06/06/2018 at 22:13 •
When last we left our story, I was puzzled by bird cannons, a.k.a. bird scarers or bird scaring cannons. I was clueless as to the basic function, and I was having a lot of trouble finding info on the web. I had basically settled on using some kind of popper valve, resembling a sort of one-shot two-cycle engine or perhaps a one-shot pulse jet. Then, at last, I found this Instructable:
Perhaps a little underwhelming to some, but I was grateful for this game-changer. This Instructable was similar to another that was a simple tennis ball mortar. The photo clearly shows several tin (steel) food cans taped together. This is misleading; the device is actually-- well, no, it's several tin cans taped together. But it is NOT a simple pipe. Improving considerably on the illustration in the Instructable, I drew a diagram with a little more detail:
Why does the photograph show four cans and my illustration five? I have no idea. The description in the text makes it clear that five is the minimum number of cans. That bit about the "steepening" will be explained below.
Propane-air mixture is inserted into the combustion chamber through the hole on the right, then ignited soon after. The assemblage of cans then makes a sound like a shotgun blast. According to the Instructable, one can make it even louder by adding additional "baffles", which I have labeled "Baffle/ Iris/ diaphragm/ aperture". lasermaster3531 states:
"In my design, I alternate fully removing the bottom of one can and leaving half of the bottom on the next one, until I get to the muzzle end which has three can-lengths unobstructed. The can bottoms serve an important role, don't just tape cans together and think it will work if it's essentially a simple pipe. The "baffles" (can bottoms) cause the speed of the flame to increase every time it has to pass through a baffle, which greatly improves the loudness and pitch of the noise made. A simple tube closed at one end will usually just make a "whoosh" or "thump" sound, but a properly fueled and constructed noisemaker sounds like a shotgun blast."
This was precisely the information I was hoping for. But what was so critical about baffles for making noise? Drawing on my limited knowledge of fluid dynamics, it seemed like the baffle acted as a nozzle, accelerating flowing gases while reducing the pressure. Did this create a shock wave? I couldn't wrap my brain around it.
Then I found this paper, "A Gasdynamic-Acoustic Model of a Bird Scare Gun", by S.W. Rienstra, which helped immensely. (Warning-- link downloads a .pdf file.) While the Instructable gave an immediately practical way to get a SCPOB, the paper explained the theory. It did not mesh with the baffle/ nozzle idea. Apparently the paper was part of a series that attempted to mathematically model a number of industrial devices.
The paper is a tad frustrating in that bird cannons are hard to model. There are many approximations and assumptions, and the questions laid out in the introduction are not able to be adequately answered. Nevertheless, the paper was invaluable to me. Here is the excellent overview of how a bird cannon works:
"The mechanism is simple. A carefully-controlled mixture of air and propane or butane gas (stoichiometric1 mixture, or a little bit richer than that) is periodically (every 5 or 10 minutes) blown into a semi-open pot, which is the combustion chamber. This pot is connected via a small diaphragm or iris (a small hole in the wall of the combustion pot) to an exhaust pipe. After ignition, the gas burns quickly (but without detonation, i.e. with a subsonically moving flame front) so that pressure and temperature increase quickly. This high pressure drives the gas out of the pot via a hot jet, which issues from the diaphragm into the pipe. Acting like a piston, this jet creates a pressure wave in the cold exhaust pipe. Part of the wave reflects at the exit, and part radiates, nearly spherically, away into the open air.
1Stoichiometric mixture = just enough of each component for a complete chemical reaction."
So the "baffle" is critical to operation, but the explanation is somewhat different. Reinstra calls this hole the "diaphragm" or "iris". I found this a trifle annoying, as these words seem to denote the material around the hole, not the hole itself. The hole seems to be the critical bit, so I stubbornly call it an "aperture". Of course, you can't have a hole without the stuff around it, so I guess it's a matter of semantics.
Here is an illustration in the paper:
(1) is the "pot" where combustion happens, with the diaphragm (aperture!) on the right side. (2) is the "exhaust pipe". (j) is the "hot jet" of burned/burning gases that rams into the column of air in the cold pipe. L is the length of the "exhaust pipe", a.k.a "cold pipe". x is how far along you are on the pipe, and x=0 is where the "hot jet" hits the cold air.
