Musical instrument makers on bikes

Last December, I developed an interest in Vancouver’s hidden music makers—the builders of musical instruments. I wrote a double-barrelled story about natural fibre horn maker, David Gowman, and harpsichord maker, Craig Tomlinson.  Now, let me tell you about the Furnaphone, and why "anything's a potential instrument."

Drummer Dan keeps his carbon footprint small getting to his next gig.

With Bike to Work Week, Velopoloosa, and the In the House Festival all converging this weekend, the stage is set to highlight another fascinating musical instrument maker, Daniel Lunn.

Daniel is making a name for himself as a drummer (and guitarist) around town, but for someone who plays an instrument that is legendary for its lack of portability, it’s his mode of transportation that caught my attention—by bicycle.

None of his instruments is actually played by bicycle; they are just transported that way

Not only does he transport all his gear by bicycle—drum kit, amps, guitars, the lot—but he custom designed a set of drums specifically to be light weight and bicycle friendly. He’s converted old suitcases into drums with drum heads inserted in the sides, and with weather-proof covers, the suitcases can also house the amp and, of course, hold other gear. Oh, and provide him with somewhere to sit when he gets to the gig.

All obvious puns about pedal power and bass pedals aside, Dan came into tinkering naturally. Growing up in the Ottawa Valley, he apprenticed in his uncle’s appliance repair shop where he learned to redeem and extend the life of old refrigerators, dryers, and sewing machines. Added to that was a kinaesthetic need to hit things—a bona fide form of intelligence that, when coupled with a musical inclination, is the foundation of all drummers.

“Anything’s a potential instrument”

In Dan’s Eastside backyard, he shows me his Furnaphone, another instrument made from furnace parts that, when hooked up with a piezoelectric pickup to translate and transform its sounds to a processor, mixing board and amplifier, produces sounds weird and wonderful enough to qualify it as a musical instrument. “No need to call the furnace man Mabel. It’s just Dan practicing again”, I imagine.

Dan tells me that he continues to work as handyman, running his own woodworking and renovation business. How does he get to jobs? By bicycle, of course, although he admits to occasionally renting a truck for larger jobs. He laughs about the time he went to the extreme of his range—Willingdon and Moscrop in Burnaby—with over 200 pounds of gear. It was so heavy that it started lifting his rear wheel off the road as he made his way up the hill to Metrotown.

But it’s not the furnaphone I’ve come to see; it’s the drum set, whereupon he loads up his bicycle and we go for a ride. It’s a sight to bring a tear to Gregor’s eyes. If a handyman slash drummer is able to manage two careers by pedal power, what’s to stop the cubicle monkeys from following suit?

Specializing in found object instruments

Somewhere in the junk fields of Saskatchewan, where old Massey-Ferguson tractors rust into dust, musical instruments are waiting to be born. It’s Dan’s membership with the popular band, Swarm, which specialized in building their own instruments out of “found objects” that Dan found his calling as a drummer and instrument maker. Dan is very careful to credit his co-collaborator, Wayne Mercier of “8 Prime”, a spoken word poet and action drummer (choreographed drumming).

Together, they performed for the Olympics, toured (yes, including Saskatchewan where they found lots of material), and along with other Swarm members and guests, are having something of a re-union at this week-end’s In the House Festival. In a performance called, Spring Evening Doom Lounge - A Celebration of Destruction and Renewal, they will perform at 1934 William St. (Backyard) - Sunday, June 5th from 7 to 8:45 pm.

The In the House Festival is organized by Miriam Steinberg. It focuses on using private homes and back yards as venues for live multicultural, multidisciplinary shows in people's living rooms and backyards. 

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