Big Instruments

The Hurdy-Gurdies

Hurdy-gurdy: A medieval stringed instrument played by turning a rosined wheel with a crank and depressing keys connected to tangents on the strings.

The big hurdy-gurdies are a product of Jobe's long-term inquiry into the possibilities of the wheel-fiddle (vielle a roue). The traditional instrument itself - a multi-faceted construct complete with melody, drone and rhythm functions, operated by a crank with a wheel as a perpetual bow - is already full of possibilities for sound manipulation and striking in its music-machine imagery. But Jobe has also been inspired to facilitate the creation of large-scale versions of this instrument, harkening back to the original medieval organistrum in search of unique sonorities, expanding the range of tone colors available for his compositional endeavors.

The Drone Machine

The Drone MachineJobe's first idea for a large-scale instrument was the Drone Machine, designed and constructed by Nate Pearson in 1992. It was used in both productions of Joan of Arc (1993 and 1997), as well several productions of the Pan-Twilight Circus and A Christmas Carol at Trinity Repertory Co. The instrument is seven feet long and constructed out of an oil drum cut in half length-wise with a plywood top. A crank on one end turns a wooden wheel that vibrates four bass-range strings, creating a powerful droning sound. A wheeled cart allows the instrument to be moved about onstage.


The Bosch Hurdy Gurdy

The Bosch Hurdy-GurdyDrawing inspiration from the triptych, Millennium (aka The Garden of Earthly Delights) by Renaissance artist Hieronymus Bosch. Jobe conceived the notion of an even larger hurdy-gurdy. This instrument would feature Jobe's innovation of three wheels, each with a separate function: melody, rhythm (trompette) and bass drone. The initial design and construction was done by Providence artist Jeremy Woodward in 2002-03. In 2006, luthier Daniel Thonon completed the Bosch Hurdy-Hurdy at his workshop near Montreal.

Video clip: Chris Turner with Bosch Hurdy-Gurdy, December 2006

Video clip: Rob Bethel with Bosch Hurdy-Gurdy, December 2006


The Gong-Drum

The Gong Drum

Another instrument inspired by Bosch, Jobe had the notion of positioning two large gongs back-to-back, placing them at either end of a resonating chamber. Providence artist Dennis Hlynsky was commissioned to design and construct the Gong-Drum.

During the summer of 2006 the Gong-Drum was part of a production of King Lear, presented by the Actors' Shakespeare Project at the La MaMa Annex in New York City. In a June 18th  article in The Boston Globe, "Taking it on the Road," Catherine Foster describes the preparation for the production: The production staff discussed the best place to put the Gong-Drum. They spy a narrow platform jutting out from the balcony and gingerly carry the instrument in pieces up the stairs. A staff member inches the resonator box out onto the platform and attaches the gongs on each end. "Hello, everybody," [the producer] warns the dozen stagehands below. "Big noise coming!"

Video clip: the gong-drum at the Riversing, September 2006


The Glass Bells

Cloud Chamber Bowls

At Jobe's behest, the first set of glass bells were constructed by Edward McElvane and Paige Van Antwerp as an homage to composer Harry Partch's Cloud Chamber Bowls. They were utilized as part of the 1993 and 1997 productions of Jobe's opera, Joan of Arc.

Video clip: the glass bells with gong-drum, December 2006

The Pitched Glass Bells

Jobe has collaborated with two different glass artists—Jim Watkins (P&W Glass in Providence, RI) and Thomas Hession (G. Finkenbeiner, Inc. in Waltham, MA)—to create a new set of glass bells. Utilizing soda lime glass (P&W) as well as pyrex and quartz (Finkenbeiner) the bells are made not only to withstand the rigors of an extended performance schedule, but also allow for a specific musical pitch for each of the bells. The set encompasses three chromatic octaves of pitched bells. The following clip—Edgewise and Newfield—shows the Pitched Glass Bells in performance.

Edgewise (2007, text by Steven Jobe) Newfield (1997)