Where sound design and music meet.
I’ve been helping a producer clear out some gear he no longer needs. The Blast Beam is the biggest (and strangest) piece in his collection. It’s one of the longest stringed instruments out there, using a number of highly tensioned wires and electric guitar pickups mounted to a heavy aluminum beam, this ‘instrument’ can be plucked, bowed, or struck.
It produces a dark bass tone with a ton of impressive harmonics. It’s been used in soundtracks for Star Trek The Motion Picture (1979), the TV show Wonder Woman, and as a sound design element (the seismic charge) in Star Wars Episode II Attack of the Clones. At 15 feet this one is not the longest ever, I gather there are 18 foot or longer versions, but it is impressive.The beam sits at the intersection of sound design and music, an area I call music design. It’s where composers and sound nerds like me experiment with unusual instruments, found sound, samples, or traditional instruments played untraditionally, all for a sonic statement. The bowed piano string and reversed cymbal hit are very common examples. For me, it gets more interesting when I manipulate a room tone, or some other diagetic sound, with modulation, distortion, and a whole bunch of squashing and then add it to the music to bring tension to a scene.
We used this technique to add an undertone of dread or malice to the film mix for CNBC’s spinoff from American Greed called Deadly Rich. Sound design, like music, is just organized sounds. Sometimes it’s about having two organized threads (music and sfx) bang against each other.
Well, we’ve found a great new home for this Blast Beam at a graduate program in Audio Arts where students study this intersection of music, film, and experimental or pure audio; the place I’ve been exploring since my own days in school and still find fascinating. Hopefully this crazy instrument will bang its way into some soundtracks in the future.
Check out this video of Craig Huxley performing and talking about his version of the instrument and its use on a bunch of film and music projects. (Check out the outfits!)