Mothers of Invention

Recently, I heard Jim Blum’s comment about Louise Taylor‘s “Call My Name” (Velvet Town), where he had been fooled by her improvised kalimba/thumb piano sound-alike. Not seeing the thumb piano listed on the album credits, he then ferreted out the information that she had slid a piece of paper between the strings of another instrument (guitar?) to emulate this sound.

HERE’s MY QUERY: What improvisations have other musicians made, as mothers of invention would have it, to create altered sounds for their musical performances (if they don’t mind giving up their secrets, that is!)?

Personally, my sister and I would experiment, as kids, with waxed paper or typing paper on piano strings for that tell-tale harpsichord sound, for one. We’d do the same with guitar. Also, we’d place a rose petal, a leaf, or slender blade of grass across our tongue, the way my Dad had taught us, and the way his Alabama Dad had taught him, to get that kazoo sound. (I never mastered that sweet singing sound my Dad could make with it though!)

And on a slightly different bent, I would form a sheet of typing paper in to a cone shape, add a very large straight pin to the tip and gently let it ride the groove of some brittle old war-time records my Dad let us play and Voila! – an old gramophone sound. Recording this onto a reel to reel tape added that old-timey feel to some more contemporary overlays, which was really fun in my later teen years with a short-lived band I was in as keyboardist/vocalist.

After dinners with our musical next door neighbors, we’d tune up the crystal goblets and play various chord progressions and make music that way. Goblets filled at different levels with water or tea, Dad or “Uncle” Ewell would dip a finger tip in the liquid and run a finger lightly ’round the thin rim of the glass, and the sounds were haunting. We’d all join in and it was great, satisfying fun.(You know, when shopping around for goblets myself, I chose the ones I did with this in mind!)

So, what are some of your “mothers of invention”, and how have you used them?

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