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About Neil

Sound Mechanic Neil Feather has been creating radical and unusual musical instruments since 1970 and is increasingly known outside of Baltimore as one of the most original musical thinkers of his day. His instruments each embody uniquely clever acoustic and engineering principles, and are visually arresting. The music he plays on the instruments is equally original, embodying new principles and resulting in a nearly alien idiom of music. When he was a young teen in western Pennsylvania, Feather... more

The Music Myth

The Music Myth Project Description

The Music Myth is a musical allegory in the form of an opera. Five performers interact with twenty different musical instruments of my own invention.

The subject is the myth of music and how music created the big bang and later literally lent an ear to humankind.

The characters are as follows: Music, Humankind, The Bringer of Light, The Department of Redundancy Department and Truth.
Featured are 19 different experimental musical instruments invented by Neil Feather. This full orchestra of unusual instruments surrounds the audience with an immersive spacial experience.

These instruments are quite diverse but have in common that they are mechanical in nature and reveal visually and sonically various principals of physics. Pendulums, flywheels, motors, springs, magnets, bowling balls, ping pong balls and strings are combined in various ways to create new and surprising sound events.

Ball Movies


BALL MOVIES

Ball movies are a new way of working for me. As I work with my instruments and sound sculptures to create music, video has become a good tool for composing. These films are meant to be comforting, funny, curious and sensual. I try to focus on the elements of machines that simply move in an unpredictable way and to make music that is visually interesting.

Ball movies are about unlikely physical interactions of all kinds of balls with springs, wheels, drums, speakers and other sorts of matter.

The Organ Project

The Organ Project.
This is collaboration with Rosie Langabeer to compose music for my instruments and the Friends of the Wanamaker Organ Wurlitzer in Greek Hall. This project happens in the Wanamaker (Macy’s) Building in Philadelphia. The Wanamaker Organ is a different organ in the same building and is the largest pipe organ in the world. We have also played on the Dickenson Theater Organ in Wilmington, Delaware, the largest working theater organ in the world. We hope to play other of the few remaining theater organs across the country.

Theater organs are pipe organs with all the bells and whistles (literally) needed to accompany silent movies. A century ago, before recording technology, theater organs provided most of the music that was available. These instruments have thousands of pipes and are substantial parts of the buildings that house them.

The instruments that I play are the Wiggler, Melocycle, Vibrowheels and Magnapooter. I am attracted to the theater organ because of its mechanical complexity and mass. Its magnificent sounds have an archaic context and Rosie Langabeer provokes the old connotations with new kinds of humor and surprise.

  • A Glow Within The Piney Woods by Neil Feather

    Neil Feather - Wiggler, Melocycle, Vibrowheel, Magnapooter Rosie Langabeer - Friends of the Wanamaker Organ Wurlitzer
  • ORGAN 1.jpg

    Neil Feather and Rosie Langabeer in the Greek Hall with invented instruments and Wurlitzer theater organ.

Sunset o639 hours

Sunset o639 Hours by Ballet X (Philadelphia) Composer Rosie Langabeer and choreographer Matthew Neenan

From Ballet X: This narrative evening-length work interprets the dramatic, true story of pilot Edwin Musick’s 1938 inaugural airmail flight across the Pacific. With stunning dancers and an onstage cabaret-style band, audiences will be transported by the rich sights and sounds of pre-World War II New Zealand, Samoa, and Hawaii through this beautiful and intensely personal narrative of loss, longing, and paradise.

Rosie Langabeer used my instruments the Anaplumb, the Thumbsnake and Magnapooters among many instruments to compose Sunset O369 Hours. The 1938 Samoan Clipper airplane is represented by these instruments and by the dancers. The music is primarily live by 4 musicians who share the stage with 10 dancers.

Since its debut at the Wilma Theater in Philadelphia in 2014, this wonderful production has played to enthusiastic audiences at the Joyce Theater in New York and Jacobs Pillow. I am proud of my modest part as instrument inventor and anaplumb wrangler in this show.

  • Sunset o369 Hrs

    Invented Instruments by Neil Feather as used in Ballet X's Sunset O369 Hours. The Wilma Theater in Philadelphia in 2016

Sound Sculptures- Interactives

A sound sculptures are instruments that are motorized and can play independently. They are activated by digital or analog control. Recent sound sculpture installations are mechanical music compositions. The sonic elements are tuned and adjusted specifically to the piece as a whole.
The work are primarily mechanical and electro-acoustic but facilitated by digital or analog technology.

