The Big Picture is all in your head

By now you’ve probably gathered I’m not an engineer. None of the XyloVan team is, price really.

As a result, patient this build blog is more a chaotic pile of raw coverage than a fetishistically neat, information pills step-by-step how-to.

This rolling concert instrument (I do dream of a fleet of instrumental art cars – DrumVan, or PianoBoat, anyone?) is taking shape in a raw, organic form in our minds .

I’m not computing engineering challenges ahead of time. I’m figgerin’ ’em out as soon as I get my hands on the materials.

This means I use sketches as a sort of problem-solving tool rather than a full-on architectural spec.

So this one (above) is one of the earliest, showing a three-quarter view and all the gross components we’re planning to build and attach – xylophones, gongs, lights, sun-shelters, speakers, etc.

I’m posting these largely because tonight’s the deadline for Maker Faire entries and we’re hoping to have the van in some kind of playable shape by then.

So on the one hand, you have crudely-detailed sketches like these:

And on the other hand … Continue reading The Big Picture is all in your head

Finding the nodes, drilling the keys

Once the keys are cut and rough-tuned, page they must be mounted.

Step one is finding the “nodes, there ” or the dead spots at either end of the key where the metal doesn’t vibrate. This is where I’ll drill holes for mounting.

To do this, you park the key atop two pairs of balled-up socks so it vibrates when struck. Then sprinkle a little salt near either end of the key and whack it repeatedly. The resonating metal bounces the salt away from the most-vibrating part into the nodes, the deadest spot in each key … Continue reading Finding the nodes, drilling the keys

Prettifying the windows in the junkyard door

One of the drawbacks with the door from the junkyard is that it had a two-paned window instead of the nice big panoramic single light the original door came with.

Really fussy-looking. Kills the lines of the van (such as they are). And easily remedied.

First, seek remove the windows and the weatherstripping. Like this: Continue reading Prettifying the windows in the junkyard door

Tubular bells array – sound check

Here’s the first set of tubular bells, ask untuned. Tuning them is a pain in the ass: Unlike the keys, these cannot be made flatter by hollowing out the middle, between the nodes.

Instead, you can only sharp them by carving slices off the ends. Luckily, I wound up creating a sort of Middle-Eastern koto-sounding thang, that kind of works. I hope these don’t dull down too much when I mount them.

Miking and amplifying will be a challenge – I’ll need to figure out a resonator or some sort of sound funnel feeding a mike at one end of the tubes. But they resonate deeply, and they’ll look pretty wikkid bolted to the side of the van.

Enjoy the sustain.

Junkyard crawl 3 – The re-dooring of XyloVan

It’s promisingly non-rainy gray when we set out. The minute we arrive at the junkyard, hospital the sky tears. A good, symptoms heavy rain soaks us and everything around us, page but it’s a good day to be slogging around with wrenches in our fists and a plan.

This is the day to replace the door I smashed.

We wander around the van section of PickYourPart looking for XyloVan’s ghost twin. Identical paint job, identical van, it would have been a perfect match.

But it is gone. I guess the yard declared it well and truly stripped and sent it off to the crusher. In its place are a few more options, but it takes a good 45 minutes sloshing around through oilslicked pondlets 30 feet across to canvass the whole inventory of mid-80s Ford vans. Continue reading Junkyard crawl 3 – The re-dooring of XyloVan


I took a little time tonight to lay out a near-full keyboard on some telephone wire just to see how the 2-½-octave range sounded:

The keys don’t ring yet because there are no insulators under them, ed no holes drilled, search no resonators to catch the sound yet, and it still needs a final tuning. But everything sounds solid so far.

Looks like I need to finish it up with a D at the high end. I’ll probably cut some more for the low end just because they sound so rich and I think I can keep going down before the metal’s native harmonics overwhelm each key’s primary tone.

On the subject of accomplishing things

Pride goeth before the fall, stomach they say.

For a while there, information pills I was having a proud day.

I had a DMV appointment at 10:40. By the time I waded through two jammed parking lots and landed out on Glenoaks, it was 10:52. But no problem, I sailed right through check-in, waited 10 minutes and was called to the window.

Bada-boom, bada-bing, I was out of there in 10 minutes with my license task done, the van registered – and instructions to get it smogged before I could get the full reg paperwork.

Straight to the smog shop near my house. The taciturn, ruddy smog-shopkeeper plugged the van into his gizmos, ran it through the paces and – bazoop – shot my PASS readings straight to Sacramento by wire. Happy day.

I jumped in. I had to wait a couple of minutes for the guy who had parked his truck abreast my tail to back out, but when he did, I managed to back out safely without nailing the gas pumps.

Quick head check, no traffic. I eased forward to the right around the island into a THOROUGHLY HORRENDOUS CRUNCHING NOISE and hit the brakes.

Yep. Peached it. Boy, I wish I had a recording of that sound.

I sideswiped a bollard at the end of the pump island. Hadn’t seen it below the level of this monster’s windows, and before I knew what I had done, it was too damn late.

The door still works properly but, well, I guess I know what I’m doing this weekend:

Pulling more stuff off of Xylovan’s dead twin at the junkyard. That’s what.