ASA Lay Language Papers
161st Acoustical Society of America Meeting

Unusual Instruments

Garry Kvistad, founder/owner
Woodstock Percussion, Inc.
167 DuBois Road
Shokan, NY 12481-5124
phone 845 657-0499
fax 845 657-3347

Most musical instruments are made of just a few main components.  Stringed instruments are primarily made of wood and strings while brass instruments are made of metals.  Woodwinds are generally made of wood and reeds.  Due to their diversity and uniqueness, percussion instruments, by contrast, are made of many different materials and often quite exotic ones at that. 

On May 25, classically trained musician Garry Kvistad will present a paper at the annual meeting of the Acoustical Society of America in Seattle on the subject of materials used to create percussion instruments.  When they think of percussion instruments most people think of drums and xylophones, but the breadth of offerings in this family of instruments is quite extensive.  In the mid 1970s Kvistad, at the time a financially challenged graduate student, repurposed a pile of discarded lawn chairs he found in an Illinois landfill, using the chairs’ aluminum tubes to create musical instruments! This eventually led to the creation of his company, Woodstock Percussion, Inc., makers of windchimes and children’s instruments sold under the brand names of Woodstock Chimes® and the Woodstock Music Collection®. 

Kvistad’s presentation will cover the precision-tuned tubes used to make his Woodstock Chimes, which have special musical qualities both as a result of the metal fabrication as well as the method of construction of the chimes.  The discussion will consider other percussion instruments made of materials as varied as nails, bottle caps, salad bowls, oil cans, drawers, cactus, animal skin and bones.  Because of the wide range of instruments in the percussion family, performers are able to create sounds with extremes in both dynamics (soft to loud) and timbre (pure sound to noise).  Like Kvistad’s early experiments, instrument builders throughout the world often reuse materials such as discarded oil cans to make steel drums rich in harmonics, animal parts left over from the food industry to make drums and shakers of all sizes and hollow cactus and bamboo to make exotic rainsticks and rattles.  Videos will be used to demonstrate unusual experimental instruments made of glass, threaded rods, and salad bowls. 

While working on his master’s degree in music, Kvistad studied musical acoustics with Dr. Thomas Rossing, winner of the prestigious Gold Medal prize in 2009 from the Acoustical Society of America.  Not a scientist himself, Kvistad will make his presentation from the perspective of a performer and instrument builder.  His instruments are found in homes and gardens around the world and are used by professional musicians and groups such as NEXUS, an all-percussion quartet of which he is a member.  NEXUS uses a large set of Woodstock Chimes in the concerto written for them by Japanese Composer Toru Takemitsu called “From me flows what you call time”.  This work was premiered by NEXUS and the Boston Symphony Orchestra in 1990 at Carnegie Hall under the direction of Seiji Ozawa and has since been played in major concert halls throughout the world.  

Listen to the Woodstock Chimes