Art of Noise

Bart Hopkin's homemade musical instruments

Goaded by his visitor, Hopkin demonstrates a few more of his own contrivances, most of which are made from common household items -- balloons, rubber bands, styrofoam cooler lids. Since launching EMI, Hopkin says he is less inclined to regale his audiences with the childlike cry, "Look what I built!" "But I still enjoy showing them off," he laughs. Kneeling in his jeans on the office's worn, squash-colored shag, Hopkin begins plucking at a traylike apparatus sprouting a few dozen wire antennas, which emit mellifluous boinging sounds. He also plays a few notes apiece on a clarinetlike instrument shaped from dried seaweed, a valved "reed" instrument fashioned from a cardboard shipping tube, and a slide-whistle-style flute pitch-controlled by a curling slice of lightweight wood. "I like the slide whistle a lot," says the inventor. "People associate it with something stupid -- when the cartoon character's pants fall down -- but it can be the most haunting instrument." It is, in fact, a haunting sound that he produces, as rain drips from the plentiful leaves outside.

"I have very little ambition," Hopkin says, "but when I do something that I think shows off one of my instruments well, I'm happy, and I might even try to convince my wife she should come listen to it.

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