Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Building a Sound Garden.

What a great project!
The Swan Valley Anglican Community School approached me to build a Sound Garden at the school with the students from the Student Council. A small piece of garden with two trees in it was set aside for the task. We would be using mostly recycled materials for the task.


Our workforce comprised about 16 students, two wonderful parent volunteers, a couple of fantastic staff, the very handy Thom Scott and myself. It would be very full day.

Before we commenced on the day, I asked each of the students to say what they hoped the Sound Garden space would provide. The kids came up with some very thoughtful comments, with a few common themes:

  1. Somewhere to have fun, 
  2. Somewhere to express your feelings, 
  3. A place to go when you feel down,
  4. A place to go when you feel good,
  5. A place to enjoy playing music with your friends, and
  6. A place to help you feel better.
Clearly kids, too, have an appreciation of the connection between music and emotions!

Well, the aim of the Sound Garden is to be true to these wishes and much more...
Being involved in the building of it would deliver other dividends from participation by the students.

The kids and teachers together had decided on the layout of the Sound Garden. Once this was done, the task of digging all the holes for the posts began. 
Fitting the keys to the Marimba.

I had gathered up a heap of materials, and pre-made some components in order for the task to be achievable within the day. The net result made by the end of the day installed in the new Sound Garden was:
  • A Marimba, with two pairs of hammers. 
Mounted on a jarrah frame, the keys were made from Vitex, a timber from PNG &Solomon Islands which has wonderful acoustic properties. Each key was an inch shorter than the one before, giving a range of sounds. While these can be tuned, this Marimba is more random, leaving the kids to explore the combination possibilities. The hammers have no rubber ends, for a sharper sound.

  • A set of four long Steel Pipe Chimes hanging from the branch of a tree, with hammer.
Each of the four pipe pieces are of different lengths, and are hanging from a branch of a tree, with steel cables. They make a lovely ringing sound when played.

  • Two Cajon Drums (mounted on posts).
Made from 12mm Marine Ply, I had pre-assembled one, and a group of students glued and nailed the other together. These were installed each on a pair of legs, with the sound hole underneath, to keep the rain out. A drum you sit on to play with your hands, they make a fantastic sound.

  • A Tongue Drum with two pairs of hammers (mounted on posts).
Based on an ancient Aztec instrument, this was another I had pre-made the day before. It would just require fixing to a pair of legs. The top with the tongues cut in it was made from jarrah, with a 12mm Marine Ply sound box below, with the base open as the sound hole. The hammers for this have walking stick rubbers on the ends, for a nice soft sound.

  • A variable Base Drum. 
Based on a Tea Chest Base I used to play in a Bush Band, this consists of a pole with a 25 litre drum attached to it. The string runs between the centre of the drum top and a lever at the top. Pulling on the lever changes the tension in the string, which alters the tone. Wonderfully simple and effective.

  • A Kitchen Percussion Stack.
Arranged vertically on a threaded rod and mounted on the end of the Marimba, the percussion stack is a fantastic collection of metal bowls and cake tins, crowned with a teapot at the top. It's a sort of Bali-esque sound which the kids get a lot of pleasure experimenting with!

  • A Cultery Wind Chime, hanging in a tree.
About 20 knives, forks and spoons with holes drilled in one end were each hanging by a fishing trace (with swivels) from a flat vegetable/cheese grater. It makes a very gentle sound in the breeze. which could be increased with the addition of a hanging "banger" in the middle. However it is probably the most susceptible to kids with swinging sticks! I observed this a couple of times after it was hung up high in the tree.  

  • A Wooden Wind Chime, hanging in the other tree.
The students made this from the pieces of Vitex cut out of the backs of the Marimba keys. They cleaned up the ends with a saw, removed the arrises with a block plane, drilled holes in the ends, and used 80lb fishing lines with swivels to hang the pieces of wood from a saucepan lid with holes punched the around the perimeter. It makes a very nice soft  wooden tinkle tinkle sound in the breeze. 

  • A TomTom or Big Base Drum.
Made from a heavy plastic 100 litre drum mounted between two posts, it makes an amazing sound. When I pound heavily on the top of it, I can make the adjacent roof of the covered walkway rattle! Awesome!


The Staff at the School say the next phase of the Sound Garden will include installing a Thong-a-phone, a small Stage made from Pallets, a Chalk Board on the wall behind, and some Musical Note stepping stones as part of the landscaping. Nice.   

It was a great day, a noisy day, and a day when many of the kids had their first experiences with hand tools. Some students got right into the making tasks, with shovels, saws, hammers, block planes, rasps, hand drills, brace and bits, spanners, and much more - while others provided an array of musical accompaniment for us!

It will be great to see how the new Sound Garden evolves. Great job, Student Councillors! 
May the Sound Garden give you all you hoped for and more...


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