Saturday, June 25, 2016

Sound Wave Flute

I've had this idea rolling around in my head for a couple of years now.... Growing up, I was a flute player, I still have my 2 flutes and my piccolo, I pull them out a couple times a year and play them. I can still read notes and can play the instruments, but my sound isn't all that great cause my lip is out of shape from disuse. It's still fun to keep on top of it enough that I know if I pull the flute out I'll be able to play it again. Anyway, one of those random playing sessions, I was thinking about my first student flute and thought it'd be really cool to decorate it with polymer. I have sat on that idea for at least 3 years. This month's PCAGOE challenge gave me a chance to bring that idea to fruition. The theme this month is Music!



After some more thought, being a very sentimental creature, I decided I just couldn't use my student flute to do this project (incase the project ended badly, I didn't want to render that flute useless). I certainly wouldn't use my "good" flute for this either, and definitely not my piccolo, which already has a black wood, or possibly plastic, base for the body. So, I headed to ebay and picked up an old beat-up, but still playable, flute for about $30. This thing had a lot of tarnish on it and a nice ding in the mouthpiece, and the head joint wasn't even the same make as the body (it was marked with a Gemeinhardt seal and the body is a Vinci)... so I felt like I was going to be doing it a service by covering up all the old tarnished and nicked-up nickel. Here's a before shot of the flute:




For anyone who knows woodwind instruments, you'll know that they have pads underneath the keys. These pads cannot withstand excessive heat or moisture, so the first step was to remove the keys. I took it to a local music shop and they removed the keys for me. I then began the process of covering the body. Since the theme is music, I wanted the pattern to somehow refer to music or sound, yet didn't want to use the traditional music note symbols... I just wanted something less literal when conveying the idea. So I began thinking about the patterns that sound makes visually, if you haven't seen the frequency resonance experiment video yet, you'll understand what I mean once you watch this video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wvJAgrUBF4w 

I have never been much of a millefiori caner with polymer. There have been a few canes I've created in the past, but not many. I do love how canes work and really would like to explore doing more of them sometime. I thought this would be a great project for canes. I decided on a palette of ultramarine  blue and yellow with white. This color palette felt right because it reminds me of air and lightness, which is often the way I like hearing a flute, with a light airy tune. I made a couple different versions of bullseye canes in the blue/white/yellow color palette and placed slices of them on a sheet of white polymer. After I had the sheet covered the way I wanted, and had it smoothed down so that the cane slices blended into each other, I mounted it on the head joint, leaving the mouth piece uncovered for a contrasting ultramarine solid. Separately, I also unscrewed and covered the tip of the head joint with some of this sheet, then used a snake of white and a snake of blue clay to go around the base of that small piece.



Because I wanted to use varying cane slices to cover the keys, I decided that I wanted the body and foot to be mostly ultramarine blue with surprise spots of the canes cut into the body. So, I covered the entire body and foot with the blue and smoothed the joins of clay, then cut out holes to insert the canes. After smoothing over where the blue met the inserted canes, these pieces were cured. I cut thin slices of the different canes and made them all uniform in thickness by rolling them through the pasta machine. I then used circle cutters to get them to the right sizes I needed for them to cover the different keys. There were a few that I had to hand cut with an X-acto knife, for the odd-shaped keys. These were cured on a board, to be adhered to the keys after the flute was put back together. Because I wanted this piece to be shiny, but didn't want the hassles of sanding, especially with some of the exposed metal areas of the key holes and the joints where the pieces fit together, sanding would have been an extremely fussy job. So, I decided to use the liquid polymer/heat-gun method. I've seen this method discussed by a couple different artists, but most recently Debbie Crothers wrote about how she gets her gorgeous finish on her faux lamp work beads in this blog post. Thanks Debbie, for the reminder, this turned out to be a great way to get the finish I wanted, without the fussiness that sanding would have entailed!



After I had The flute covered and had the finish I wanted, I took it back to the music store to have the keys put back on. Here's where the trouble began. Because I've never done this before, and likely the music store guy has never had someone want to do this, there were areas I covered which needed to be exposed to give the fulcrum of the keys the space and leverage they needed to move the keys... this I hadn't realized when covering the body and foot. So I had to go back to the shop, after they discovered this issue, and I simply used my X-acto knife to cut out the areas that needed that leverage. They put all the keys back on, but because I was running close to my deadline, they still need to do a little work to get it into good playing condition. There is one key who's spring is off and I can't figure out where the spring is supposed to rest, so they will have to adjust that. They also removed some of the corks on the back of some of the keys, so I will need to have those reinstalled. They were concerned that the tone of the instrument would be deadened by the covering. I am not a sound expert, but I've compared the tone of this flute to the tone of my other student grade flute and I cannot discern a difference. So, I have played the flute and it does work, and it will hopefully play well one day soon! My goal in this was to create a beautiful, but also functional instrument, and I'm quite pleased, so far, with my accomplishment. I really hope that the music people can get it up to speed with tweaking the keys to good playing condition. Here are a couple more shots of it, from varying angles and views, so you can see all the decoration around the entire piece:









As I said, I'm really pleased with this project, and if the music guys can tweak the keys to get it into best playing condition, I might decide to do more of these...  I'd really love to get my hands on a piccolo to do this to! ;) If I'd have had this flute as a kid, I'd have been over the moon happy to have such a unique instrument! So, what do you think of my sound wave flute? I'd love to hear your thoughts! Leave me a comment below!
Voting for this challenge begins on July 1st and will run through to July 7th at midnight EST. I'll post a reminder here on the blog!