This immediately helps with these diagrams of bird cannons. The plate with a hole in it is-- a plate with a hole in it. (M6 in the second picture, some illegible number in the first.) Before, I couldn't tell if it was part of some kind of valve assembly or if it was even important in sound generation. Now I understand it is both simple and critical.
The paper agrees with the Instructable that the aperture is critical. According to Reinstra:
"The size of the diaphragm is also known to be very critical for the loudness of the sound. On one hand, too large a hole would allow the
gas to be blown away too quickly so that not all the gas reacts, and the pressure wave remains too flat. On the other hand, with too small
a hole the mass flux of the jet will remain too small, and hence the created pressure wave will be too small. Somewhere, there is obviously an optimum."
Sadly, the paper had no mathematical tricks for finding an optimum diaphragm/ aperture diameter. Reinstra states: "At present, the design of a bird scare gun is mainly done by trial and error using the skills of the experienced craftsmen." The Instructable gives this parameter short shrift, and barely mentions that the hole should be half the diameter of the can. This might be bad news for me in my search to literally get the most bang for my buck.
There is no mention in the paper of using multiple baffles/ irises/ diaphragms/ apertures. Do more holes improve performance? The Instructable insists it does, as does the tennis-ball cannon Instructable. I could find no mention of baffles on Google when it came to firearm or artillery design, with the exception of silencers. So I have my doubts. On the other hand, guns of all types and the bird cannons often are tapered, so that might help.
Notice that bird cannons look like cannons. If the aperture alone would do the trick, why have all that steel downstream? The paper explains further:
"An interesting detail in the design gave, without any further analysis, already insight in the gasdynamic behaviour. In order to vary the noise that is produced, the length of the exhaust pipe is made variable. The pipe consists of two shorter pipes, one of which slides inside the other, like a telescope. It appears that the gun produces a louder bang when the pipe is longer. This hints, of course, at a possible relation to nonlinear wave steepening. A pressure wave of high enough amplitude steepens while propagating onto the pipe exit. Indeed, from fairly elementary acoustics it is known, that (at least for low frequency linear perturbations) the radiated part is proportional to the derivative of the pipe wave. Therefore, a longer pipe, leading to more advanced steepening, may be expected to produce more noise. So the effect of steepening is not only to intensify the higher frequencies -the pitch- of the radiated pulse but also to increase its amplitude." [emphasis mine]
This agrees well with the Instructable, which states you won't get much of a bang unless you put at least three cans on the end of the combustion chamber.
I made the (single baffle) device in the Instructable and tested it with zero, one, two, and three cans on the output. See the video below!
Indeed, three cans gives a bigger bang. (Yes, it's a little foopy, but the mic didn't do it justice.) It also gave me the chance to realize how lousy my electrical ignition is.
Now that I have a practical means of making a propane bang, I am also faced with some troubling facts. The aperture diameter and pipe length both affect pitch and volume, and the math is not straightforward. Having the pitch and volume too closely related is far from ideal for an instrument. My instrument is designed to have only a single volume-- loud-- ,but all the notes should have roughly the same perceived loudness. Am I doomed to create dozens of prototypes for trial and error? Or should I run comprehensive FDTD gas dynamic simulations that require graphics cards I can't afford and coding that could take a year?
I suppose my next step will be to see if I can use the simplified model in the paper (just the pipe) while tweaking the aperture experimentally. If worse comes to worst, perhaps I can make a loud propane pistol or a row of guns that fire into the mouths of resonating pipes, like Explodophone 1.0.
05/21/2018 at 04:09 •
Turning my attention now to the Explodophone 2.0, I wish to explore how to make sudden, brief, loud sounds to excite the resonant modes of the tuned tubes-- a snap, crack, pop, or bang (a SCPOB).