  • Apex Rotozither 3

    A rotozither is an instrument that has a circular or cylindrical zither or “harp” that rotates past magnetic pickups to produce a melody. Various “ticklers” or real fingers determine the sound of the strings. The timing between the tickling action and the position of the pickups is crucial to the sound.
  • Rube Goldberg Variations part 2

    Sound Installation at the Walters Art Museum in Baltimore MD 2014 Sondheim Art Prize Exhibition
  • Anaplumb

    Anaplumb: Weighted string instrument. A heavy “anaplumb bob” made up of a duckpin bowling ball, 4 vibrating motors and a heavy magnet, creates the tension on the string. A second magnet underneath creates a repellant force that prevents the bob from finding plumb. This makes the string tension fluctuate allowing the string and spring resonate with the vibrators in shifting unpredictable ways. The under magnet rotates periodically to prevent stasis. An electric guitar pickup sends the audio signal to an amplifier.
  • Rube Goldberg Variations part 1

    Sound Installation at the Walters Art Museum in Baltimore MD 2014 Sondheim Art Prize Exhibition

MUSICAL INSTRUMENTS

Experimental musical Instruments have been the core of my work since I first heard Harry Partch's orchestra. My academic background is ceramics where I gained respect for utility. The instruments are engineered to be versatile, reliable, portable and sonically open-ended.
Instrument design is forged onstage. Musical usability is nurtured. New instruments are meant to create new sounds and new musical forms.
There are about 10 different "families" grouped by which principles of physics are being explored,

  • Futura and Thunderwheel at AVAM

    Mechanical Synthesizer at the American Visionary Art Museum
  • Pythagatone

    Vibrowheel Array.
  • The Vegas

    Three instruments in one: Former Guitar, Rotozither and Vibrowheel. This piece was included in a major art show called "Art or Sound" in Venice, Italy
  • Melocipede

    Mechanical electric musical instrument 14 strings, 8 motors, 4pickups, i bicycle, i billiard ball in unit that can play a melody or parts thereof backwards and forwards
  • The Bachelor

    Neil Feather Interview/demonstration of the Bachelor, one of many Former Guitars. This was posted adjunct to Sound American Music Journal found at http://soundamerican.org/neil-feather

Collaborations

I have spent the last 30 years in Baltimore being part of an incredibly rich community of improvisers and experimenters. My main collaborators and players of my instruments are Eric Franklin, Dan Breen, Bob Wagner and John Berndt in such groups as THUS, Aerotrain, Mugwump, Elepantitans and Broydelic Sidecar Eye. Rosie Langabeer and I collaborate as Two To Tutu Too. Collaboration and Improvisation are the most vital elements of music.

  • AEROTRAIN

    "Train Song" by Aerotrain All instruments and composition by Neil Feather Musicians: Neil Feather, Catherine Pancake, Andy Hayleck, John Berndt, Eric Franklin
  • The Music Guys

    Neil Feather - Former Guitar Robbie Beamer- Drums.
  • Elephantitans

    Neil Feather- Former Guitar Eric Franklin- Former Guitar at the Red Room, Baltimore MD 2011
  • Health and Safety

    Neil Feather- Former Guitar and Vibrowheel M.C. Schmidt- Drums, Synthesizer Dan Breen- Drums
  • Willet Feather Magnapooter

    Neil Feather- Magnapooters Jason Willet- Turntable, Cocoquantus
  • The Ooze

    Dan Breen- drums Neil Feather- the Bachelor Rosie Langabeer- accordion, keyboards Kate Porter, cello At the High Wire Gallery in Philadelphia 2013
  • THUS at TedX Baltimore

    Neil Feather is an active experimental instrument designer in the U.S. and his collaborator, John Berndt, an intense multi-instrumentalist improviser, is the founder of High Zero festival as well as many other groups. Their chemistry along with the mechanical imperatives of the unusual instruments produces an original sound that is at once otherworldly, funny, and somber.
  • MUGWUMP

    "Big Pink" by Mugwump Neil Feather- Former Guitar Dan Breen- Guitaint Bob Wagner - Drums
  • Sunset o630hrs Plane 1

    Sunset o630 Hrs. is a ballet by produced by BalletX at the Wilma Theatre in Philadelphia, Pa. Composer Rosie Langabeer used my instruments, Anaplumb, Magnapooters and Thumbsnake as part of the live orchestration to represent a fated airplane that is central to the ballet
  • AEROTRAIN

    All instruments and composition by Neil Feather Musicians: Neil Feather, Catherine Pancake, Andy Hayleck, John Berndt, Eric Franklin

Proto electric/ Retronics

This project started with the Futura Ultra-retro and was advanced recently with the Magnapooters.
The beginning concept was to reverse-engineer a synthesizer with 19th century science so there are only batteries, switches and electromagnetic coils (speakers). The speakers are acoustically or mechanically modified to change the sound. I have since added some rudimentary parts to interface with modern equipment. And there are lots of flywheels.

Neil Feather's Happy Place

Various orchestrations of my instruments and sculptures are collected in this video project. This space allows me to compose by combining sound, movement and light in real time. This is also a situation for live performances and collaborations.
There are 12 to 20 Instruments and/or sound sculptures at hand at any time. This situation allows me to concentrate on orchestration and also the visual elements of the work.

Neil's Curated Collection

View Neil's favorite works from other Baker Artists