Invented over the course of a year at Drexel University’s ExCITe Center, Drumhenge incorporates the technology behind the Magnetic Resonator Piano into 16 electro-magnetic, light-up floor toms arranged in a circle.
At many research centers, a generic prescriptive collaboration process will produce a new instrument; one in which an engineer builds a musical instrument prototype and delivers it to a musician for feedback near the end of the invention process for feedback and criticism before making a few last tweaks.
ExCITe went to great lengths to avoid this process of creation.
Thanks to funding from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation’s arts challenge program, ExCITe was able to launch its first artist-in-residence, selecting Peter English from a pool of applicants and pairing him with Jeff Gregorio, a PhD candidate from engineering in Dr. Youngmoo Kim’s Music & Entertainment Technology lab at the start of the invention process. Drumhenge a true collaboration between an engineer and an artist. Having an artist-in-residence brought an artist’s perspective into every step of the invention process — from ideation to prototyping to performance.
The instrument consists of 16 drums arranged in a circle, rigged with an electro-magnetic mechanism that induces vibrations. Wireless communication between the floor toms allows a strike on one drum to trigger a sequence of sounds around the henge. Drumhenge initiates the drum sound by positioning magnets finely controlled by electricity near the drumhead and steel foil glued to the drumhead itself. The magnets produce noise by turning on and off, rapidly attracting and repelling the steel foil, and the drumhead, to create a vibration that echoes through the drum’s body.
As each drum emits a sound, the drum heads light up in color. Given the instrument’s unique sonic quality, programmable LEDs were embedded within each drum to help audiences visualize where the sound is coming from.
More than 140 people witnessed the instrument’s first performance June 17, 2017 in Drexel’s Black Box Theater. A band convened just for this debut, played several original compositions for the audience, written to showcase Drumhenge’s capabilities, as well as one cover, for the hour-long show.
The Drumhenge team is currently looking at doing a performance in New York in the fall and also considering performing at festivals that have a musical technology component. Peter and Jeff have also been nominated for Philly Geek Awards’ maker of the year for Drumhenge.