18 comments:

  1. That is the most amazing custom flute in the world. :) What a fabulous idea. I loved reading about the challenges of putting it back together in a way that makes it functional as a musical instrument. I played flute briefly in high school, when my braces made it impossible to hit the high notes on my trumpet. Great color choices and I do "see" the music in the patterns you chose.

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    1. Thank you so much, Tammy, for the generous comments! :) Wow, you transitioned from trumpet to flute? I'd think that would be a tough switch to get used to! You and I always seem to have lots in common, and here's another point of commonality! ;) I'm glad the music in the patterns came through in translation, thanks for mentioning that you can see that! :)

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  2. ABSOLUTELY BEAUTIFUL...great job!

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  3. Absolutely amazing! I also love your detail description of how you did this- you answered all of my questions- especially the main one of "does it affect the tone". What a great inspiration!

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    1. Aww, thanks Lisa, for your generous comment! I don't think it affects the tone at all, but as I said, I'm not a sound expert. I'll have to play it, and my other uncovered student flute, for my FIL tomorrow and see what he says (as a previous musician, he'll have the better ear for discerning any difference).

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  4. I love it Beth. A great practical art piece.

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  5. I don't play the flute or the piccolo but have admired them my entire life. I have only found I have a passion for polymer clay in the last couple weeks and have yet to make my first clay piece. Imagine my surprise to see such a work of art. I'm stunned. It is remarkable and I'm so glad to have found it. Thank you for sharing your gift as an artist and your affection for playing the flute.

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    1. Hi Janice! Thanks so much, for stopping in and leaving such a kind comment! I think you'll find working with polymer is so satisfying and addictive! I hope you dig into your clay soon! :)

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  6. Your courage is rewarded with such a wonderful result. I love the visual sound theme and how it appropriately draws from the mouth piece. Congratulations :)

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    1. Chris, Thank you so much for the lovely comment, and for checking out my blog post! I'm so glad that my visual of "sound" was translated well enough so that others see it too! :)

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  7. Wow, it is beautiful and very imaginative. Thank you for sharing all your steps in creating a work of art that is also functional.

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    1. Thank you, Cheryl, for your kind comment! :)

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  8. Will the extra body density affect the sound of the instrument.

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    1. Hi Charline, although the keys still need some tweaking to get it into good playing form, I have played it and I don't really detect much difference in tone between this flute and my uncovered student flute. When I have a little more time I plan to record a video playing this flute and contrasting that to playing my uncovered student flute... since seeing is often believing. ;) I will post it here on the blog when I have it recorded.

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  9. It’s very pretty!

    As a flutist though, I would be concerned about several things:
    Weight; belt th for arm fatigue and thickness of the new wall affecting sound quality in relation to how the rest of the thing was built.
    Resonance, you’ll have to work harder to get any projection beyond your own head
    Embouchure hole dimensions affecting sound production, tuning, flexibility
    Weight of keys for best fingering response
    Tuning from maladjustment in height of keys due to thickness of the flute

    Again, I applaud the visuals for sure but as a playable instrument, I wouldn’t be too hung up on making them sound ok, you’ve just turned them into decorations.

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    1. Thank you Jaye, for your comments... somehow your comment got buried in my inbox and I'm only just now finding it, hence my delay in response. I can appreciate concerns from a musician, as I have a few musician friends who had raised similar concerns at the time of creating this project. Since I'm not a professional musician, I know that my ear is not as adept at deciphering minute tonal differences, so I played the flute for them, in comparison with my own student flute. After hearing the compared playing, I have been told that there isn't much difference in tone between the two flutes. If you'd like to have a listen for yourself, I did post a blog with video of me playing the two. (if you do have a watch/lsiten please keep in mind my amateur, rusty flautist skills; as I haven't been a habitual player in nearly 30 years, and when I do play, it's once a year (at best) when I pull it out of the closet to see if I can still do it... ;) you'll find that video here: http://createmyworlddesigns.blogspot.com/2016/07/flute-video-voting-time.html)
      To be honest, I really wasn't too concerned about how the tone would change, as I was simply wanting to take an old, battered student flute (the parts weren't even of the same make with a Gemeinhardt head and a Vinci body, so someone pieced this thing together) from ebay and make something beautiful from it. Regarding your specific concerns: Weight, when polymer is thin, it is not a very heavy material, so there is no real noticeable difference in weight feel (concerning your thoughts on arm fatigue). As for the sound quality, it was a beat up student flute, so to begin with, the sound wasn't as great as my silver french flute. None-the-less, the sound quality is quite similar to my own student flute, as I said above. I purposely tried to keep the polymer layer as thin as possible so that it would not have much effect over the feel of the entire piece. As for the embouchure hole dimensions, if I'm understanding that you mean the size and shape of the mouthpiece hole itself, it is the same as before the clay was added, since I took a razor blade to cut the clay to the same shape and dimension of the hole in the metal under the clay. As for the weight of keys, again I tried to make the decorative pieces as thin as possible, and I don't really notice a drastic difference that would inhibit a player. There is no tuning issue from maladjustment in height of keys, as all areas where the springs or corks needed to rest against the original metal part of the flute are cut away to the bare metal to allow for those springs to touch the original metal and result in zero issues with the springs or key response.
      This was never meant as something to put into production, it was simply an experiment that I felt driven to try for personal satisfaction. I haven't picked up a piccolo to have a go with, but perhaps someday... ;)
      Thanks again for your comments and for stopping by my blog.

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