THE SONIC STEEL INSTRUMENTS
Hammered Dulcimer
Digital Sampling Synthesizers




photo by Carol Wright

The Sonic Steel Space Bass
"A Transdimensional Communication Device"


The Sonic Steel Instruments, original designs by Constance Demby, have been recorded by Lucas SkyWalker Studios for use in their filmscores, and filmed by Discovery Channel in Gaudi's "Parc Guell" in Barcelona for their specials.

The Sonic Steel Space Bass is a 10 ft sheet of mirror finish stainless steel with 5 octaves of steel and brass rods. The rods can be bowed, struck percussively, and the metal sheet can be rubbed to create various effects. Several tones can be created by bowing a single rod, resulting in a multi-tiered overtone series.
A sound scientist determined that the sound waves on the lowest notes of the instrument are approximately thirty feet long.

The instrument emits deep, primordial, archetypal resonances that put audiences into altered states in which listeners report transdimensional experiences. In healing modality, the ultra low sub-sonic frequencies have been known to break up and dissolve long held encrustrations held in the embodiment, resulting in healings. (see http://www.constancedemby.com/sonicimmersion.html )
CLICK to experience to the Spectacular Sonic Steel Space Bass. Listen on good speakers or earphones to experience the ultra-low subsonic frequencies of the instrument.
Read Articles from LATimes, the Examiner & emusic.com featuring the Space Bass

SONIC IMMERSION - A Chakra Clearing Healing workshop featuring the ultra low sub-sonic frequencies that has resulted in countless powerful healings .

At a future point in time, we intend to present
"SYMPHONY for SPACE BASS" at DISNEY HALL in LA





My friend took this unusual photo of me while performing the SPACE BASS;
the results are intriguing as I appear to be disappearing into another dimension
.



photo by Michel Huygen


Attempts to describe the sound and the experience of the Space Bass

A Transdimensional Communication Device
Primordial
Penetrating
Archetypal
An OM machine
Tibetan Monks
Tibetan Horns
The center of the earth
The far reaches of time and space
Bone-rattling resonance
Whales in space
Gateway to other dimensions
Chakra tuner-upper
An atom-re-arranger
A healer
More than just a scrap of metal...




ORIGIN OF THE SONIC STEEL INSTRUMENTS

From the artist: I had one-woman shows of my artwork and sculpture in Greenwich Village, NYC, in the 60s and 70s, as my creative pursuits have always extended beyond music to include painting, sculpture, and multi-media, and the steel instruments are the result of my combined love of sculpture and music.. At the time, I was about to torch a big piece of sheet metal to start a sculpture, but the roar of the sheet made my torch stop in mid-air, and thus was borne the first version of the Space Bass, a primitive thunder sheet. Many experiments followed, such as the discovery of the insides of a toy piano, a small horizontal bar with rods attached, which eventually became a key design element in the Space Bass.

The instruments were not preconceived or consciously designed beforehand, rather the instruments designed themselves as I remained in the "don't know" state, a state of uncertainty that teachers such as Deepok Chopra recommend, like a state of innocence or openness to divine accident.

There were others I was co-creating with at the time who added their design elements to the mix, such as Bob Rutman, who eventually created his own versions based on my original design, and Jack Hilmer, who added a brilliant suspension support system so that the sheet of metal is free to sway on the stands, increasing the resonance.

The Whale Sail, is a vertical 8 ft sheet strung with steel and brass wires that are bowed in a free- form fretless style, emitting sounds reminiscent of whales and dolphins



Hammered Dulcimer

The Hammered Dulcimer is a trapezoidal shaped instrument played with small wooden or bamboo hammers, and is said to be the predecessor to the piano in that it is strings stuck with hammers. The origins of this instrument reach back several thousand years to Persia and India, where it is known as the Santur. In China, it is called the Yang Chin, in Eastern Europe, the Cymbalom, and in the early lumberjack camps of America, it was known as the "Whamadiddle."

