The Friday Fillip

One of the many marvels of the marriage of electronics and music is the wide (almost wild) variety of instruments that have become possible. We all know the spooky sound of the old theremin and the tinny rattle of the Moog as harpsichord. But have you heard (or even heard of) the Chapman stick? If you haven’t, it’s the duty and the pleasure of this fillip to relieve you of your ignorance.

10_string_Chapman_StickThe thing itself — seen to the left (click on it to enlarge it) — looks essentially like an oversize guitar fretboard or perhaps a sitar in the making. There’s a ten string version, the more popular, and a twelve string version (for those hexadactyls among us), with half of the strings being bass strings, generally tuned a fifth apart, and half being treble strings, tuned a fourth apart. But the nifty thing is that a note is made simply by tapping, i.e. depressing, a string. No plucking or hammering is required. This makes the Chapman stick more like a piano, perhaps, than a guitar; but in some ways it’s more congenial to the player than a piano, because of the way the hands and the strings are located with respect to each other. Then, too, it’s an electronic instrument, which means that a note is a note is a note is not true: all manner of sonic manipulation is possible.

But you need to hear the thing. Here are three virtuosos. The first video is of Greg Howard, who takes you though a basic demonstration of the thing. The second is a video of Guillaume Estace performing the Cantina Band number from Star Wars. And just in case you think this is only good for novelty, the third video is of Guillermo Cides playing some Bach on the Chapman stick.

Want more? Of course you do. You can find it at Stick Enterprises, the business that’s carrying on the work of Emmet Chapman, who build the first stick in 1969. But check those fantasies of picking one up for your favourite niece for Christmas: it’ll run you over $2000 per.

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