February 18, 2015
Name and hometown: Craig, Calgary
What do you do at the National Music Centre?
Events, tour support (although since tours are on hold due to the upcoming move I don’t do those at the moment), and occasional education program development.
What do you do when you’re not working at NMC?
My wife and I have three boys and so that gets most of my free time, in a good way. For a living, I do something called Obsolescence Management for a military subcontractor. On the side, I play in a few bands.
Why did you get involved at NMC?
I went on a public tour about seven years ago and thought this was the best place ever. I desperately wanted to be around the fascinating electronic musical instruments.
What is your favourite part of the job?
I never get tired of going on the tours. There is always something new to learn. But building the photo-Theremin was probably the most fun.
Tell me more about the Build-Your-Own Theremin in-school program?
It originally started as a Beakerhead activity a couple years ago. I thought it was a good way to incorporate something I know about, electronics, with an obvious NMC theme, music, more specifically the Theremin. Plus it’s a really fun way to get into electronics because it can make simple music.
Student building a Theremin. Credit: Kate Schutz.
How and when did you get involved with electricity and circuits?
I have always been interested in electronic music and instruments, particularly the weird stuff that wasn’t just the standard 90s techno. One day, I stumbled across a Bruce Haack CD in the public library and it brought to my attention some of the more interesting aspects of electronic music. So, unable to afford a synthesizer, I started fiddling with electronics, including a circuit very similar to the one in the BYO Theremin program. I made a few versions of it and put them inside boxes and what not, and used old parts I found at garage sales like old TV knobs and doorbells. Then I decided to attend DeVry and study electronics in the hopes that I’d learn enough to design and build synthesizers, which isn’t really the direction I ended up going in.
Why is it important for students to learn about electricity and circuits today?
Sometimes we learn by trying new things. We have to give students the opportunity to try different hands-on experiments to help them figure out what they do and don’t like.
Also, kids play with so many electronic devices today and we just count on them to work. They are made so well that they don’t break, so they just don’t make sense to the user. It’s important for kids to understand what’s going on in these electronic gadgets and to teach them that all of the parts do something; they all have specific rules.
What instruments do you play?
I play a bunch of instruments, but none of them well. I’m probably best at guitar. I taught myself playing to Ventures records.
“Walk Don’t Run” – The Ventures
How and when did you become involved in music?
My mom thought I had a nice voice so I was in vocal lessons in elementary school and did some excruciating competitions and performances. But I actually started enjoying making music when I was about 15 and my dad bought me a $75 guitar and a cheap amp so I could play with my friend who found a drum kit in a church dumpster. We started a two-man surf/garage band called the HeeCats.
What is your favourite object in the collection? Why?
It’s a tie between two.
Raymond Scott’s Clavivox because I read somewhere that Bob Moog would build Theremin circuits and he’d modify them for Scott’s Clavivox, which is a keyboard instrument. If you play the one upstairs, you can actually hear the mechanics moving inside. And Raymond Scott’s electronic music is pretty fascinating too.
The other one is the Ondioline, which is a really early simple synthesizer. Jean-Jacques Perrey used the instrument a lot in his early recordings. Unlike any other music! He would combine musique concrète, splice all these weird noises together, and make an interesting composition.
“Mexican Cactus” – Jean-Jacques Perrey
What song do you have on your playlist would surprise even your closest friend?
There are two: Billy Joel’s “Uptown Girl” which is pretty much the catchiest song ever, or the Blue Nile “Over the Hillside”. I like sugary/bubble-gum stuff, but I that stuff is cool! I was embarrassed to buy both of these albums. These songs aren’t cool. But I like them.
What was your most meaningful music experience?
I have a solo project I’ve been working on for the past five years and it’s meaningful because it’s just me doing it. I have complete freedom and write whatever I want, though I tend to stick to a certain style, and people seem to respond to it.
It’s called Monroeville Music Center. I wanted to make it sound like an institution. Often when people ask me something about it they think it’s a bunch of people but it’s just me. I’ve made a blog and website for it and I’ve tried to make it look like an old school’s website.
Interested in playing with circuits in your classroom? Book the Build-Your-Own Theremin program today!
–Natalie Marsh, Education Outreach Coordinator
Questions? Comments? Suggestions? Email me or tweet me @natzmarsh