Hacked Set Of Instruments Saves Musician’s Gigs

Nicolas Bras and his homemade musical instruments

Most of the horror stories you hear about air travel seem to center around luggage. Airlines do an admirable job of getting people safely to their destinations, but checked baggage is a bit of a crapshoot — it could be there when you land, it could end up taking the scenic route, or it could just plain disappear. That’s bad enough when it contains your clothes, but when it contains your livelihood? Talk about stress!

This was the position musician [Nicolas Bras] found himself in after a recent trip. [Nicolas] was heading for a gig, but thanks to Brussels Airlines, his collection of musical instruments went somewhere else. There was nothing he could do to salvage that evening’s gig, but he needed to think about later engagements. Thankfully, [Nicolas] specializes in DIY musical instruments, made mostly with PVC tubes and salvaged parts from commercial instruments, so the solution to his problem was completely in his hands.

Fair warning to musical instrument aficionados — harvest the neck from a broken ukelele is pretty gruesome stuff. Attached to a piece of pallet wood and equipped with piezo pickups, the neck became part of a bizarre yet fascinating hybrid string instrument. A selection of improvised wind instruments came next, made from PVC pipes and sounding equally amazing; we especially liked the bass chromojara, sort of a flute with a didgeridoo sound to it. The bicycle pump beatbox was genius too, and really showed that music is less about the fanciness of your gear and more about the desire — and talent — to make it with whatever comes to hand.

Here’s hoping that [Nicolas] is eventually reunited with his gear, but hats off to him in the meantime for hacking up replacements. And if he looks familiar, that’s because we’ve seen some of his work before, like his sympathetic nail violin and “Popcorn” played on PVC pipes.

19 thoughts on “Hacked Set Of Instruments Saves Musician’s Gigs

  1. I learned a long time ago to never check baggage. I drop it off with UPS ahead of time and it gets delivered directly to my destination, fully insured to boot. Good grief, no more dragging stuff through the airport, no more waiting for bags. No more stupid surprise surcharges. Get off the plane and go.

  2. I wish we had more documentation/history of musical instrument hacking, like these DIY instruments. A couple of bands I’ve seen (sleepytime gorilla museum, caroliner rainbow) use primarily homebuilt instruments that have musical function but don’t closely resemble any conventional instruments. Mark Sandman of Morphine built multiple weird basses, some with only two strings, some with a mix of bass and guitar strings, to get the weird and amazing sounds that drove that style of music. Thomas Dolby will talk your ear off in a wonderful way about salvaging bits of exotic semiconductors from silicon valley dumpsters in the 1980’s to circuit-bend into strange effects equipment. Laurie Anderson gutted tape cassette recorders and stuck the read heads on things and adhered tape to other objects so she could scratch tape the way dj’s scratched records.
    But there isn’t a lot of stuff I’ve found collected about this, at least not in a formal way, just posts (like this one) saying “hey here are some really cool things people have done” with no attempt at trying to find out how they interrelated or where influences came from.

  3. Then there was the time in July 1972 when someone blew up the Rolling Stones equipment van. It was outside the venue, and they’d not unloaded. They had to scramble to get equipment for the show. There’s speculation, but no suspects ever charged.

      1. I doubt there was competition at that point, the Beatles broken up and not talking to each other.

        In recent times, the speculation is that the stagehands at the venue were upset, not wanting the roadies to do the work. But I don’t remember what was said at the time.

  4. I’m reminded of the story when Frank Zappa did a show in Montreal in the winter, the band traveled by bus and the brass instruments, stored in unheated cargo, were too cold to play so they had to cancel.

  5. I am charmed by your way of using common materials to make musical instruments and the philosophy about the esence of the music which is not the instrument itself but the performance and talent of the musician. Allow me to make a small remark. The “Slovakian” name of the folk flute “fuyara” is actually a very old, original Hungarian term. This word migrated just later to neighboring Slovakia and slightly changed in pronounciation afterwad. The correct Hungarian writing is “furulya” and pronounce (using same above spelling) “furuya”. Etimologic origin is the Hungarian verb “fúj” or in shorter ancient version “fú”. Ponounce as “foo” :-) The meaning of this verb in English is “blow”. The root meaning of the Hungarian instrument name “furulya” is “blowing tool”. :-)

    1. This is awesome ! This is a futuristic version of the victorian era Orchestron but without the fancy wood cabinet. One thing…. The “singer’s” voice sounds just like the one in Marty McFly’s jacket in BTTF 2. “Jacket drying…… Your jacket is now dry”

      1. The voice was generated from an actual DecTalk express unit (very rare). The unit is sitting in front of the power supply (left side of the scope) Stephen Hawking used something similar in the early 1980’s.

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