Big Fish Audio | Electronic Musician Zack Price | Gas Tank Orchestra Product Review
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Gas Tank Orchestra | Electronic Musician

Reviewer: Zack Price | Rating: 4.5 out of 5 Back to Gas Tank Orchestra product details

What are you doing with all the junk that you and society in general have generated? Gregory John Wildes is turning civilization's discarded items into musical instruments. Wildes took abandoned automobile gas tanks, cleaned them out, and turned them into resonator cavities for a variety of homemade percussion, string, and wind instruments.

Wildes then sampled individual notes of some instruments and created loops performed on all instruments. The result is Gas Tank Orchestra ($99.95), a combination audio and WAV two-CD set. All of the WAV files have been "acidized" so that they can be readily used in Sonic Foundry's Acid. (However, there is no documentaion for loop tempos.)

Precious Metals
The sounds are organized into familiar instrumental categories, but the sounds themselves evoke only a vague sense of their namesake. For example, at no time would you mistake any of the 42 Drum Spots for realistic bass drums, snare drums, or tom-toms. The disc's 55 Drum Lines offer rhythmic patterns that bear little resemblance to conventional drum loops. Nonetheless, that is part of charm of this collection. The Drum, Kalimba, Bass, Harp, and Zither samples all sound clanky, metallic, and off-kilter. This shouldn't be surprising –the resonators and vibrations are metallic. Furthermore, because the instruments are homemade, the tuning isn’t always perfect. But again, that’s part of their appeal.

The Wind instruments, by virtue of their design, don't have that metallic sound. Even so, their homemade construction imbues them with a rough, detuned quality that their conventional counterparts can't begin to convey.

Wildes includes photos of the instruments he has constructed JPEG-format files on the WAV CD-ROM. In some cases, you get a straightforward picture of an instrument. Unfortunately, many of the pictures treat the instruments as if they were merely incidental to the overall composition of the photograph. That is to be expected, given that Wildes begins describing the instruments and samples only about halfway into the accompanying text on the inside CD cover jacket. The first half of the text contains a story about an incident that he experienced while bicycle riding and his philosophy of "Fundamental Repsycheling."

Even so, it is possible to piece together the look and sound of an instrument by its name and photograph. For instance, Trombone-Hose, Trumpet-Hose, and Sax-Hose all have a mouthpiece connected to a rubber hose that is connected to a gas tank. It looks and sounds as if the pitch is controlled by the embouchure. Flute looks as though it was created from PVC pipe. The Bamboo-Clarinet has a clarinet reed mouthpiece attached to the end of a bamboo flute, which is attached to a rubber hose that is connected to a gas-tank resonator at the other end. This is physical modeling gone haywire, folks!

Wildes suggests that you begin by listening to the entire CD to find the inspiration for using the sounds. I tried that approach, but quickly tired of simply listening to the sounds. I opened up Sonic Foundry's Acid to audition sounds and began to piece together compositions when the inspiration struck me. Granted, that's a more random approach, but that's how I work in Acid anyway. However, when I imported the samples into Tascam GigaStudio and Sonic Solutions Orion Pro, I focused on the Notes and Spots.

Gas Tank Orchestra is loaded with unusual sounds that you might not use every day. Nevertheless, you'd be surprised at the number of times you will want to use them. Hip-Hop artists should appreciate the unusual sounds, wide variety of drum loops and drum hits, and some of the more unusual bass lines. Other artists may find that the different instrumental loops and notes add just the right spice to more conventional arrangements. It's also possible to create entire pieces of music using nothing but the loops and hits contained in this collection. Wildes includes several excellent examples in Acid song format of arrangements that he made using nothing but these sounds. I was also able to quickly create an arrangement in Acid using just these sounds. In short, this collection is a lot of fun. That's part of its charm.

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