Building a Daxophone with Hans Reichel (2007)
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.
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.
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.
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.
-Daniel Fishkin 2014