Small real and thought experiments had me thinking about the nature of such sounds. I compiled a list of things that make impulsive sounds:
Mechanical: Compressed air: "pop"1 valves Burst disks2 (leather, paper, metal, foil, elastomer) cork guns "Cricket clickers"3 Hand clap Finger snap Mantis Shrimp4 "Paper bangers"5 Popping balloons6 "Pop Rocks" dissolving crisped rice in milk little hammer thing like on electric lighters whip crack7 sudden material failure (dry stick, chalk in torsion, rocks cracking, etc. ) shipping cushions/ bubble wrap Bimetallic disk Electrical: Sparks (brief arcs)8 Lightning8 Piezoelectric disks Chemical: Liquid Fuels: Gasoline Kerosene Methanol Ethanol Isopropanol Gas fuels: acetylene9 hydrogen9 propane butane Oxidizers: air oxygen10 Nitrous Oxide Explosives: firecrackers prilled ANFO11 prilled black powder/cordite caps, paper and plastic fulminates "Snap-N-Pops" pull firecrackers Other Coloumbic explosion (electrostatic charge)12 air detonation by laser heating cavitation by ultrasound/sudden heating (inkjet print head)13
There are notes below on entries that might confound.
Meditating upon this list and doing a little research, I came upon two basic insights: 1. A SCPOB is mostly caused by a relatively large volume of air forced to move quickly; and 2. Most explosives (including fuel/oxidizer mixes) need to be constrained in some way to make a SCPOB.
Remarkably, a finger snap or hand clap can sound surprisingly like a firecracker or rifle shot. Although I do not profess a thorough understanding of the physics of such things, my guess is that the sudden collision of skin to skin forces a volume of air out of the way very quickly, creating a brief, relatively high amplitude wave train. Is this a shock wave? I guess.
For the Explodophone 2.0, reliability and reproducibility are paramount. Although a mechanical "cricket clicker"3 would do the trick, it is a little dull. A cap gun provided a nice reproducible explosion for Explodophone 1.0, but it would be nice to up the ante, or at very least use something that was cheaper in bulk. I thought first of electric sparks8, which can make sharp and even loud cracking sounds. Electricity is relatively cheap and electric sparks are cool. With this in mind, I purchased 16 Ford Econoline ignition coil packs
and 16 spark plugs.
Ignition coil packs are designed to plug directly into spark plugs and to give a 7-15 kV spark from a 12V source. Sadly, these made no more than a quiet click, and the spark did not seem reliable or robust. I will have to deal with this eventually. Simple experiments with capacitors don't seem to help; I may need to get actual condensers or follow modern car design using microcontroller timers and IGBJT transistors to switch them on. At any rate, I knew that, failing a loud enough spark on their own, that the spark plugs could be used to ignite a fuel or explosive. Although some improvement such as a Marx generator or a free-air "flashbulb" could lead to a loud explosive spark, I decided to move on and use the sparks for electrical ignition of a fuel or explosive.
As near as I can figure, an "explosive" is basically a fuel that has an oxidizer combined with it. The most violent ones have the oxidizer on the same molecule as the fuel, such as nitroglycerin; these can rearrange into a huge volume of product gases in a very small time.
Explosives come in two varieties: detonating and deflagrating. Detonating explosives burn faster than the speed of sound, creating a sonic-boom-like shock wave. These need not be enclosed in any way to make a bang. These tend to be more expensive, less stable, and more dangerous than the other kind, so they are usually used in smaller amounts as ignitors for other explosives.
If you have ever been disappointed when lighting a pile of black powder or firecracker guts, you have seen uncontained deflagrating explosives. These burn with a hiss or "fwump" with no SCPOB. In order to get a bang or boom, the explosive must be enclosed, or at least push a plug or projectile to a sudden release. The gas build-up may be slow (although it is usually accelerated by being contained), but the release of pressure is sudden, presumably making a shock wave.
Even paper caps require the paper to remain intact to pop. Just that brief, weak containment leads to a SCPOB instead of a fsst. There also seems to be a very different effect between smashing caps and lighting them on fire. I discovered that electrical spark or match ignition of a cap just leads to a puff and a lot of flame, but mashing a cap with a rock or hammer gives a proper bang. This could be attributed to breaking the paper seal, but my guess it that there's more to it. Smashing a cap with a hammer must lead to nearly the entire cap reacting at once, rather than burning from one end to the other. I suppose it emulates a detonation in that case.
