|A picture of David Lang...he's intense|
Even though this is a blog about making free art, I will diverge by exploring another one of my passions, music. I have wanted to post something about David Lang's piece The So-Called Laws of Nature for a while now because it was very influential on my own musical practice and thinking. Not only was The So-Called Laws of Nature a joy to play, it also engaged the artist and maker within me because the performers must make or find their own instruments. I am going to focus on one of the instruments that seems to give people the most trouble; the tuned pipes. These pipes are not unlike wind chimes, but the hard part is that David gives no instructions in the score on how to build them or the material to make them from. The group who commissioned the piece, So Percussion, lead my friends and I in the right direction on the basics of pipe construction and I would like to pass this knowledge along to other musicians.
Although I could just give everyone the pipe lengths and dimensions, I will not be doing that. David Lang gave a lecture at Ohio State this spring and talked about why he did not give instructions on how to build these tuned nightmares. He believes (and now I do, too) that part of the piece is the exploration of finding the material, making mistakes in the construction, and then making the music. I have included a link below to a video of So Percussion explaining and playing the piece so that those readers who have not heard the piece can understand the instruments themselves:
Now comes the fun part, cutting and tuning the pipes. I am going to make a list of the common mistakes and some tips about the pipe diameter:
1. Try to buy pipe from a scrap yard instead of a home improvement store, you could save between 60 and 80 percent on the cost.
2. Galvanized pipe works well for this piece, it is resonant and easy to find.
3. Do not use a hand pipe cutter, it will take too many hours and your arm will be very tired. Either have a store use their industrial pipe cutter and spend some quality time in Lowe's or use a metal band saw.
4. Be prepared to make mistakes, not all pipes are made equal. Even if you find one pipe to be in-tune at a certain length, the next pipe will probably be sharp.
5. Always cut the pipe longer than you think, this will make them flat. Then use a metal grinder to fine tune the pipes. If a pipe turns out sharp it is unusable unless you can make a higher pitch out of it.
6. The link below is for a pipe length calculator. It does a good job at ESTIMATING the correct pipe length. Make sure to select steel as the material, choose "output all lengths," and try to measure or guesstimate the inside diameter of the pipes that you purchase to achieve that best list of estimated lengths.
Now for the best tip I can give you...the bottom three pitches should be made from a 1" diameter pipe and the top four from a 3/4" pipe. Hopefully this will help those intrepid artists who would like to play this work and please send me questions if you have any.