Friday, March 02, 2007

music at Explora

We stopped by for a quick visit -- less than an hour -- at Explora on Weds, between grocery shopping and swimming. The boys had a great time playing with some exhibits in the sounds area upstairs.
Here Andy is cutting a design in a paper, for an instrument -- I didn't catch the name, and in spite of my best attempts at describing it, Gary can't guess what it's called, either. And he's the handy, musical guy at our house, so who knows what it is? Andy had started out cutting on flat paper in his hand, and had trouble getting the center hole cut, so I showed him how to fold the paper and cut it snowflake-style, with much better results.
Basically, you cut a design in a piece of paper, mount it on the spindle positioned between two plastic discs (the top one is trasnparent) the then when the crank is turned, the disk turns and the light in the box assembly 'reads' the disk design. It doesn't make music -- the sounds are more like helicopter blades (what the boys heard) or a lawnmower motor (what I heard).
Here's Dan trying out a simple design he cut. Interestingly. he worked the crank and used the scissors left-handed. He still hasn't really settled on a dominant hand. Maybe he's just fully ambidextrous, while Gary and I are selectively so.
Andy is trying one of his designs, while Dan digs thru the bin of designs made available in the exhibit. I didn't get to hear one of those, only the ones the boys made, so I don't know how different they might sound.
You really can't see it well here, but there's a strobe light attached to this cello contraption so that the light projects the vibrations of the cello string to the strobe (under the date stamp) then onto an arc of white background, off-camera.
This is a melody-maker -- the pins are placed, in any pattern you choose, into the openings spaced evenly around the barrel. When you turn the crank, the pins sticking out of the barrel causes the mallets to strike the keys, much the way a player piano of old days might have worked. Dan set it up so that all the notes struck in the first crank, then a scale was played as the crank continued. He was very pleased with the results.
Here's Dan placing the pegs into the barrel.
What I don't have any pictures of -- because I was too amazed to take any -- is Andy playing the xylophone. There's a room with three xylophones set up. Andy first had us follow him into that room, so he could show us how he can play it. He was wonderful! He holds the mallets with just the right balance and flexibility -- not too loose or too stiff. I asked him if someone helped him with that technique, or had he developed it on his own. He replied that no one helped him, and showed me that when you hold the mallets too stiffly, the sound is no good and you can't play very fast or fluidly. When you balance the mallets and hold them just loosely, then you get better sound and a faster melody. He's always been very musical, but this just blew me away. I remember guys in jr. high band who took weeks to figure out how to balance a drumstick in their hands!

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