A solid or liquid fuel with air as an oxidizer would be a potentially convenient, controllable, and consistent power source for the Explodophone. However, with the possible exception of acetylene or hydrogen, an uncontained mass of gas/air mix (ignited before it diffuses too far) would burn with a "fwoomp" or "wumpf" instead of a SCPOB. A memorable episode with my mother lighting an old gas stove illustrated that point. A fireball is dangerous, with a tangible pressure wave, but not a true detonation.
Looking at the difficulties and costs of liquid fuel injection caused me to steer away from that. Of the gases, hydrogen and acetylene seemed dangerous; hydrogen could be generated from electrolysis, but takes a long time and is hazardous to store; acetylene is costly and uses special equipment. Butane and propane therefore seemed best.
Propane is easy to obtain and doesn't have flow problems when outside temperatures are low, as butane does. It does come out at high pressures, but regulators are easy to purchase.
But how to best contain it to make a bang and not a fwoomp? A burst disk would require constant replacement. A single-shot pulse jet might also work, although it would require careful fabrication. I had almost settled on a sort of one-shot two-cycle piston engine that would suddenly release the gas with a pop, when it occurred to me that there was an existing device that accomplished what I wanted: the bird cannon.
The bird cannon (with many synonyms such as noise canon, scare cannon, etc.) does not refer to a cannon that shoots birds with projectiles, nor a cannon that uses birds as projectiles, both of which do exist (c.f. Mythbusters S01E09). Instead, it is a cannon used to frighten away nuisance birds (such as crows in a cornfield). If the bangs lose their startle effect on the birds, a caretaker comes out with a shotgun to condition the birds to once again fear the bang.
My problem was that information on how the blasted things work is scarce on the Internet. I could not decipher the basic principle from even such images as these. In retrospect, I get it, but such diagrams are short on explanation.
When I was close to giving up hope, I stumbled on an Instructable and a paper that unlocked it for me. More in the next log.
Notes On Table
1 I define a "pop" valve as any valve that can release suddenly and fully. Ideally such a valve would close slowly or would remain fully open until reset.
2 A burst disk is just a disk designed to break at a specific pressure. Such disks usually prevent a tank from rupturing. By all reports, they are LOUD.
3"Cricket clickers" are hand-held noisemakers that use a flexing metal thingy to make a sharp snap.
They are useful for training animals.
4The mantis shrimp has a "snap" that generates cavitation and a shock wave powerful enough to crack crab shells and glass. Whole books could be and have been written about this animal.
More about cavitation below.
5Paper poppers are of two kinds: the first is an origami-like toy that is rapidly swung through the air-- when it catches the air, it opens with a loud POP. The second kind actually consumes paper and makes a loud sound by bursting it. Certain toy guns used a simple roll of heavy paper as "ammo". Holes were punched in the paper by pneumatic pressure, giving a cap-like bang. Another toy of this type I recall from the seventies-- a sort of plastic cylinder painted to look like a monster. A slot made to resemble a mouth would receive a bit of newspaper, 2-3 sheets thick. Slapping down on the top of the cylinder would burst the paper with a loud bang. I have found no evidence these ever existed except in my memories. If you come across a mention, let me know so I can prove I'm not crazy.
6This article and the original research paper show a setup for bursting balloons that could be useful. It also shows that there is a shift in behavior at a threshold balloon pressure which could influence the sound.
7It is "common knowledge" that a whip crack comes from a part of the whip travelling faster than the speed of sound, hence making a "sonic boom". Recent research (and here's a more technical source) indicates that this is a little oversimplified. Although the tip of the whip can get going up to twice the speed of sound, it is the loop that makes all the noise.
This makes me think about the link between detonating explosives, sonic booms, and shock waves in general. There is still a lot I don't understand.
