Homemade Ghost RockAUGUST 16, 2008
- Elliot Bergman
- (Angela Kim)
- View the Slideshow
More From John Moe
- Now you can draw state redistricting maps too
- The coming conundrum of home DNA testing
- What mattered this year in technology
More From Marc Sanchez
The Ann Arbor, Michigan band Nomo is on the road a lot. This weekend in Minneapolis, next weekend in Madison, Wisconsin, supporting their new album Ghost Rock. For Nomo, touring is no easy feat. There are up to eight musicians and an avalanche of equipment including a bunch of instruments you've never seen before.
John Moe: I was walking around some of your instruments earlier, and I saw something called a "Brainwave Monitor."
Elliot Bergman: Yes, this is one of our most unusual instrument and one of our most dangerous as well. It's some sort of quack medical device, and I found it at a thrift store for a couple dollars. It makes a shrieking sound when you plug it into an amplifier.
It looks like a little guitar pedal, and you can plug in a diode that you would, theoretically, attach to your head and monitor what's happening in your mind. It's slowly transitioning from medical device to musical instrument.
Moe: I see a lot of instruments in the ensemble that I recognize. There is a saxophone, there is a horn. There are drums. There are lots of drums, but there are a lot of instruments that you build yourself. How did building your own instruments come about?
Bergman: It came out of necessity. Some of the instruments that we use are based around the mbira or kalimba or "thumb piano," as some people refer to it. The tines are the thing that's hardest to find. A lot of times, we'll find something then we'll run out of it. An old plumber's rod was the source material for a lot of the tines. You have to chop it up and grind it down so you don't cut your thumb on it. We use electrician's fish tape for some of the tines.
We played down at "Bonaroo" earlier this summer, and out in the field we found this long piece of metal strapping. That made its way on to some of our instruments. So anything that's springy metal works as a good tine.
Moe: Sounds like you're always on the lookout for metal.
Bergman: You get the "crow's eye." You're drawn to anything that's shiny and metal.
It evolved, and we started building more and more of these instruments. We've built over 200 of them now. They don't make much sound on their own, but when you plug it into an amp, you can really crank it up.
Moe: Before I heard some of your music, I didn't know you could plug one of those in. Talk a little bit about what you do with that, what I assume is a very old instrument.
Bergman: Yeah, it's really an ancient instrument, and you'll find it in various forms all over Africa. We basically use a contact microphone, which we sometimes get the parts of from Radio Shack. That will pick up the sound, and then it's like an electric guitar: you just plug in a cable and run that into your amplifier.
This is a large block of canary wood. Then there are these three metal strips that are attached to it and divided down the middle by the bar, which transfers the vibrations to the wood.
There's some lower frequencies and some higher overtones in there, but we end up using a lot of different instruments to create backing textures [like in our song, "Three Shades].
Moe: Elliot Bergman and NOMO, thanks so much for being with us.
Bergman: Thank you so much for having us in today.