Nobody has ever mistakenly identified me as an improvisational musician. I am not that. I am, however, a fan of new things, tech+music things, DIY things and things that bring people together for whatever reason. Waterloo Tape Music Club is all that and I suppose that’s why I keep touching back with this group. I shot a few photos of their first meetup in Kitchener a year ago and caught up with them in March at Felt Lab in St Jacobs. Just last month, in the waning days of 2016, I was a fly on the wall for their most recent jam session inside the former Brick Brewery building on King Street in uptown Waterloo.
The group was looking for an industrial site, a large space offering lots of reverb, so I connected them with Josh at Distillery Labs (where I co-work), leading to a night of improvised electronic music, a blizzard and –22C temps notwithstanding.
The TL;DR: has nothing to do with music. Instead, it’s a suggestion that if you have an interest and a desire to connect with other of similar interests, then you can just start your own group. Whether you connect with 4, 40 or 400 people, the point is that anything you *do* is way better than watching youtube videos of other people doing stuff.
Here’s first-timer Jamie Miller. He’s got a PhD in environmental engineering. He does lectures and gives workshops on biomimicry at OCAD. He connected through Jordan at a conference in Toronto.
Click through for a borderline-unreasonable number of photos from the evening…
Setup, from above. Remember the big stainless steel brew tanks that used to live here? Just outside that window is King Street near Allen.
Matt Borland tuning up his whirling magnetic “guitar pick”. Y’all remember Matt, a PhD/maker/photographer/synth dude who teaches engineering classes at UW.
A photographic aside: maybe I should say “photographic resolution”, but anyway the goal is to take more risks in framing subjects this year. (Last year was “hold the camera straighter”)
Let me see if I can explain this with a few photos. Attached to this end of a microphone stand is a battery, an electronic speed controller, a potentiometer and a microcontroller of some description.
At the other end of the microphone stand…
is this brushless DC motor, a 3D-printed motor mount and wheel…
that has neodymium magnets embedded in it. Positioned within millimetres of the bass strings, the magnets “pluck” the string as they whirl by, creating a most interesting sound. RPM and distance to strings affect the sound. I first saw this in Matt’s office at UW and it’s twice was twice as cool reverberating through the basement of the old Brick Brewery.
This is engineer Nik Stewart. By day, he works in Kitchener inventing new audio gear and by night he’s a maker of gaming rigs and sonic installations. Here he is configuring this pad as a vocoder.
Some pretty cool eye-candy on this pad.
Matt set a mic on top of my giant DroneBox v2. I have motors attached to each face of this 4’x2’x3’ cardboard box with offset weights attached to the motor shafts. I drive the motors with varying PWM signals, causing the whole rig to shake and buzz. The same principle causes your phone to vibrate, except in this case the motors are the size of pop cans. This is a 4x scale-up from an earlier prototype I used to explore dissonant sound. It was a success in its failure. I learned: #1 I still have a lot to learn about driving motors with FETs (smoked transistors despite heat sinks), #2 motor in-rush start current can be >=40% higher than full-speed steady state, #3 if you abuse a PC power supply it can decide to reverse polarity permanently, and #4 even though it’s 2017, Bluetooth serial communications can be flaky. I’ve got a separate post coming on this long-going project.
One of Matt’s do-everything music-making devices.
Expensive audio gear in post-industrial context.
WTMC co-founder Jordan Mandel arrived a bit later, braving the blizzard driving in from his job as digital media lab instructor on UW’s Stratford Campus.
The pillar speaker.
A few last connections.
Jordan organized an around-the-circle music improvisation exercise.
I think he called this a Colin (Labadie) exercise, referencing the fourth member of WTMC who was absent from this particular meetup.
Nik ready to rock the vocoder.
Jamie has a contact microphone in his left hand and played various parts of the chair.
Jordan played this monophonic synth box.
The exercise seemed to be a slow adding and subtracting of sound layers by the four players (rhyme!).
Doing some visual layering of my own here.
Last week Waterloo City Council approved rezoning of this property and some set-back and parking requirement variances for the property developer. This space will look substantially different the next time you’re likely to see it. A 19-storey tower is going up, while preserving/renovating the front portion of this structure.
Trust me: this amp goes to 11.
I don’t know who doffed his hoodie, but I wore snow-veralls to this gig. Chilly.
Contact mics on the bottle.
Matt dialing in a crescendo.
Switching up the players…
and the instruments. Contact microphone on the springy hanger of this decorative plate. You can move the copper tube to change the pitch.
Matt at the plate.
Matt grabbed some frames…
of Jordan and Nik, I believe for a event/show/grant application they were submitting. I particularly liked the improvisation they guys were doing over Jordan’s bass riffs.
After three hours, we packed up and headed out into the blizzard.
Can you get four people together to do something that interests you? Of course you can.
In the broadest sense: this is us.