- Arrowbows, Chips and Chirps
Sound examples related to this article are available at <www.janehenry.com>.
Since 1990, I have used both acoustic and electronic accessories in performance: a small but colorful assortment of "alternative bowing devices" and gloriously sabotaged simple consumer electronics such as hot-wired chips or VHS tapes played back on PAL machines. Almost everything I do is live, in real time. If I want more sound mass, I use pre-recorded material played back on Walkman cassettes, CDs or video players, which I control myself. I never use a computer, although I do play with computer musicians who process my sound. I never use the electric violin, and my violin is only amplified via a clip-on mic at the tailpiece when I am being processed, or sometimes when I play with other amplified musicians.
The "alternative bows" I use originate in my work with Jerry Hunt. He had an "array of bowing devices" for me to use on the "Chimanzzi" track of his CD Ground (OO discs): three bows that he had made himself—all crude, small, fetish-like, made of cheap wood and "haired" with nylon fishing line. Each produced a special, delicate yet bizarre sound. I was charmed and have been enthusiastically using alternative bows ever since. As a souvenir, he gave me the smallest bow, which I call the "tiny bow." My very favorite, however, is the one he called the "grinder," a stick approximately 14 in long, tightly wound with nylon fishing line.
My version of this is called the "arrowbow," fashioned for me from an actual arrow by friend and composer Sarmad Brody, after my description of Jerry's bow. Closer in size (29 in) and weight to an actual violin bow than was the grinder, it is easier for me to use freely. I use this one most extensively. Its sound can be compared to that of a guitarist drawing a threaded screw or nail across the strings, but its strength and pliability provide a great dynamic range and enable me to spin out entire pieces of music using only this bow. Wearing metal thimbles on my left-hand fingers to make a sharper and more brilliant sound with the bow, I produce zips and swishes and belches and plucks and plings normally associated with record-scratching and electronic sounds. Two of my pieces using the arrowbow alone can be heard on my web site: "Hands Off the Homeless" and "Haarlem Hat Dream (Double)." It can also be heard in my improv with Matt Rogalsky ("Kash: violin") on his recent XI release Memory Like Water.
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My favorite electronic accessory in my solo performance wardrobe is truly wearable. Dubbed the "Chipsaw" (Fig. 13) by its maker, Sukandar Kartadinata, during his internship with Nic Collins at STEIM, it is simply an amplified, hot-wired musical greeting card microchip with an anklet of articulating mercury-bead on-off switches and a pressure-pad voltage regulator that I squeeze between my toes.
It is amazing what a rich palette of sounds can come from that tiny black blob once it is open to distortion, released from its chain of monophonic Christmas tunes, ready for the joys of free improvisation! In performance, I balance on my left foot while squeezing and shaking the apparatus attached to my right foot and toe for 8 minutes or so, in addition to alternating between several kinds or bows, making me essentially a one-person band. In my violin part, I use pitch, squelch, chirps and rhythmic material dictated by the distorted microchip and mix in overdubs of alternate bows and microchip during performance to build a chaotic density, but the lone microchip gets the last word. This exercise in absurdity is my homage to Jerry Hunt, "The Chip Is Down ( Jerry Goes to Glory)." Recordings of this piece are on my web site, my CD and the CD accompanying The Art of Hardware Hacking by Nic Collins. [End Page 41]