Natural-Object Instruments


There are many techniques one can use to produce sounds from natural materials and a wealth of unique timbres, tones, and ambiances can be uncovered by the adventurous. Solid objects like wood, stone, leaves, feathers, and bones may be bowed, brushed, rubbed, tapped, tickled, blown through, or set into motion in various ways. Materials such as water and sand can be dripped, drained, stirred, sifted, poured, and filtered. These playing methods produce a great spectrum of sounds, from clear, pitched tones to gritty, textural noises, and each specific object or material contains its own unique set of voices. Many of the sounds that natural objects emit are very quiet so I use microphones and amplification to enable me to hear, record, and perform with such sounds. I love exploring all the subtle, nuanced voices that microphones can reveal.

When I first began experimenting with natural objects I simply taped contact microphones to rocks, shells, bones, pinecones, etc., and attempted to coax new sounds out of them. I soon realized these materials would be more sonorous and easier to play if I mounted them somehow. So, using hand and power tools leftover from my days working as a satellite dish installer, I began constructing crude stands out of pieces of driftwood that were lying around my studio. Over time, these practical constructions evolved into increasingly elaborate musical sculptures, and now sonic and visual qualities are equally important to me when I create an instrument.

Ranging from a hand-held penguin vertebrae mobile to a 30-foot tall installation in an oak tree, my natural-object instruments take many forms. Most are small and portable enough for musicians to play live on stage in composed works and improvisations, but occasionally I develop full-on installations (Confluences, Han Shan Tree) in which audiences are invited to interact with my creations. My instruments have been exhibited in art galleries and museums and some pieces are available for purchase. I also accept commissions to develop new instruments and installations, and teach instrument-building privately and in workshops.


teasel harp
pipe organ bubbler
driftwood tree chime

music for rocks and water
compositions and improvisations that evoke motions and gestures from the natural world

water, rocks, feathers, bones, pinecones, flowers, roots, ice and wood are cultivated as instruments in a collection of compositions inspired by Chinese wilderness poetry from the Tang Dynasty
instruments in trees
a composition for arboreal materials (sticks, twigs, leaves, needles, pinecones, bark, and lichen) and strings (two cellos, viola, and violin) investigating cycles and processes inherent to trees

han shan tree
site-specific instrument constructed in an oak tree at the Djerassi Resident Artists Program