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Building a Daxophone with Hans Reichel (2007)

Building a Daxophone with Hans Reichel (2007)

August 28, 2014

This is the long untold story of how I met Hans Reichel, the inventor of the Daxophone, and how together we built a daxophone.  I refrained from sharing these pictures while Hans was alive, because I wanted to respect his control of information about the daxophone.  Since 2006 or so, Hans’ website has featured a daxophone informational pdf, but the consistency of this source varies wildly from vague to revelatory.  Hans ends the pdf with the following encouragement for exploration “By the end I’d say the phenomenon daxophone cannot be readily defined — one could even say it knows no bounds. The present construction and set-up (as described here) is just one of countless possibilities, leaving a lot of room for variation or even completely different solutions. I encourage all people who are interested in this matter to experiment by themselves. After all the basic principle of this instrument can’t be more simple: it’s a tongue, as well as a ruler at the edge of a table.”  It seemed to me that Hans was reluctant to advertise or monetize his secrets, and although he did sell some daxophones, this was a rare occurrence.  I believe Hans wanted to convey “just enough” information so that anyone could make informed discoveries, and add to the global pool of daxophone knowledge.

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i backpacked around berlin with some clothes, my daxophone, and a battery powered amplifier.

Let me try to set the stage.  It is 2006, I am 20 years old, and I am learning German with the private fantasy of meeting the inventor of an obscure german instrument invented just one year after my own birth.  I had been emailing Hans Reichel for 2 years, documenting my personal daxophone growth, but all these emails went unanswered.  I knew that he spoke perfect English, but thought that by learning his mother tongue I might turn some of the inertia around my German cultural studies into some sort of exchange, or, in my wildest dreams, a visit to Wuppertal.  Finally, Hans wrote back.  That summer, my studies brought me to Deutschland, and after many more unanswered emails, Hans finally invited me to visit his workshop with no real promise or disclaimer as to what we might or might not accomplish.  I had no idea what to expect.

 

Daxophon auf der Straße

I used to play daxophone on the street on the AdmiralStraße bridge—in the so called “cultural center” of berlin, here is one of only 5 humans who recognized this instrument! haha! Long live the avant-garde!

What followed was the strangest Batman and Robin story I have ever known.  I lived with Hans in his Wuppertal studio for 9 days, where we toiled round the clock to build my own personal daxophone.  Hans opened his workshop to me, answered every question I had, and gave me unfathomable access to the deepest secrets of daxophonic lore.  Yet, he refused to play even a note of music with me, and I will forever carry the wound of never playing music with the creator of my instrument.  In Hans I found an unwilling teacher, a reticent mentor, an unrepentant alcoholic, a terrible role model, and a tentative friend.  I’ve wondered for years whether it might be a violation of privacy to share these personal pictures from the inner sanctum of daxophone land.  Now, 3 years after the Hans’ passing, I feel that the time has come to share this story.

I hope that you might read this and build an instrument.  This was my pilgrimage.

CLICK ON THE IMAGES BELOW TO READ DETAILED DESCRIPTIONS

 

out of pictures, and out of words.  Besides one exchange, Hans and I never spoke again.  I emailed regularly, once every couple of months or so, to no reply.  One time his website went down, and, feeling something like panic, I wrote to him.

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And that’s it.  One year later, he died.

I’m not sure there’s a moral here.  The daxophone remains my first weird thing, the first friendly face in the long journey I’ve taken.  There was a time when I channeled my entire being through this bizarre idiophone, and so it made sense at the time to do anything in my power to meet its inventor—after all, didn’t he facilitate this whole thing?  I don’t mean to succumb to nostalgia, but the word is lexicographically appropriate here.   I sometimes feel that old wound, especially now, after Hans is gone, and there’s no chance to add more to our story together.

Let’s close with one more picture.  Here’s my tripod, which we built together, here wearing its cedar soundboard.  Attached is a vintage Reichel tongue made of wenge, which I found in the dust bin at Reichel’s apartment.  It is one of five tongues which he gave to me.

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-Daniel Fishkin 2014

Names

Names

July 3, 2014

Peter told me how all of his names came to him in a dream. Wolverine was Weapon X and also Logan and even James Howlett. Different heros and villians would call him different names and bear on the narrative. Wu-tang all have different nicknames which when invoked cause different inflections in the poetry. let me see if i can explain my different super-powers; i’ll retreat to the lowercase to emphasize the soft privacy of these reflections.

