give interesting results and make your sound stand out.
Watch Nobs do her thing below:
Björk – The Gameleste
So you really love two instruments. But you can’t decide which one to use on your record.
The solution? Build an instrument that mashes both of them together. That’s what Björk did with the “Gameleste.” It’s a Gamelan and a Celeste in one unit.
The solution? Build an instrument that mashes both of them together.
Björk’s vision is ambitious but it’s a concept that you should use on a smaller scale in your own productions. The perfect sound is out there. It’s just waiting to be built.
Watch the Gameleste come to life below:
The Gameleste can be heard on Bjork’s Crystalline below:
Oval – An Aphex Twin CD
A music CD is the sound of instruments making noise. But it’s not an instrument itself. Or is it?
The german electronic group Oval turned an Aphex Twin CD into a musical instrument by drawing on it with markers, playing it back and sampling the glitches.
The result is haunting, beautiful and strange all at once. Instruments are everywhere. It just takes the right eyes and ears to find them.
Listen to Oval’s beautiful glitch symphony:
Matthew Bellamy – Manson MB-1
This epic guitar has a built in MIDI touch pad on it. According to Guitar World It can be used to control an “effects processor, digital synthesizer or even stage lighting.”
Bellamy’s design is a true testament to showmanship. With this guitar the limits of what you can do are pretty slim.
Instruments are always part of the performance—not an afterthought. The Manson MB-1 succeeds in staying true to that spirit.
Check the full demo below:
Nick Hook – The Perfect Space
Sometimes your instruments are only as good as the space that they’re in. Nick Hook’s NY studio is a whole bunch of instruments coming together to form one big super-unit.
“When an idea is ready, if you can’t capture it that second, everything was a waste of time.”
His studio includes a custom built shelf for all his gear, an Ableton Push controlling most of his setup and an overall workspace that’s “never off.”
Hook best describes the ethos behind his studio: “When an idea is ready, if you can’t capture it that second, everything was a waste of time.”
So don’t let gear be a limitation. Check out Hook’s entire setup below:
Instrument Is Relative
Every person on this list has their own definition of ‘instrument.’ You should as well.
Do you build your own instruments, gear or setups? Tell us! Nothing is better than peeking into someone else’s process.
And don’t forget to question your own definition of instrument in the music you make everyday. These artists certainly did…