As part of a series about music technology called “Noise Makers,” we’re talking to musicians about their favorite noise-making device. To kick the series off, Hrishikesh Hirway of the Song Exploder podcast, talks about what he’s learned from interviewing musicians from bands like U2, Spoon, and the National.
In his podcast, Hrishikesh Hirway invites artists to break down a song layer by layer and tell the story behind its composition. This behind-the-music perspective often reveals how musicians arrive at the final mix from a moment of inspiration; a trajectory sometimes instigated by equipment.
“Every artist approaches how they get into a song differently,” Hrishikesh says. “For some, it starts with lyrics, some it starts with the melody, but for a lot people it starts with just messing with gear. Messing with a guitar that they have or trying an instrument they’ve never used before because it opens up their brain up to ways that they haven’t been used to.”
While this could lead to avid collecting of guitars and synths — and in many cases it does — Hrishikesh believes that “it doesn’t really matter what the equipment is that you use” because “it’s really about the ideas you build into it.”
This is certainly the case for Nick Zammuto of the band the Books, who ditched instruments all together to cut a new path … literally. Zammuto created a “drum machine” by scratching indentations into the locked groove of a vinyl record where the needle rests after the record ends. Hrishikesh says Zammuto described this record technique as “a blank canvass for him rhythmically.”
But in order to turn the silent loop of vinyl record into a music making device, Zammuto had to employ some geometry. By using a protractor to measure the 360 degree circumference at the center of the record, he was able to divide it into custom templates for different time signatures.
He even played the sound through a corrugated PVC pipe to give it an extra special quality.
So noise makers are more than those obnoxious plastic hands at parties or sports games. Musicians are also noise makers who build novel ideas into seemingly commonplace objects, instruments, and equipment.