Dandelion Fiction when i started to make music alone, the aesthetic transformation of my given name became dandelion. obsessed with stories, with urban legends, with untruths. sensuous improvisation on homemade instruments and experimentation eventually gave way to concise vocabulary and narrative: bass guitar, daxophone, voice. punk rock and storytelling. songs took years. somewhere online there is an album released on jewish noise.  zach joined initially on drums, and started singing with me in the quietest voice. (it always seemed to sound quiet even when he was screaming) i dreamed of asking jonathan nocera to join our band, but he died. i got hearing damage, but we were still loud. zach and i made careful messes and the project suffered under the burden of organic sprawl adjusting to the weight of two—an EP left unfinished.
Löwenzahn when i lived in berlin i dreamed of making techno music. dandelion in german literally means lion’s tooth; i was delighted to hear how tough this sounded. upon returning to bard college i spent endless hours with the serge modular synthesizer, sculpting the sonic clay into sprawling recordings. any non narrative excursions in synthesis still make sense as lion’s tooth to me.
D. Fiction you are here now. mostly it felt natural abbreviate dandelion when i started rapping.
Daniel Prince became my stage name for net art, for facebook poetry, for anonymity. once i interviewed all my ex girlfriends on a livestream. prince is my mother’s maiden name and it makes me feel closer to her. i like having this name set aside for projects that don’t involve music
Shlomo Reuven is my hebrew name and my father’s; unused.
Dead Lion dandelion fell asleep for a long time because zach got busy, and it felt unnatural to do the same thing without him. i was asked to perform at a “modular synthesizer solstice party” and said yes, despite having no synthesizer.  i made my own synth in the style of daphne oram, using photodiodes to capture the sawtooth waveforms from oscilloscope screens. dead lion is the dark shadow of dandelion fiction. dandelion was obsessed with sing alongs, in dead lion i turn my back to the audience.
Daniel Fishkin is my given name. i felt this sounded clunky and not like myself for a while. now it feels like normalcy is just another shroud, so it is worn when needed, when talking to journals, when fighting for tinnitus advocacy, when giving and receiving,

Radical Forms in Daxophone Construction

Radical Forms in Daxophone Construction

April 8, 2014

The beauty of the daxophone is that it is untrodden territory: aesthetically, functionally, and conceptually. Hans Reichel invented this instrument almost 30 years ago, but the structure of the instrument remains simple—it is a vibrating tongue. you can a) change the tongue b) change the means of vibrating the tongue or c) change how you amplify the tongue. Reichel passed in 2011, but his free plans for daxophone construction only showed up on in 2006—after almost 20 years of patient tinkering. Reichel was, of course, exhaustively thorough, and a craftsman of the highest order; he created an entire lexicon that defines what the daxophone should look and sound like. But Hans never meant to proselytize, or to hock his designs for profit. The guide itself even suggests that this is just one way to explore the basic concept of the instrument; a material, fixed on one end, and set into motion. A tongue!

warped tongues from Wuppertal

warped tongues from Wuppertal

wuppertal, 2006

wuppertal, 2006

I strongly believe that rather than promote the official idea of “what a daxophone is”, Hans hoped that curious thinkers would develop unique solutions, and create daxophones that would look and sound totally different than anything he could have planned. Ingenuity, not Industry is the lifeblood of the daxophone. Reichel’s first design used an ordinary C clamp to secure pieces of wood to a table (and later a piezo box); subsequent designs featured an integrated clamp designed from a hex-bolt and a wooden handle, which actually go through the box itself. This was a historic officiation in daxophone construction: all tongues had to be fitted with a notch in order to fit into the clamp on the sounding box. Whereas with a C-clamp, a paint stirrer or spatula COULD be a daxophone when clamped down onto a surface, and when the clamp is removed, it returns to its original identity. With the cutting of this notch, however, the object BECOMES an INSTRUMENT. Even after, this tiny gesture of carpentry forever signifies the object as a daxophone tongue, and it retains this meaning inside and outside of the musical happening. All you have to do is cut this notch into anything, and it is a daxophone, and you can play it.

The following instruments are two radical perspectives on the idea of the daxophone. On the right is a tongue made with Reichel’s font Daxoph in neon acrylic, cut on the lasercutter. Perhaps this is too-perfect to be a practical daxophone—the lasercutter leaves perfect glossy edges on a piece of acrylic, which are then too slippery to catch the bow. I made this tongue at with . On the left is a piece of driftwood I found at FT. Tilden in 2013. Worms and barnacles have tunneled through the wood leaving holes like swiss cheese, and the whole wood itself smoothed from an indeterminate stay on the sandy beaches of NY. I just cut the notch.

driftwood and plexi

driftwood and plexi