10: Rhythm Discovery (Transcript)

CRAIG SHANK I’m Craig Sha…

GEORGE DRAKE JR. Wait, wait, before we get into that I want to let everyone know that you’re not just a pretty voice, Craig. You’re also pretty badass on the drums.


CRAIG SHANK I’m alright. I haven’t played in a few years, but that’s not what matters today. That’s not what we’re talking about. What matters is where I was playing.

GEORGE DRAKE JR. And he was actually playing in a museum. Not just any museum, one where you’re encouraged to take part in the installations.

CRAIG SHANK Ok, we need to take care of something. You just interrupted me a minute ago.

GEORGE DRAKE JR. Ok, you’re right. I’m sorry, go ahead.

CRAIG SHANK Thanks. This is Everything Sounds. I’m Craig Shank.

GEORGE DRAKE JR. …and I’m George Drake Jr.

CRAIG SHANK Now that we’ve taken care of that, Matt will be our museum guide today.

MATTHEW ALTIZER My name is Matthew Altizer and I’m the marketing and communications director for the Rhythm Discovery Center and the Percussive Arts Society.

GEORGE DRAKE JR. The Rhythm Discovery Center is in downtown Indianapolis. It’s literally right near the middle of the city underneath the Arts Garden attached to Circle Center mall.

CRAIG SHANK It’s fairly new to the city. The Percussive Arts Society, which runs the museum, moved to Indianapolis from Oklahoma in 2007 and opened the museum in 2009.

MATTHEW ALTIZER …and at that time we decided instead of having a standard museum, we really wanted something that we could give back to the community, have it very interactive and really make it a destination point for families and adults of all ages. So, we decided to go this route as a very interactive museum with Rhythm Discovery Center.

CRAIG SHANK It’s an interactive percussion museum, so it’s important to note what what they actually consider to be a percussion instrument.To keep it simple, it’s essentially any instrument that can be struck or scraped.

GEORGE DRAKE JR. Like bells, drums, tambourines, marimbas, cymbals, and pianos. Now, the piano does seem out of place, but it really isn’t. They’re kind of a hybrid between string and percussion instruments. They make a sound by pressing a key, which causes a hammer to strike a string. So, technically they’re not string instruments they’re percussion instruments.

CRAIG SHANK That’s right. They’re struck, not plucked or strummed, but still, the piano is one they needed to exclude from their collection.

MATTHEW ALTIZER We’ve always kind of steered away from the piano. There’s other organizations that deal with pianos and, you know, I mean if we were to do something for the piano it would probably take over the entire museum. So, you know, we stick more to the drumming and mallet instruments.

GEORGE DRAKE JR. In the museum, you can learn about percussion while playing actual percussion instruments. It’s great for kids, adults, musicians, and, of course, people with no musical background.

CRAIG SHANK Or even people like Matt, who play non-percussion instruments. He’s actually a trained classical` saxophonist. The Rhythm Discovery Center prides itself on being an extremely interactive museum. All around you are different instruments from all over the world and installations to take part in.

GEORGE DRAKE JR. You follow this red carpet around the space, finding exhibits featuring ancient and modern instruments and you’re free to touch anything that doesn’t sit behind glass or have a sign saying otherwise. Now, we heard Craig on the drums earlier, but the museum is about percussion, not just about drums. So, we’ve chosen some aspects of the museum to highlight. So, let’s take a tour.

CRAIG SHANK You start your visit in what they call the time tunnel. It gives you a glimpse at the evolution and basic building blocks of percussion instruments.

MATTHEW ALTIZER …three basic sound principles for percussionists. We create sound through wood, metal, and skin.

CRAIG SHANK To demonstrate the use of wood, you use mallets to hit a log drum on the wall. To see the vibrations that skins can make, you hit an 8 foot tall gong drum and to understand metal’s role in percussion, you can whack the tam tam.

GEORGE DRAKE JR. Some people in our part of the world call it a “Chinese gong”, bullseye gong, or just simply a gong, but before we get too carried away with gongs and gonging….

