Tuesday, January 22, 2013

More on the Mountain Banjo

Made from hide and wood, the mountain banjo changes with the barometer, and because the ingredients were once alive it is always in some stage of degeneration, rotting in the picker's arms.  There is a shuffle and ache in the sound worthy of the weak and vulnerable and broken...  Unlike a store-bought banjo, the homegrown version has a life of its own and is perpetually dying.

- Steven Harvey, Bound for Shady Grove 


      In an earlier post I wrote about my homemade mountain banjo.  It just wouldn't be right if I didn't at least mention Frank Proffitt.  So, here is my version of one of his songs.  I played it on my mountain banjo*, which is similar to the banjos he made and played.  The song is called "Rove Riley." I first heard it played by Frank Lindamood one day after work when I used to be at the FSU Coastal and Marine Lab.  Frank Lindamood was a carpenter there, and if I was lucky I could catch him playing the banjo in the wood shop before he left.  The aroma of pine and wood shavings on the floor really contributed to the overall experience.  Both Franks have influenced my playing.  In fact, Lindamood first introduced me to old time music and also referred me to some of the early Frank Proffitt recordings.

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Kelp Horn

video

      Here is a primitive horn I made out of bull whip kelp (Nereocystis luetkeana).  I didn't cure the kelp.  I just picked it up off the beach, chopped off both ends, and used it as a horn.  using a larger piece of kelp not shown in this video, I was able to get four different notes.  I consider that pretty good considering I have never played a horn or brass instrument.  Apparently, some people even make vuvuzelas out of the bull whip kelp.  If you are interested in other uses for the kelp, check out this website.  I tried to dry mine to make it last, but it just started to rot.  It is now composting in Portland, Oregon.  My favorite thing about the kelp horn was the response it got from a bearded man who was the epitome of an old seafaring man.  As I walked through a rock tunnel blasting the horn, I heard him ask, "Are there orcs coming?  I normally carry an elvish blade to warn me, but I forgot mine."  Later, as I was blasting it off on a rock with waves crashing all around, he suggested I stop.  "There are many sea beasts out there, and one could easily mistake that for a mating cry," he warned.  I doubted the existence of sea beasts, but I still wasn't going to hang out and test his theory.  As I was leaving the beach, he tipped his hat and thanked me and my brothers, who were also wielding horns, for the "seaweed symphony".  It's always nice to meet other people who have a sense of humor, an appreciation for Tolkein's works, and a sense of adventure.

Friday, January 4, 2013

Oyster Mushrooms

A cluster of oyster mushrooms.  They were found on quaking aspen in WY and are probably the aspen oyster mushroom (Pleurotus populinus) instead of the true oyster mushroom (Pleurotus ostreatus), but the photo does a good job of illustrating the growth form of oyster mushrooms.
      Two weeks ago, I was out in Oregon visiting my brother.  As we collected conifer boughs for a Christmas wreath, we noticed some edible* oyster mushrooms (Pleurotus ostreatus) growing on old alders.  Some of the mushrooms were even poking through snow!  I was inspired to search for some "oysters" of my own once I returned to Alabama.  The Wednesday and Thursday brought some rain to the area, and it hasn't been too cold, so I thought there might be some around.  After dropping off my rent check at my landlord's, I figured I might as well take a quick walk down the wooded bike path that intersects his street.  The harvest was not great, but I did find one cluster of oyster mushrooms suggesting that there could be more around.