8Lightning causes the thunder, not the other way 'round. If you have ever heard the thunder at the same time you saw the lightning flash, you have noted that the thunder sounded more like a rifle shot than a low rumble. The sudden heating from a spark causes rapid expansion of the air, making a SCPOB. A prolonged spark (an arc) makes a characteristic sizzling sound. Because of the dispersive nature of air, a lightning crack far away becomes distorted-- primarily the very lowest frequencies persist the longest, making a rumble.
9Modestly-sized bubbles of hydrogen-oxygen mixture explode with shocking violence, making loud bangs. Acetylene-oxygen mix also produces violent explosions. It's possible that hydrogen-air and acetylene-air are energetic enough to make a detonating explosive, but I don't know.
10Pure oxygen can make some merely flammable materials essentially explosive. Nitrous oxide has a similar effect. It may be that usual propane or butane can be made into a detonating explosive just by combining it with oxygen or nitrous. This would require little to no containment to make a SCPOB.
11A prilled explosive comes in little balls. This would be a great way to meter out an explosion of a specific controlled size. ANFO prills can be found at https://www.dynonobel.com/practical-innovations/popular-products/anfo . I suspect I am on a Homeland Security watchlist for merely looking this up.
12A Coulombic explosion occurs when an object gains enough electrostatic charge that electrostatic repulsion within the object overcomes the tensile strength of the object. Typically this happens when a water droplet gets such a large static charge that it explodes into smaller droplets, or at least sends a few droplets flying off to reduce the charge. Here's a lousy video with some oil drops that are not exactly exploding-- YouTube doesn't seem to have any coloumbic explosions that don't involve sodium. Here's a video with water drops flying all over the place when the electric charge gets high. This effect is exploited by some hairdryers to make your hair dry faster (some of the water flies off, or droplets break up to expose more surface area, hence evaporating faster). Does this make a sound? I dunno.
13Cavitation is a shock wave, usually in water, caused when water collapses into a sudden void. This happens with ultrasound in water-- the low-pressure part of the wave causes dissolved air to bubble out of the water, then collapse suddenly when the high-pressure wave dissolves it again. The collapse creates a shock wave with many interesting phenomena-- some even think nuclear fusion could occur in these conditions. Here's a video about spark-induced cavitation in water. I wonder how loud this can get? It's worth noting that the unfolding-style "pop gun" (note 5) gets its noise from air rushing into a sudden void, a similar situation.
05/20/2018 at 08:07 •
So I decided to use the scale A1-C4 with only the "white piano keys" to start. This would make simple tunes possible without getting prohibitively expensive. The problem with that is the note number (e.g., -9 for C4) is not a simple progression. I had to keep the piano keyboard in my head the whole time I was making up the list. You can see the spreadsheet I used here. (Also included in Excel format in Files.)
In good ol' Physics 101, you may have learned how to calculate the resonant frequency of a pipe. Basically, the resonant frequency is the lowest note that the air in the pipe will naturally vibrate at. This is related to the wavelength of the frequency, which is dictated by the speed of sound in air. A pipe open at both ends will resonate with half a wavelength; a pipe stopped at one end, with one-quarter wavelength. The speed of sound in air is about 343 meters/second.
I decided to work with stopped pipes, because I could get low notes with shorter pipes(-> less material -> lower cost). Open pipes seemed to have a somewhat "sweeter" sound, but the sound was also more raw and less defined, because the resonance is not as strong-- the sound bounces between air masses at both ends as opposed to an actual solid barrier at one end. So I felt the quarter pipes also made the note more obvious.
Thus, to find the length of a pipe to produce a specific frequency, I used the equation:
where l is pipe length in meters, 343 is the speed of sound in meters/second, and f is the frequency in Hz (1/seconds). Again, see the spreadsheet.
The calculated diameters was based on traditional organ pipe diameters, which is extra confusing, but the math really isn't any worse than the rest of it. I ignored the diameters entirely in version 1.0. The "first and last" jazz was a crude attempt to find a way to avoid wasting material by pairing up short and long tubes. It really didn't help.
