Notes from the ecopsychological expressive art work-bench: a closer look within
I recently acquired two new amazing hand-made drums from a local drum maker (Jane King*) and it occurred me; how often do we actually take the time to look at the creative instruments we’re using?
As a woodworker and stained glass tradesperson of many years, I had become quite ‘in tune’ with the tools of my trades: a particular glass cutter I’ve used since childhood, a particular square I like to measure with in woodworking for example. I have made some of my own tools over the years as well, but instruments are just a wee out of my league to date. Thus, when I happened to pick up this particular bear skin drum for the first time, it had such an interesting feel, light transmission, and vibrational sound, that I knew I needed to stop and pay closer attention to the art of the tool I was using.
Upon initial inspection, I was surprised of how different not only the sounds were from hide to hide on similar drums (I have a few flat round drums of which I am speaking) but upon closer inspection of the actual hide from sunlight passing though the drum head, how different the skin structure appeared therein.
Intrigued further, I thought it would be interesting to share such images and sounds- how often do you get to see, play and/or inspect a bear skin drum with the hole that killed it?
Below is a compilation of a few of the drums I have in my collection. Photos are taken from behind or within the drum when possible so that the structure of the skin can be more clearly seen. In addition, I made simple sound-bytes to further illustrate the phonics therein.
Please excuse and be mindful that I did not use expertly set up sound recording systems or photographic equipment to ‘take a closer look.’ I encourage my students to similarly take the time to stop and pay attention with whatever means readily available to them at the time. Thus, I used my phone and computer.
I hope that it inspires further inspection of your creative world as well. I like to know where my supplies come from, how they were made, who made them and the story attached if possible. Sometimes this is not available. However, you might be surprised! I email the manufacturer of my bongos and they responded within an hour with an answer. So, you never know. It doesn’t hurt to ask.
I’ll start with flat drums, or shaman drums as I call mine. The first was a drum I had made for me when I had completed a few vision quests of my own and felt called to the drum for guidance (Tachini Drums*- elk hide). I typically use this for myself, however, it has come out on occasion with others. Usually it is heated to appropriate tightness over an open fire outdoors in the woods. Notice the small flecks of pigmentation. When tuned appropriately, this drum is very tight and with strong resonance. Here is it probably medium-tightness (we’re in April and humidity levels are changing and I didn’t make a fire outside to tune it.)
Goat: Small Djembe
Goat: Large Djembe
Cow: Double headed folk drum
I am not a taxidermist or expert in vibrational sound structures, but with a little research online, there is some interesting data on the acoustics of natural skin heads and the latitude of ranges and possible usages of each therein. If you are interested in such things, try the Acoustical Society of America for further reading.*
For now, I propose to start with considerations of the following: what is the connection to what the the animal and/or wood materials used are in producing the drum? What does that animal/plant look like? Where does it grow naturally? What sustains it? How was it procured and what parts were used for the drum? Who made the instrument and what is their connection as an instrument maker? How does the drum look, sound, tune, play, feel when played? Does such knowledge assist in the connection to playing the drum and/or being heard when played?
I posit that knowing more about the tools of your trade is vital to the effective production of your art or craft. It is a continual process of learning and I am in awe of how amazing the stories are behind such tools if further inspected.
I have been immensely happy with the instruments I’ve played much in part due to the connection of those from whence they came. I have included links to a few if you’d like further investigation. In final note, I was pleasantly surprised to have a very quick response from the maker of LP Drums when I sent an inquiry about the source of my bongos (incidentally they’re Siam Oak made in Taiwan). Thanks to Joe Hofer for the help!
Ben Fox LCMHC intermodal ecopsychological expressive art therapist & art educator at