CRAIG SHANK Wait…wait, gonging?

GEORGE DRAKE JR. It makes sense! You can’t deny that. I’m standing by it. You drum on a drum so you have to gong on a gong!

CRAIG SHANK So would I “marim” on a marimba?

GEORGE DRAKE JR. I’m assuming so. I also assume you “xyle” on a xylophone. You know, I’m an avid air xyler.

CRAIG SHANK What does that even mean?

GEORGE DRAKE JR. It means I air-zyle.

CRAIG SHANK Great explanation. Ok. Let’s just start with wood.

MATTHEW ALTIZER We have three different playing stations that allow them to figure out what that wood sound is or what that metal sound is or the skin sound. So, we introduce them to the basic log drum and then they’re allowed to, as well, play that log drum and make their own music. So, it’s a good way to understand why wood is used, what’s so important about wood.

CRAIG SHANK The time tunnel leads into the instrument origins section. You get to see percussion instruments throughout the world and the way that they use wood, metal, and skin.

GEORGE DRAKE JR. Now, try to imagine, a rack of five different drums, all that you’d find in a regular drum kit and they’re placed in front of a wall that’s completely covered with small, hanging metal circles.

CRAIG SHANK They call it the shimmer wall.

MATTHEW ALTIZER …that actually shows the sound waves moving through the air when you hit a drum.

CRAIG SHANK And it lets you see the physical aspect of sound.

MATTHEW ALTIZER So, as you hit one of the drums, you know, the sound wall has five bass drums set up with this shimmer wall behind it. When you hit a bass drum… *bass drum hit* … and then you can actually see the sound wave hit that shimmer wall and make the shimmer wall, obviously, shimmer. *drum hits*

GEORGE DRAKE JR. And the way those metal circles move kind of looks kind of like sunlight reflecting off of waves in the ocean and if you blink you miss it. It only lasts for a second or two.

MATTHEW ALTIZER It’s great to see kids and adults come and play on this. We actually had a marching band come and tour through the museum and the bass drumline from the marching band actually played their entire show on these five bass drums. It was really fun to see all of the air puffs, or the sound waves, hitting that shimmer wall through their performance.

CRAIG SHANK Next to the shimmer wall you see an enormous glass wall in front of what looks like hundreds instruments sitting on shelves and the floor.

GEORGE DRAKE JR. It’s the archive of the Percussive Arts Society and the Rhythm Discovery center. Many museums keep their archives completely hidden from the public, but their collection is a bit different. It’s on full display, even if particular items aren’t being exhibited.

CRAIG SHANK The archive has unique pieces from all over the world including some famous drumsets.

MATTHEW ALTIZER We have some amazing pieces in here such as Gene Krupa’s drumset, a Louie Bellson drum set, Buddy Rich drumset. We have a Victory drum set from World War II. During World War II metal was very scarce, obviously and so drum sets and drums were actually made mostly of wood with very little metal. So, we have a World War II Victory drum set as they were called that’s all wood, very little metal on it. It’s in beautiful condition. It’s really kind of fun to look at.

GEORGE DRAKE JR. And yeah, they want people to see them. That’s why they put them behind glass, but they don’t always just stay back there.

MATTHEW ALTIZER We’ll bring some out every once in a while and create a temporary exhibit within our plaza, but, you know, this is just a great way to search through what we have and see all the different instruments from various cultures that have been used in percussion.

CRAIG SHANK If you follow the archive and the glass wall to the end, you’ll run into some small black steps. They lead you up to the 8 foot tall tubular bells.

GEORGE DRAKE JR. And beside those bells is another station where you can hear why metal is sometimes more useful in percussion instruments than other materials.

MATTHEW ALTIZER It has a certain resonance that really helps it. I mean, if you hit rubber, there’s nothing really there. If you hit marble, again, there’s nothing really there, but with metal you get that long ring. So, that’s really why metal has been used for a long, long time within music and also, you know, conversations and war and everything like that.

CRAIG SHANK When you’re finished playing the chimes, you walk past an interactive area and music practice rooms filled with instruments and you see a giant wind chime in front of a yellow wall.

