At Soundfly, we’re all about finding your sound, so when we set out to make a promo video, it made perfect sense to find our sounds in unexpected places. The idea also seemed to work well with one of our other beliefs—that anyone can be a musician because there’s no one right way to play music.
To get started, I approached my friend, composer Ian Davis who plays in Landlady and Relatives and has arranged tons of stuff like this beautiful orchestral score for My Brightest Diamond. He was into the challenge and right away started experimenting with various ideas and pretend instruments.
Ian’s main concept was simple—make something very rhythmic built around a simple melody that we could repeat in a lot of ways with a bunch of different sounds. The rhythms would allow us to base the song on all the found instruments we wanted to include—hitting things with mallets, using tin cans, chopsticks and all sorts of stuff we found around the house. While the simple melodic line could be played with a variety of different instruments, creating a rich, layered sound.
In order to arrange the piece, we broke out all the different parts of Ian’s song and started to brainstorm ways we could play each part, mimicking real instruments with found objects. We discovered we could play the bass line with PVC pipes and empty bottles, the melody with a melodica and vocals, and the percussion with a whole host of different things.
The rhythms were definitely the most fun part. Ian came in with a great foundation built on snaps, shakers, and empty soda cans, and from there, we just added things we could find one by one—the gasoline cans became bass drums, the broken violin created a cool snapping sound, the metal sheet stood in for cymbals, and so much more. We even had Jeremy crunching on a tic-tac into the microphone at one point—see if you can hear it.
Not everything we tried worked out. The one instrument that we were bummed didn’t make the cut was one of Jeremy‘s inventions. On the walk to work that morning he’d found a wooden shelf that he hammered nails into and then strung rubber bands around all of the nails to create a really cool rubber/string instrument, that sadly we just couldn’t get enough signal out of.
The trickiest part was the PVC pipes. We had to tune them, so we found a website to help us calculate the rough length of pipe for each note. Then it was a process of using our ear, testing and trimming the pipes to get the exact right notes, which was pretty time consuming. What we didn’t realize was that the low G we wanted would require a really long section of pipe, making it too tall to mount and play easily. We ended up solving the problem by duct taping all the pipes to the back of an Ikea kitchen stool, that we stood on to be able to reach the top of the pipe.
Next came the challenge of getting the sound right. We tried hitting the pipes with our hands, but beyond how much that hurt, it was nearly impossible to hit the the mouth of the pipe evenly each time. After turning our office upside down, we finally found that a pair of silver flip flops were ideally suited to the task. They might not have been the prettiest solutions, but the pipes sounded great!
The thing I’d love to keep experimenting with is the bike wheel. We ended up using it as an entirely rhythmic instrument, but I did manage to get a D, E and F by tuning the individual spokes with a bike key. We just never managed to amplify them enough for the different tones to really be noticeable. I’m still curious though whether there’d be a way to turn a bike wheel into a melodic instrument… stay tuned!
In the meantime, enjoy the song, the video and the message: anyone can be a musician because there’s no one right way to play music. Just hit something, pluck something or sing something. Everyone has a unique voice, including you. And we want to hear what it sounds like!