project development studio : the funeral of horses

by admin

It all started with the proposal of creating a musical instrument and performing with it. At first, I was into Deleuze and Guattari’s A Thounsand Plateaus and their concept of rhizome. The idea, back then, was to come up with what I perceived as a “rhizomatic instrument”, that would have various points all connecting with each other, thus embracing the flux of information of a rhizome and overcoming the necessity of a root-like flow of information and actions. I wanted to add an organic factor to this project and my first thought was to bring silkworms into the mix and have it as the agent that would play the instrument.  But as Bachelard stated in his Air and Dreams, “imagination is, beforehand, the faculty of deforming the images provided by perception, it is, above all, the faculty that frees us from the first images”. Therefore I started to distort what I had, attempting to create a somehow controlled chaos in order to extract something from it. By then, I have been intrigued by the possibility of using a violin or cello bow in the mechanism of my instrument. In a rhizomatic way, I found myself deep into the history and origins of bows.

That lead me to the Mongol Empire – since most of the horsehair used in bows are from the mongolian horse – and to Mongol culture. It happens that the mongolian horse is of extreme importance in their culture. It is traditionally said that “a Mongol without a horse is like a bird without the wings.” Horses are the centre of various spirituals beliefs and has longed played a role as a sacred animal. It is used not only as means of transportation but also as a source of food. The Mongol horse is featured in many songs and even an instrument named Morin Khuur (or horsehead fiddle) was created after it.  In this case mare and stallion are represented by the two strings on the instrument, which were in the past made of mare and stallion horsehair respectively. And according to Columbia Professor Morris Rossabi’s article “All The Khan’s Horses”, Genghis Khan success was only made possible by the idiosyncrasies of the horses in Mongolia. But there is an specific fact that really took my attention.

Mr. Rossabi in his article says that at least forty horses were sacrificed and buried along with Genghis Khan. It is common to sacrifice the steeds after their owner has passed away so he will have a ride in the afterlife. That made the connection I was looking for: it had a symbolic meaning that might make the work interesting and more relevant; it was the step I was missing. The idea is to make an instrument composed of forty strings to play the song in this funeral of horses. Various references and inspirations have appeared since then, such as the mechanism of Leonardo Da Vinci’s Viola Organista, that uses horsehair in a wheel to make a gesture of infinite bowing; Sigur Rós sound aspects when Jónsi is playing guitar with a cello bow, such as the enormous amount of reverb; Andy Cavatorta’s Violina mechanism; among many others.

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My main goal this semester is to combine all my classes and make one big project: the final musical instrument for NIME (New Interfaces for Musical Expression). This week I have made the first one-week instrument prototype, which consists of two violin strings being played by a motor with a wheel covered with horsehair. A serendipitous discovery was made when I  placed the motor over the humbucker pickup I used for amplifying the sound of the strings. The magnetic fields from the motor and the pickup caused an interference that made a creepy sound that I ended up enjoying. That was nice.