Outdoor Instruments

December: Sanding metal and a bass marimba by Ben Sloan

Quite a bit of instrument making momentum generated throughout December. Anna Petersen has joined the process equipped with welding skills, knowledge, and gear. The collection of tanks, metal cuffs, and gears were sandblasted to remove rust. The tanks have been cut and turned into metal tongue drums, with tongues at varying lengths, tuned to specific pitches. The sound is a collection of harmonic sustained notes, both meditative and playful. We have a collection of four medium and small tanks, plus a large bronze tank which will be powder coated in the coming months. 

In the last two weeks of the month, I made my way back to Virginia to finish up the frame and keys for the bass marimba. This time around we manufactured a collection of aluminum brackets to house each key. The brackets were cut from a piece of aluminum angle, drilled, rounded, and polished. We milled some pieces of oak for our frame, sanded, added a mortise and tenon joint at each end, and created a nice beveled edge detail. We applied a few finish coats, with a sand in between, and the end result is a beautiful hand crafted bass marimba..that still needs legs and resonators! (coming soon)

Photos of tanks can be found here, and the marimba here

November: Laying the foundation by Ben Sloan


After many phone calls, ample head scratching, and understanding a 4" slump, the plan to pour concrete was in place. Under the guidance of Mike Moore (Creative Remodeling), and help from Ziyad Tooles, Matt Kotlarczyk, plus a crew of neighborhood kids, we knocked out. The whole process took about a week, squeezing steps in between teaching. The first task was to do a bit more digging of the foundation, just enough to create an even site for the pour. We followed that with the construction of a 12' x 12' frame, with rounded corners using luan. The gravel was delivered, shoveled into the frame, and tamped down. Just before the concrete arrived, we wet the ground to give us more time before the concrete cured. Lots of floating and troweling later, the slab was complete. For those interested in seeing the process, you can check out this time-lapse video.

August: Trip to Virginia by Ben Sloan

I spent two weeks in August working on the first few pieces of the park. It was a crash course/brush up on different types of wood, tools, and building techniques. I was fortunate to be under the guidance of my father Stephen Sloan, as we worked in his shop. He is truly a master woodworker, and has seemingly lived 9 lives. As a boy he lived in Japan for a short time, absorbing the beauty of traditional Japanese wood working. He returned home to Tucson Arizona, and as he grew and developed his personal style, a natural fusion of Southwestern, and Japanese aesthetics began to emerge. In the 1970's while living and making furniture in Berkeley, he began to save the old growth trees being felled and burnt to make way for the new vineyard craze throughout the Napa Valley. He milled huge slabs of wood using an Alaskan chainsaw mill and small crew, making weekly deliveries to furniture and cabinet makers, including some of the greats such as George Nakashima and Sam Maloof

Fast forward to August..After much research and head scratching we began to craft a variety tongue drums, and the beginnings of both a concert marimba and bass marimba. The process of making a marimba bar takes careful calculation for initial size, width, and thickness. Once each bar is cut and planed to size, it is then slowly sanded at different points to properly tune both the fundamental pitch, and a series of overtones. As wood is shaved, the pitch lowers, allowing the bar to vibrate more freely. If too much is taken off, the bar dips below the desired pitch, and the wood is rendered useless, fortunately this only happened..twice, or maybe three times. Though still under construction the bass marimba bars are nearing completion! 

Check the gallery below for some of my fathers furniture, and a portrait of an artist (dad) as a young man..