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Ingeniously Improvised Instrumentation

written by: on December 13, 2012

There are some musicians, such as Brian Wilson and Frank Zappa, who went well out of their way to incorporate odd instrumentation, showcasing unconventional instruments. Then there are musicians who see the potential in objects that even Zappa would have raised an eyebrow to. They take old vacuum cleaners, rubber-bands, hand-saws and pet parrots and blend them perfectly into their music. Here are some musicians who put down the classic instruments and opted to play something wholly different.

“Bugman” – Blur (1999)

Blur’s sixth studio album, 13, is a dark reverberation of the best of the 1990s with catchy grunge hooks mixed into melancholic gospel, and most obviously, noise-rock goodness. The band must have taken a page or two from Sonic Youth’s experimental days for the track “Bugman,” judging by the chaotic vacuum cleaner solo two minutes in. It’s argued that it is a power drill sounding off (a nod to Sonic Youth), but the familiar vacuum cleaner sound seems to fit all too well with the bug theme. “Bugman” comes off as an anthem for bug-haters, and Damon Albarn can almost be seen maniacally sucking up bugs as he sings “space is the place.”

“Hellbent For Feathers” – Hatebeak (2007)

Humans can produce rather brutal vocals ranging from low guttural inhales to panther-like shrieks. Yet nothing comes close to the high pitched squawks and pitch perfect imitation that a parrot can pull off. Hatebeak is a band that took this to heart and employed the harsh vocals of the Congolese African Parrot, Waldo. Waldo may just be imitating what he hears (grindcore all day long, perhaps?), but his contribution to the death-metal scene is unprecedented. Plus, it’s so fucking metal to lock up your vocalist and only use them for music.

“God Hates a Coward” – Tomahawk (2001)

“God Hates a Coward” is a song that glares at listeners, showing off the talent of a greatly unrecognized super-group. Duane Denison of Jesus Lizard, John Stanier of Helmet and Kevin Rutmanis of Melvins crank out heavy jams while Mike Patton of Faith No More/Mr.Bungle grabs listeners by the neck with his vicious vocals and seamless sampling. Patton dawns a painters mask for the verses of “God Hates a Coward”, giving the vocals a signature sound as he spouts about chewing fat souls, and paying attention to God’s warmongering. Patton ascends into high pitched screaming like a toddler throwing a tantrum, and this track becomes another example of how he is one of the most creative vocalists a band could have.

”Over the Rainbow (Live)” – That One Guy (2008)

If there’s any person to make this list it’s the funky mad scientist, That One Guy. His primary instrument is “the magical pipe,” a harp shaped series of metal pipes fixed with two bass strings and sample buttons aplenty that hold random beats/sounds for his beck and call. Aside from this, he has a “magical boot” with built in sampling buttons. A shining and totally beautiful example of his genius is his live version of “Somewhere over the Rainbow,” where he plays his magical pipe, before moving on to play a hand-saw like a violin for the main part of the song (starts three minutes in). This version comes off more like a jam to himself, alone in a bar full of chatty people, as he serenades his soul with “Oh why, oh why can’t I?”

“Telephone and Rubberband” – Penguin Café Orchestra (1987)

Reminiscent of the days of brick phones with toned buttons, “Telephone and Rubberband” is a quaint piece by the Chamber Jazz group The Penguin Café Orchestra that incorporates old digital tones and a single rubber band. The group was founded by Simon Jeffes and Helen Liebmann, but the lineup has constantly shifted to what Jeffes has arranged. In this arrangement, an acoustic guitar picks along as a violin hangs delicately over repetitive dial tones and a rubber band played as some sort of miniature stand-up bass.