Amplified Junk 

(by Mark Nauseef)

  Another aspect of playing found objects, junk and other newly discovered instruments concerns electronic modification. Although sometimes referred to as “amplified percussion”, this should not be confused with the common technique of miking something to simply make it louder as with overhead or close miking. Of course, in the right hands, these techniques help us to hear many sounds with harmonics we would have a difficult time or possibly no chance of hearing without the amplification, but there is another kind of electronic modification. By directly attaching some sort of pickup to either the sound source itself or directly to the rack / stand which holds the sound source, sounds can be amplified and modified. When mounting the pickup directly onto the rack or frame, consideration should be given as to what kind of metal is used for the racking as the jewels of sound live within the vibrations traveling through the rack and into the pickups. Metal book shelf-support works very well as it is a good conductor for sending rich and powerful vibrations to the pickup and it also has screw holes which can be very helpful when attaching metal, cymbals, springs, wire and other bits of junk. The difference with this amplification technique compared with the previously mentioned techniques is mainly because of the extreme / radical signal / sound generated because of the direct contact with the sound source. So this is also amplification, which helps extension of our range of hearing, but this is extension / modification which also changes (mutates) the sound. Once played, the sound source/ instrument sends a mutated sound (because of the direct miking) into an amplifier that will produce a new and unusual sound due to all the transient weirdness and over the top vibrations that the pick-up is trying to handle. The incorporation of guitar pedals and electronics (the cheaper, the better!) can modify the sound even further. Ring modulators, compressors, volume pedals, pitch shifting devices…. and not the expensive designer gear, but the cheap stuff. Besides the obvious financial benefit, cheap devices can be the favored choice as the cheesy electronics used within them often tend to respond to the instrument / signal by producing a mutated sound which is often richer in color and contains far more grease, grime and grit than expensive “good” stuff. Junk of allsorts, found objects (kitchenware, etc.) and cymbals when amplified and modified in this way can be a radically beautiful experience of exploring new instruments that are producing new sounds via your own new technique.                                                                            

It's very personal as there are no other instruments like an instrument of your own design which requires a personal / individual technique. Some of the early pioneers of these techniques of close miking and / or modification of acoustic sounds via processing include Max Neuhaus, John Cage, Hugh Davies and Karlheinz Stockhausen. Regarding percussionists, Tony Oxley was first working with “amplified percussion” in 1970. Amplified racks of metal, springs, knives, wires, egg slicer… all amplified by pick-ups attached to the racks. The signal is then sent through sound modification devices (ring modulators, compressors, pitch shifter, volume pedals, etc,) before being sent through the amplifier. There is nothing like it. Sounds are stretched, bent, squeezed, shifted…and when Tony Oxley works with “amplified percussion” it is usually integrated with various drums, metals, woods and cymbals being played with sticks, mallets, chains, etc.( for great examples of Tony Oxley's work with amplified percussion, check his recordings on Incus Records; February Papers, Tony Oxley and Soho Suites). Concerning pickups. My Snakish brother Miroslav Tadić gave me the idea for amplifying my rack of junk with Walkman headphones. Talk about cheap! Miroslav used rubber bands to tightly attach the headphone earpieces to the rack, using them as microphones / pickups as opposed to headphones. Were talking about the ones that they give away with the Walkman, nothing expensive, strictly JUNK. Thanks to Miroslav's ideas and help and with a little cash (but not much) I can explore sounds which I have never heard before with many parameters for shaping / playing both electronically with devices, and through my choice of how to activate / play the instrument (pluck, hit, scrape, scratch, rub, superball, bow, kick…). The intensity / impact of whichever technique is used along with the choice of which material the instruments are being activated with, makes quite a difference to how the electronics process the initial sound. Although the amplified sound going directly from the rack of junk to the amp can be a beautiful sound, it can also be completely out of control. Even without modifiers such as a ring modulator, distortion boxes, pitch changers and other devices, a volume pedal is a good idea for shaping and controlling the sound. A compressor is helpful in controlling the extreme dynamic produced by the wide range of sound sources used which are being directly and cheaply miked and played with a large assortment of materials and techniques. The compressor is also helpful in protecting the speakers from murder when you forget to release the volume pedal from the completely open position and you strike a mighty blow with a Louisville Slugger baseball bat to a thick piece of metal, which is tightly attached to the rack!

   Now those pathetic headphones have great value. One day it's junk, the next day it's still junk but now it's talking to you, and with an attitude!!!