Updated: Apr 16, 2020
Hello friends, as promised sometime ago before the world descended into what could be one of the most defining moments of our generation, I said I would go a little deeper into the processes that make our productions and the people who provide unique talents to make them memorable.
Today is an interview with Tom Fox of Vulpestruments. Tom is an artist and teacher that focuses on the construction of musical instruments, sound machines, interactive installations, performances and in this case a very unique collaborative soundtrack (with Ell Kendall) for Theatre On Wax and our 2015 site-specific performance at Watford Museum for Heritage Open Days UK - Shadow Town.
As previously mentioned the soundtrack was a collaboration between both musicians but combined by Director Mark Crane in a loop that played continuously through the play.
The soundtrack has been temporarily added for 30 days to the page Shadow Town for you to enjoy. Just press play if it doesn't automatically start.
How did you approach the soundtrack for Shadow Town? How important was the space, story or did none of these play a part?
I loved hearing my piece being joined up with anther musicians work! Hearing it being altered or added to in the way that it was made me have to re-listen to and re-consider what I had originally wrote. I'm not precious about how my work gets used or interpreted, so it was nice to hear it someone changing it up to make something new.
(left from Shadow Town)
What does the soundtrack say to you in one sentence?
To me the soundtrack emotes a certain sweet melancholy.
Can you tell me a bit about Hackoustic and how would a potential artists or musicians get involved?
Hackoustic is a loose collective of sound artists, musical Instrument makers, audio hackers and inventors who deal with sound or music in some sort of physical way.
So we have people who build completely new analogue instruments, or people who develop new physical interfaces for digital instrument making or people who control physical instruments using software and data.
We started off as a collective to try and work on projects together but evolved organically into more of a showcasing and curating project. Myself, my wife and our partner in crime Tim Yates (below) run the events.
We love showing off what people have made and so run regular events where we do just that, but then we also get asked to curate parts of bigger events too. So we've been involved with Tate Modern events, the V&A, Abbey Road, and various London institutions.
Anyone can get involved, no matter how professional or hobbyist you might be. In the same event we'll have people who have worked with big names like Hans Zimmer and Massive Attack talking right beside a bedroom hacker who came up with this cool noise making thing but doesn't know what to do with it next!
You have performed or talked in various places. What for you has been the biggest high and perhaps the lowest point of the journey for you over the last 10 years?
One of the biggest points was probably being asked to help with Abbey Roads first ever hackathon (right). It was a 48 hour non-stop event, so It meant spending the night inside Studio 1, sleeping underneath the main mixing desk and getting to perform there too!
All three of those things are still insane to me! Also, showcasing not just my own work but being able to bring friends and makers who I admire along to the Tate Modern,(below) Tate Late event was amazing, both times!
I genuinely can't think of any low points, there have been gigs with small crowds and events with low turn outs, but there's always a silver lining with those situations too.
You’re a big fan of open-source knowledge. If you could give just 5 tips or less to get started making your own stringed instrument from reclaimed material you might find in your own home. What would they be?
1. don't be afraid to make a mess and get it wrong, I can't count how many times I got it wrong and failed over the years.
2. Start simple with small, quick builds until you've got a bit more experience in getting the basics right. Spending AGES on a build only for it to fail terrible can be frustrating and demoralising.
3. If you're going to go into electronic instruments, learn about Faradays Law of Electromagnetic Induction. It is how speakers and pickups and motors and solenoids and all sorts of fun electrical bits function.
4. Watch videos from other musical traditions and historical instruments. Its very easy to get inspired by seeing other playing methods and other construction methods.
5. check my website for some basic tutorials ;)
You have created a lot of instruments for various projects using a variety of techniques both digital, online and practical. What would you say are your top 3 and why?
1. I managed to create a tunable stringed instrument that can be built in less than 5 minutes and only uses 3 common things. This one took me AGES to develop. It can be quite hard to simplify things down to the absolute minimum, so I'm quite proud of this one.
2. HopeVsFear (right) is one of my newer installations. It's on the complete other end of the spectrum to the very simple instrument and uses a python script I coded to stream Twitter live for any instances of the words Hope or Fear. It then sends a message to a programme called PureData anytime that this happens, which then does some maths and routing which in turns plays a set of singing bowls in ascending or descending tones depending on whether Twitter is being more hopeful or more fearful. Its a complex build with multiple things happening, but once it is set up and running it is surprisingly calming.
3. I have one instrument (left) called the Springything (I ran out of interesting names after a while!) that utilises a bit of physics in order to make an electrical current using springs, magnets and a coil from an old motor. It's a very unique instrument with a hugely wide variety of sounds it can generate. It also looks nothing like an instrument at all, so is always a surprise for the audience when I start to hit it or bow it or pluck it.
Who (if any) are composers or musicians that influence you?
This is a tricky one to answer. The musicians and bands who I love and enjoy listening to, tend to have little to no influence on the kinds of work I produce! There are obvious answers like John Cage, Stockhausen, Brian Eno, Godspeed You! Black Emperor, Clint Mansell, Nick Cave and his soundtracks with Warren Ellis and the Tuvan culture of music who have interesting approaches, philosophy and methods for music/sound creation, which I do get inspired by their processes, but I rarely if ever have them blasting from my car on the way to work.
Does your family have a motto either spoken or unspoken?
It's not a motto as such, but my daughter (6) knows that she shouldn't touch any mess of mangled wires that I happen to be working on!
Is there anything you would like to come back into fashion?
I am neither fashionable or nostalgic, so, no!
You can take one film, one book, one album, one instrument and one type of food into The Under TOW (what I like to think of as our fictional underwater isolation tank!) What would they be?
Film: Grand Budapest Hotel
Instrument: An Appalachian Dulcimer
Food: Biscuits count as food right? Biscuits.
And finally Tom, do you have any upcoming events that you would like me to post about?
There are always events in the pipeline for either myself or Hackoustic, so it's always best just to check any of the multiple social channels!