As a high school music teacher, Bart Hopkin didn't have much chance to explore his fascination with strange and exotic instruments. It's not like he could have outfitted the entire teen horn section with Russian zgamoniums, or replaced the first chair flute with a French stiltophone, or switched the rhythm section's snare drum for his own creation, Savart's Wheel -- a complicated contraption consisting of corrugated rubber patched over a giant spindle, and played with a stick.
Fortunately, Hopkin averted such a cacophonous disaster by moving on to become publisher of Experimental Musical Instruments, a quarterly review of developments in cutting-edge instrument-making that was a sort of bible for mad musical inventors till it ceased publication last year. "The knowledge I gained from having had all those instruments in my hands," Hopkin says of his high school teaching days, "and having continued to fool around with a few of them over the years, has been of huge value to me in my work with experimental instruments."
That work has also included several books on the principles of instrument-making, and most notably, the infamous odd-sound sampler series of books and CDs Gravikords, Whirlies, and Pyrophones, and its follow-up Orbitones, Spoon Harps, and Bellowphones. In those two documents, Hopkin drew connections between such artists and innovators as John Cage and Tom Waits and Robert Moog, tracing the development of atonal sound and instrument invention or "alteration" that fascinated all three, while introducing listeners to sounds that hadn't been heard before beyond Latvia, Australia, and Jamaica.
This Saturday, Hopkin brings his unique sensibilities -- and his own bizarre instruments -- to Zeum's "Avant Yard" series, where he promises to play as many of the instruments as he "reasonably" can, as well as providing practical demonstrations, discussion, and Q&A.