GEORGE DRAKE JR. And although they sound similar, the wind chimes aren’t the same as the bells you heard earlier.

CRAIG SHANK Right. The first set? They’re tubular bells: Vertical, metal tubes you hit with a hammer. The giant wind chime is, quite literally, a giant wind chime.

GEORGE DRAKE JR. But the term wind chime is being used pretty loosely here. This thing is literally taller than a basketball hoop and Indianapolis doesn’t usually get strong gales, let alone ones that are strong enough to move a giant wind chime. And besides, the wind chime is indoors. You need to move it by yourself.

MATTHEW ALTIZER So, you know, it’s basic wind chimes that you would hear at someone’s house except that they’re, you know, ten, twelve feet tall, I guess? Something like that.

CRAIG SHANK It just helps to showcase that items of all sizes and shapes can be used as percussion instruments.

MATTHEW ALTIZER I mean this is one of the nice, one of the great things about percussion. I mean, all music is great and all musical instruments are great, but this is something that you really couldn’t do with a saxophone museum or with a violin museum. I mean, you know, I’m a saxophonist. It would be great to go to a saxophone museum, but kids aren’t going to be able to really experience it. With percussion, you know, percussionist use day-to-day objects that you wouldn’t think would be a musical instrument to create music and so it’s exciting to see that and really see…let the kids understand that, you know, anything can be a percussion instrument, ultimately.

GEORGE DRAKE JR. Even melted space stuff!

CRAIG SHANK Or meteorites, to be exact.

GEORGE DRAKE JR. Eh, tomato, tomato.

CRAIG SHANK Tom-AY-toe, tom-AH-toe?

GEORGE DRAKE JR. Either way.

CRAIG SHANK Anyway, an eccentric musician, composer, inventor, and all around creative guy…

GEORGE DRAKE JR. …named Clair Omar Musser…

CRAIG SHANK …had his own exhibit when we visited the museum. They have some of his one of a kind mallet instruments and creations on display.

GEORGE DRAKE JR. And the most impressive piece is his celestaphone. He collected over thirteen hundred pounds of meteorites over four decades and took around half of that collection to create what is basically a space xylophone.

MATTHEW ALTIZER So, the bars and the frame are all space rock. It’s the only one ever created in the world and we’re lucky enough to have it here at our museum housed as part of the archives. So, it’s just amazing to think that, you know, six hundred and…it said six hundred and seventy eight pounds of meteorite material were metled down to build this one instrument.

CRAIG SHANK While it took almost 700 pounds of meteorites to create, it only weighs about 80 pounds, but consider this. This instrument is made of material that was literally from out of this world.

MATTHEW ALTIZER It’s just amazing to look at and think that, you know, this is material that was floating around outside of earth.

GEORGE DRAKE JR. One important things that the Rhythm Discovery Center tries to reinforce is that anything is percussive. Like the guys who play the buckets in the street, baseball cards in a bike tire, or even a stick along a chain link fence. Even though it’s not an instrument, it still is percussive.

CRAIG SHANK Anyone can be a percussionist when the entire world becomes an instrument. The Rhythm Discovery Center teaches people to explore their own curiosity in a welcoming space so that they can begin to appreciate the music that exists in their everyday lives.

MATTHEW ALTIZER You have the young kids at home, you know, banging on the pots and pans, driving their parents crazy. They’re doing the same thing that a percussionist does…not with the training, obviously, and you know, at a lower level, but it’s still the same concept.

GEORGE DRAKE JR. Find out more about the Rhythm Discovery Center and Percussive Arts Society at our website, everythingsounds.org

CRAIG SHANK There, you can also see pictures of the museum, listen to our previous episodes and learn about how you can support the show.

GEORGE DRAKE JR. And remember to follow us on Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr and Soundcloud. Again, all of those links are at everythingsounds.org

CRAIG SHANK Thanks for listening. I’m Craig Shank

GEORGE DRAKE JR. I’m George Drake Jr. This is Everything Sounds.

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