I had been collecting cardboard tubes of many sizes for some time. I used cardboard tubes of sufficient diameter to jam the cap gun into the mouth, about 2-1/2" to 3" in diameter. I didn't have enough cardboard tubes, so I also bought some ten-foot lengths of 3-inch diameter polyethylene drainage pipe with some end caps to match. To cut them to length, I marked the length to the nearest millimeter with a tape measure, then used a hand mitre saw and mitre box to try to get a nice perpendicular cut. The saw and box were cheap, and the box was not deep enough, so it didn't work too well. Moreover, those paper tubes are a lot harder to cut with a hand saw than you might think. The end result was not-terribly-accurate tube lengths and a surprising amount of damage to the mitre box. I labeled the tubes with their respective notes.
To stop the tubes, I used squares of double-thick cardboard hot-glued to one end. Some of the plastic pipe I just capped with plastic caps designed for the purpose, but I didn't have enough, so some plastic tubes were stopped with cardboard and hot glue as well.
To test them out, I would snap my fingers in the mouth of the tube, about 3-4 inches in. The notes were clear. I also got excellent sound just by striking the stopped end with a finger, tempting me to just make a set of tuned drums. But then there would be no explosions. True to the nature of sound, the longest pipes that sounded the lowest notes sounded the most out of tune, as the ear is very sensitive to small changes at the low end. The others sounded pretty good.
I practiced a simplified version of Beethoven's "Ode to Joy" (from his Ninth Symphony), considering it the most noble of melodies. I then performed it for extended family at a gathering. The tubes did a poor job of standing upright, so I decided to play them horizontally. I physically arranged most of the tubes on a large round patio table, largest on the left to smallest on the right, then fixed them in place with duct tape. I didn't have room for all the tubes, so I left out a few unnecessary for the song.
I decided to play with my back to the audience, not out of bashfulness, but out of two considerations: 1) I didn't feel like pointing a toy gun at them, and 2) I figured the sound would be louder reflected out of the open ends of the tubes at the audience. True to form, the gun fired weakly or failed to fire several times, leading to a few awkward moments. This might have been exacerbated by the use of hot glue to stick strip caps together, a last-minute decision. . Nevertheless, the audience was entertained and mildly amazed, and I was encouraged to "keep [the Explodophone]" and not discard it. Again, this was all the encouragement I needed.
05/19/2018 at 21:29 •
Now for the other half. For maximum starting flexibility without taking the cost too high, I opted to go two octaves, using notes found on the white piano keys only, i.e., notes with only letter designations and no sharp or flat symbols. This means I could play any song that fits within two octaves and is in the key of C, or can be transposed to the key of C, and has no "accidentals" (sharps/flats/naturals not defined by the key signature).
Human hearing is logarithmic, meaning what we perceive as a linear increase in pitch is really a geometric increase in frequency. So when we go "do re mi fa so la ti do", that second "do" sounds like the first, only one "level" higher ( kind of like climbing up seven stairs to the next floor). BUT in reality, the frequency has DOUBLED. Another "floor" up, and you're really FOUR TIMES as high. This allows for a sort of signal compression-- on the low end, we are very sensitive to changes in frequency, but on the high end, we sacrifice accuracy for dynamic range. Here's a graph.
Here's a blog that I grabbed the picture from. I haven't read it but it looks nice .
Following is what I learned about music.
Now the numbering on this graph is not very helpful. There's a better way. We currently use the" even-tempered scale" where there are 12 half-steps in each octave, which are evenly spaced in an exponential sense. There are other tunings, such as "just intonation" or the "well-tempered scale", but they're not used very much, despite having a few passionate boosters. We humans love to hear frequency ratios like 1:2, 1:3, 2:3, 4:5, or 4:5:6. The even-tempered scale is a compromise, approximating these sweet-sounding ratios while making instruments easy to tune and able to play in several keys. For example, instead of 5:4 ratio (1.2, a "perfect major fifth"), the even-tempered scale gives us the cube root of two, about 1.26.
The even-tempered scale is easy to model mathematically. An octave is a frequency doubling, and there are twelve steps in it. All we need now is some note to be defined in terms of a frequency. The people who decide such things picked "concert A" to be 440 Hz. (Hz is hertz, or cycles per second.) There is a passionate and genuinely crazy faction out there that insists that this definition is a Nazi plot to destroy the world, and that 432 Hertz is the "right" concert A. Personally, I think middle C should be defined as 256 Hz, which is 2^8, which would make repeated halving or doubling much easier.
