Sarah Hutchinson
Project Description:
For my final university project I set out with a plan to build a musical instrument, or at the very least, prepare a pre-existing instrument. During the past year I’ve been working as an apprentice piano technician, learning about restoration as well as woodwork and other workshop tools. I decided to repurpose a typewriter. I wanted the typewriter to be an instrument on its own and spent a lot of time experimenting with string placement, other uses the keys could be used for and other ways to control sound with the typewriter. What came of those experiments was a single piano string which travels through the body of the typewriter and out to a mini hitch pin, with the typewriter keys being used to fret the string when pressed down. As money was a slight issue with sourcing materials and my desire to only use second hand bits, I only used discarded materials from the piano workshop, old rubbish violins from my childhood and things found from skips at the side of the road. This allowed me more freedom with experimentation and took pressure off breaking things in the process. ​​​​​​​
After this initial breakthrough, I began adding extra bits, more sound sources and started thinking about a proper frame for the instrument to sit on. The first addition was to add a violin body to amplify the sound. For this I had to custom make a new bridge for the violin so the string sat firmly in place. I based this bridge on that of a Kalimba - wood with a sanded down nail embedded within it for the sound to travel through to the violin body. This proved very successful, the original sound without the violin body was weak and tinny, but the new addition added richer and more full bodied tone. ​​​​​​​
The typewriter at this point was still on its prototype plywood frame. Due to the tension of the string when it was tuned up to pitch, the plywood frame it was one started to fold in on itself. I needed to take the whole instrument apart anyway to remake bits I’d cobbled together for the prototype so this was a good opportunity to give the whole instrument a proper solid foundation to sit on. ​​​​​​​
For the frame, I selected a bit of offcut strong plyboard and added steel framing around the edge, all bolted together to make sure the wood would not warp. I then bolted the typewriter and its violin down too. The bit of wood I selected was quite long and had extra space for the other violin. I decided to make a mini harp for this section - as the typewriter is monophonic, so being able to play some chords alongside a melody would add extra playability to the instrument. This also makes it a two player instrument! For this used the same techniques as for stringing the original typewriter, but on a slightly bigger scale for more strings to be added. ​​​​​​​
While taking it to bits initially, the bell section and ink keys had to come off so I could work within its body. I was able to mount the bell section back on at the back of the frame, and the ink keys have been used in a decorative way. I added bottle caps, a sink drainer, chimes and old piano string pins as percussive features. 
There is also one guitar pickup directly under the string between the typewriter and violin body and a contact mic under the wool of the back metal plate of the typewriter for additional sound manipulation purposes or recording.
Project Context: 
The biggest influence for this project was Harry Partch (1901-1974) and his prepared instruments and inventions. Although he made most of his instruments in the 60s and 70s, he took the approach of creating acoustic instruments specifically focusing on tonality and non conventional tuning systems. I took this approach when making the typewriter - the key frets are so close together that the instrument is essentially microtonal. I also wanted my instrument to be able to be played acoustically so it could be performed without additional setup. Another comparison I could make between me and Partch is our shared non conformist ideas and rejection of traditional musical training. Partch used pre-existing instruments such as violas and harmoniums to create his own custom instruments, as well as a discarded science labs kit which makes up his instrument ‘The Cloud Chamber Bowls’. As mentioned in the project description above, I used discarded wood, nails, violins and of course the typewriter itself (given to me by a man throwing it out of his second hand shop up in Lincoln). 
A more modern example of work similar to the typewriter is that of Diego Stocco - another non conformist instrument preparer and builder. Two examples of his work come to mind when talking about the current field that the typewriter sits in: 
The Experibass: A prepared double bass that has been modified to incorporate other instruments in the wooden string family. As shown in the video, this instrument has 4 necks/fingerboards - one from a violin, viola, cello and the bass itself - each with 4 strings each. Stocco says on his website “My curiosity was to hear the sound of violin, viola and cello strings amplified through the body of a double bass”. The instrument can be played traditionally and experimentally, as well as being used in a percussive context. This is similar to my project in that it utilises the natural amplification of the double bass body for all sounds made with the instrument. However it doesn’t incorporate any non-musical features like the typewriter, such as using the actual typewriter to fret the strings. 
Bassoforte: This instrument has many similarities to my own typewriter. The concept of using the keys from a piano to fret strings onto the neck of a broken guitar is similar to the way I’ve used the keys on the keyboard to fret the single string running through the typewriter. Stocco also added percussive features to the frame the instrument sits on such as door hinges and symbols. Much like the Experibass this instrument can be played in a variety of ways. Whilst this instrument is similar to my own, there doesn’t seem to be any natural amplification.