From the Artist: During the early 1970's I was introduced to the hammered dulcimer and various other far eastern stringed insruments by Dorothy Carter. I had my own custom version designed with the help of instrument designer Sam Rizetta, an Appalachian based expert in the field. He assisted by determining with a micrometer the exact diameter and length of each individual string, especially the lower bass strings, which added another octave to the instrument. Most traditional hammered dulcimers do not venture down into the lower bass strings. But those bass strings resonate the chordal structure, giving the sounds more range and solidity. The Hammer Dulcimer Sam made for me is unique and one of a kind; it ended up being almost five feet long, because that low C string demanded a certain length in order to achieve the note. The resonance is such that the sound of one string being struck hangs in the air for nearly 15 seconds.


photo by Michel Huygen

click - Sacred Space Music - to hear Demby's
"dazzling virtuosity" on the hammered dulcimer.



THE BAT WHO CAME TO LISTEN

I performed the Hammer Dulcimer on the street in Harvard Square on the weekends, it was so much fun..!. All sorts of people would wander over like flies to honey, standing there listening, hypnotized. Buses and motorcycles would roar by but no one seemed to notice. Cops would come by and yell out to me "CK, control your crowd, they're out into the street..move 'em back...." Sometimes people would come over to my spot with their sleeping bags and camp out for the whole evening.

One time the crowd gasped and pulled back. I stopped and looked up and a saw that a bat had landed right next to the instrument, maybe to hear those high-pitched sounds better. I recalled that a few weeks earlier I had been recording my first album SKIES ABOVE SKIES in a nearby church. During the recording there were bats circling up in the eaves, and I guessed that this might have been one of that group, back for more of those high tones. I told the crowd I was going to play a prayer for him, and performed the St Francis song. He stayed there listening, and at the end of the song, flew off into the night... Sigh...!


 


  Digital Sampling Synthesizers

The miracle of modern technology allows today's top sound designers to record actual instruments of the orchestra (or any other instrument, i.e. a bamboo flute), and then process them digitally into what are called sample sets. These sets are stored onto a variety of media (hard drives, CD-ROM, magneto-optical, etc.) and ultimately ported over to digital synthesizer or a dedicated sample playback instrument. The best digital samples can be enormous in size, (in terms of megabytes), but this amount of digital information allows the performer to capture each nuance of a real acoustic instrument in live performance. Essentially the artist is playing a "virtual instrument" on a digital keyboard, (Demby's instrument of choice: the Kurzweil keybards) allowing them the opportunity to compose for, perform and conduct a digital symphony orchestra.The music can then be recorded directly to computer with programs such as Digital Performer. The computer can also print out even the most sophisticated music with all notation precisely articulated for output on a laser printer or other device. 

 photo by Michel Huygen

 


From a recent interview -
Question: You are on record as saying "I have an orchestra in a box that I conduct with a mouse"

Demby: You just reminded me of the drawing I did when I made that statement -- a conductor conducting an orchestra using the tail of the mouse as his baton, while the mouse's legs and whiskers are flying out into the air as he was being flung about as a baton. You should have seen the expression on that mouse's face! But really, for an artist to have an orchestra in a box, they are - simultaneously - the composer of the music, the arranger, the performer of all the instruments, the conductor of the orchestra, and the recording engineer, all in the push of ONE button, mind you. It's nothing less than a miracle, and Bach and Beethoven and the rest of them would have chosen it in a moment. Imagine what they had to go through -- page after page, with all that complicated notation written with a quill pen, then trying to convince the king or the church to make all the arrangements to get it performed?!! They had their own hassles with the "industry" as we do today. There is a story about a work Beethoven had just written down, and then accidentally knocked over the bottle of ink, and the whole thing was ruined, lost. Word has it that after that he sank into a deep depression as if he wasn't already depressed enough by being deaf! He didn't have a photocopy, or a hard disc saved with the composition. So yes, it is a miracle for musicians to have such a technology at their disposal.

Question: How far are you willing to let computers take over your beloved spiritual soundworld?