Thus, to figure out the frequency of a note, I used
( f=440*2^(n/12) ), where f is frequency in Hz and n is the number of half steps from concert A. Concert A itself is n=0, notes lower than concert A are negative, and notes above it are positive, and it all works. For example, middle C is nine half-steps below concert A, so n=-9. This gives a frequency of
, which is about 261.63 Hz.
So... about all those letters. I'm not touching staff notation here, but each note has a name, which is a letter from A to G and then some modifiers. Each octave has eight letters in it. Now right away you know something's up, because if each letter represents a full step, and there are 12 half-steps in an octave, then there should be six letters in an octave. Well, I don't know all the reasons, but the interval between the letters is not always a full step. Cheating is involved. When you sing "Do Re Mi Fa So La Ti Do", you are singing C D E F G A B C (with the second C an octave higher). It seems like a straightforward linear progression, but in reality, there is only a half-step between E and F, and also between B and C. Where the half-steps are placed in a scale constitutes the "mode". The ancient Greeks used several modes in their music, but modern Western music settled almost exclusively on the "Ionian" mode. (More about modes here.)
This explains why there are "missing" black keys on a piano. Playing only the white keys gets you the "Do Re Mi" scale.
Letter notation also includes the half steps between letters (where they exist) by using sharps and flats. C sharp, written "C#" , is the half step above C, which is also a half step below D, which would be notated "Db". (The real "sharp" and "flat" symbols are smaller and stylized, but the hash and lowercase b are close enough here.)
So many notes have two names (separated by slashes below). All the notes in an octave are therefore:
C C#/Db D D#/Eb E F F#/Gb G G#/Ab A A#/Bb B
and back to C again. I don't use B#(=C) or Cb(=B) or E#(=F) or Fb(=E), because it's confusing enough as it is, but yeah, some key signatures use them.
But this doesn't say which specific note, because which octave are we in? Scientific pitch notation uses a number after the note name to designate the octave. Concert A is notated A4. (Again, if I were getting fancier about the formatting, the 4 would be a subscript.) Middle C is C4. The lowest note on a piano is A0, and the highest is A8. E0 is the low end of human hearing, and Eb10 is the high end.
So armed with this, I determined to start with 16 notes, using just the "white keys".
UPDATE: Apparently a few people thought of the middle C= 256 Hz thing centuries before I was born, which is cool. The article also provides some justification for the concert A=432 Hz, but when you get right down too it, the second is an arbitrary measure, so why fight so hard for integer frequency numbers? The C=256 thing seems like it would be helpful for computer programming.
05/05/2018 at 22:13 •
After my Fourth of July "concert" for my siblings (see previous log), my youngest brother suggested I get a REAL cap gun that wouldn't misfire so much. When the cap gun didn't fire, instead of a lovely note, I got an awkward silence and an interruption of the song, along with a derpy repeated pulling of the trigger until I did get a bang.
Most cap guns are semi-automatic, but he suggested one that took plastic strip caps, which could be hooked together into a continuous string. Although the caps are not too hard to find, the guns can get relatively expensive for cap guns. An example of the kind of cap gun I obtained can be seen here. (I am not recommending or promoting any particular sales site-- you might find it cheaper on another site.)
Apparently it's a Parris brand replica of a 1911 pistol cast in avocado-green plastic. There really aren't many other guns that fit my specifications.
I obtained one, but experimentation (drilling holes to get more sound out) and my kids sealed its doom. I resurrected the idea a few years later and got another pistol. To get slightly more sound out of it, I cut off some of the barrel, which is pretty much for show anyway. I would like to take it to pieces and get a better idea of how it works, but it has no damn screws-- plastic is completely welded. As I am on a shoestring budget, I opted to keep it together. The caps I obtained from a local ranching store (my area is a rapidly developing semi-rural area), which really likes guns of all types. Walmart* used to carry the caps, but apparently stopped a few years back when they were outlawed in certain cities. The caps aren't cheap-- it costs roughly 1.5 cents for one note.
