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The Mutant Cello — Mini-Series with Colin Foulke

This is how Colin redefined his relationship to the cello. New pegs, new tuning, added sitar string and a bluetooth speaker attached via magnet to play a drone over 10-minutes that resonates in the cello's chamber.


Classically trained on the cello, Colin slowly grew weary of jumping through the hoops of institutionalized western music... but then he discovered the handpan and embarked on a journey that would dramatically change his everyday life.


In part 2, Colin walks us through his discovery and development of hydroforming, a revolutionary process to shape handpan shells. He also re-visits the roots or the art form and reconnects with his first instrument, the cello.



Mini-Series Transcript:


Sylvain: Colin, what is that?


Colin: Yeah, this is, um, this is my attempt to rekindle my relationship with my cello. This is my, my original cello from when I graduated from my student cello. Um, so I've had this instrument for probably 15 years. I haven't played it much in the last 10. Um, but I've been encouraged to kind of rekindle my relationship with it. And part of that was I really wanted to break it away from classical music. So it's set up in a way that you'd be really hard pressed to play any kind of standard classical music. So I can kind of walk you through some of the changes. The first one was I replaced the tuning pegs from when I stopped playing to now there had been an invention in the world of tuning pegs that these are um, gear tuning pegs, which is new for the world of string instruments and I didn't know about it. Um, so they, they have internal planetary gears, meaning it makes the tuning of it really sensitive. A standard cello or violin peg is a friction-based peg, some kind of much more jumpy. And then you would come down here to the fine tuners and find tune it in, where these are about as sensitive as fine tuners. So that's been a really nice upgrade. So like, so if I go, ... They're lotus flowers is with based on like sitar tuners and I was like: that. I want that. So that was the first step. The second step was I was more interested in moving away from the standard, both tuning and string set up. Everything's tuned up, kind of a half step. So this is a C# and then I skipped the G. There is no G string anymore. It's just gone. And I went to the D string and tuned it down to half steps. I have C#, C#, and then from there I go to G#. So that's standard fifth jumps, I have like octave jump, fifth jump, uh, this would be your highest string on a traditional cello. And so then I also got, that they make, a fifth string for cello, which is an E. so it goes into the standard range of a violin just to the octave lower. Um, so that was really intriguing for me to not only kind of change the voice of it, but now the range. And by losing the G string, I can, I can get all those frequencies by just going higher up in my lower C# string. So it's not too much of a sacrifice. Uh, the next thing was I added, uh, uh, another string, which is down here. It's more of a drone string, meaning it can be bowed, but I can't actively play on it with my fingers, but it allows me to kind of go into this realm of impossible chords on a cello. There's a bunch of chords on here that I can do that are not impossible. Very, very hard to do on a standard cello. So this, this one I can kind of move around. I think right now it's at a E so it matches the high note, but it is, so if you go from high to low. ... So it reverses the order a little bit. Um, how did it feel when you drilled into your cello? There was a small moment when I was like, "Oh, my parents are going to kill me". And then I was like, "no, I'm um, other than adult, I can do this". So then the last kind of aspect, and it was another one of those cases where like I just, I dreamt all this, felt encouraged to turn it, turn it into reality. So the next one is that there are a second set of subsidiary strings that are just sympathetic strings and they sit across a bridge that was taken from a sitar. So they have the ability to, um, buzz like a sitar does. So if we pluck, ... and so they're just activated through sympathy. So if I pluck a string up here, it activates those ... sympathetics down, and it's a little more aggressive activation when you're bowing versus puking. Um, and so all of those, there's 8 strings in those just run, um, a full octave of E major or C# minor. So, um, it's all designed in tune from the handpan perspective of the scales that I usually make. So C#, minor. Same with G#, G# minor and then E to play more in E major. The last part is I have a little Bluetooth speaker, um, which I just give it a moment. Um, it's going to play. This is a drone in G#, so it's nice to play over a drone but the full effect is if I. So all I did was to attach it to the instrument but it has the ability to incur the sympathetic strings to be activated and also allows the player to have something to play over. And this will cycle through G#, E and C# over like 10 minutes. So it's a way to just kind of play in a few different moods and modes.


Sylvain: Can you play it for us?


Colin: Sure.

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