Demby: This brings up important issues for electronic composers. And that is, the delicate balance between the music, the most important element, and how the electronics affects the composition Obviously, these keyboards and units are miracle makers, and must be approached with both respect and caution. One must be very skillful to allow the music to b-r-e-a-t-h, contract and expand, have a sense of dynamics, contain a sense of human imperfection. Otherwise if the machine takes over, it can make the music automated, soul-less and heart-less sounding. This is bad enough, but the scariest part is when no one seems to notice that the musical entity in question has no heart and no soul. It gives one pause for thought, to consider how subtle and unseen the results can be, as a species mutates into a computer-driven society. Musicians, in particular, because they deal with energy-in-motion, e-motion, would do well to become the wary diligent Gatekeepers, continuously self-examining the role of the machine in their music.

So how far am I willing to let computers take over my beloved spiritual soundworld? The point here is, the equipment is there to serve. The computer only takes over only if I let it. I'm in charge of who's doing what, and my computer is my friend and servant. He allows me to make miracles and music, we treat each other well, and I don't yell and curse at him anymore when he doesn't work right. How many times have I bowed to the great Cyber-Computer Gods, begging them to please help fix my computer, or give me back the piece of music that just got deleted. Their answer is always the same. (spoken in a cyber-droid voice) - "You have not entered the correct information. I must have precise information in order to function properly." Damn! And I wasn't the only one bowing to those huge, rectangular, metallic-gray Computer Gods; there were thousands of other computer -folk, bowing and pleading right along with me!

I remember when I first started composing on computers, and experienced the huge gulf between the left and right brain, and how painful and frustrating it was to be soaring in the inspired state, and have to come down and deflate in order to fix, adjust, reboot, and watch your passion go dry, while you waited for everything to restart, reload. And God forbid that you would have to read the manual! -- looking for the precise answer to your problem that you could never find. (Who writes those manuals? And did they ever send it to a real musician first to have it tested?) Eventually, I could feel the bridge being built between the left and right brains, and when it was stable and firmly in place, with the learning curve finally curving all the way over, my brain got rewired. What had been dry, alien and cold, had become not only juicy, but the greatest adventure of my career, and I could fly with my music again. That digital editing pencil is a miracle. How could one ever again return to a razor blade slicing an edit on a piece of recording tape? How primitive!

Ultimately, one must ask --- regardless of what computer, synth, or equipment was used, how did the music make you feel? What journey did it take you on? Where did you travel to? Did your heart skip a beat? Because the music can only take you as far and as deep as the composer went when they received the music. Issues like this can get totally forgotten in the sales driven push and pressure to sell units and make money. It can also get totally sidestepped if the machines take over, and the artist sabotages themself by filling up their studio with one latest piece of equipment after another, with the artist ending up becoming a machine service technician. My electronic studio has been kept to just the essentials. It keeps me simplified, and focused on the matter at hand - THE MUSIC. As mentioned, my studio has gone through various incarnations, and when it was big and complicated and I had a lot of units to service, learn, edit, fix, cable, change, reposition, etc, it just about drove me nuts. I finally wiped everything out; sold every piece I had, and installed ONLY the Kurzweils. Ahhh. ONE editing system, some processing gear, the computer, and I was off and running again with a clearer frame of mind.

But there is no turning back at this point. We are mutating into new virtual cyber-worlds, becoming a new type of species. We must learn how to balance and integrate technology, while making sure we do not lose sight of our precious, heart-based human-ness, running the danger of becoming like the Borg on Star Trek.

To stay uncompromisingly true to the original gift one was given, without getting distracted or diverted, can sometimes result in these kinds of letters---- "I am writing to you from the intensive care unit of Kaiser Hospital and this is a letter of gratitude. I have just had my first and I hope, last heart attack. In addition to pain, I have had to cope with fear, and your music has helped me do that. Last night, my heart attacked me again in spite of isordyl, tagamet, heparin, attenuol, nitroglycerin, and expert nursing care. The chemicals did not make the pain go away. What made it go away was Novus Magnificat. I needed to be reminded that it was my body, not my being, that was in jeopardy. Your music is obviously not created for your personal fame and fortune. "


© Copyright 1999 - 2015 Constance Demby.  All Rights Reserved.