The strip caps look like this.
For my first performance (video in a later log), at the last minute, I decided to use a drop of hot glue at each junction to hold the strip caps together. There were still misfires (nonfires), but I don't know whether to blame that on the glue, mechanical misfeeding, or on the differences between the standard gap between caps and the gap between strips. At any rate, the glue did the gun no favors.
05/05/2018 at 21:16 •
In the beginning, God created the heaven and the earth. Sometime later, as a kid, I was watching The Muppet Show when I witnessed a skit with actress Jean Stapleton (of Archie Bunker fame) and the Muppet named Crazy Harry. In the skit, Harry claims to be playing an "instrument" called the Explodophone. Ms. Stapleton sings "I'm Just Wild About Harry" and dances about the Grecco-industrial set while Harry pushes plungers on dynamos, setting off pyrotechnic charges at specific times with the music.
Part of the joke was the doubtful legitimacy of the "Explodophone", which seemed an excuse to blow stuff up, Harry's favorite pastime. But the Explodophone was actually used as a percussion instrument to punctuate pauses in the music. The charges were also choreographed to create visual interest, framed in each shot that followed Ms. Stapleton's dance.
I also recall the wonderful description of the fictional band Disaster Area in The Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy, which was best heard "from within large concrete bunkers some thirty-seven miles away from the stage, whilst the musicians themselves played their instruments by remote control from within a heavily insulated spaceship which stayed in orbit around the planet - or more frequently around a completely different planet."
Years later, while watching an experimental music exhibition at the University of Utah, I was discussing a performance with a friend. Eight performers knocked pieces of lacquered wood together in rhythm. I struggled to enjoy the piece. My friend said he found it boring, because he was bored by percussive instruments that had no variation in pitch.
While an undergrad at Brigham Young University, I enjoyed listening to lunchtime concerts at the Carillon Bell Tower. This fermented with these other experiences to lead me to brainstorm about other massive instruments. The primary idea to come out of this was the Nuclear Steam Calliope, a steam whistle powered by a uranium reactor. To save money, instead of organ-like pipes, it would use a single vertical concrete tube that had holes at intervals like a large tin whistle. The holes could be covered in different combinations for different pitches.
Yet later, I was watching a video (sorry, can't find it) by Bay Area performance artists Survival Research Laboratories that blew stuff up with a device called The Shockwave Cannon. This used focused shockwaves from propane explosions to blow apart dolls, windows, a model house, and various other things, and it was remotely controlled by people on the Web. It came to me that tuned explosions could strike recognizable notes, turning the "boring" Explodophone into a tonal percussive instrument that would be interesting.
Scaling it back umpteen times, I hit upon using toy caps for controlled explosions and empty Pringle's potato chip cans for tuning. I cut the cans to a few different lengths, creating the Explodophone 0.1. I then inflicted an impromptu concert on my siblings for the Fourth of July one year. I arranged the cans upright on a table, then fired the cap gun into the mouth of the appropriately-sized tube for each note. The tune was something very simple, like "Mary Had A Little Lamb" or something, and there were many misfires. Afterwards, I sought feedback from a stunned audience. One remarked that they didn't expect an actual tune, but there it was. That was all the encouragement I needed. I had created a tonal percussive instrument using explosions. It was no longer "boring".
UPDATE: Since publishing this log, I have become aware of few related ideas out there. I failed to acknowledge the inspiration of SRL's hovercraft, which was propelled by a pair of twin pulsejets that are slightly detuned to create a very loud, musical throb when fired together. I also recently learned of the pyrophone, a concept similar to the Explodophone. Also, I stumbled across an issue of New Scientist from February 1973 where columnist "Daedalus" outlines a device he calls the Explodophone, or Internal Combustion Bassoon. (There is a follow-up mention here.) This would use many carefully timed explosions to resonate at a note, similar to a valveless pulsejet. Note that pyrophones and pulsejets all operate continuously and can be played "legato"; my Explodophone is a discrete pulsed device that must be played "staccato."