Girls at a summer workshop for rock and roll in Philadelphia are not just learning how to play music, they are learning to make the instruments they will play.
At the Girls Rock Philly headquarters in Fishtown, a half-dozen girls ranging from 12 to 18 are being introduced to the basics of circuitry, how sound and electricity are related, and the business end of a soldering gun.
“They are learning how to solder, and learning to build something, and learning about sound and the creation of sound,” said Diane Foglizzo, director of Girls Rock Philly. “That’s something we do a little, but it’s exciting to bring folks in who already know how to do that, and tie that into what we’re doing.”
Foglizzo brought in Suzanne Thorpe and Bonnie Jones, aka TECHNE, two electronic musicians spending the summer touring rock and roll summer camps up and down the East Coast. To teach the science and engineering of music, they come loaded with cables, wire cutters, extra solder, and bags of Pop Rocks candy.
First they teach girls to wire a contact microphone, which picks up vibrations through touch. That’s where the solder comes in.
Then they put that mic into a cardboard box and introduce, for example, a thwacking rubber band, a soft-bristle paint brush, a stainless steel scrubber pad, and a paper cup of water crackling with Pop Rocks. The contact mic picks up the vibrations through the carboard box, and sends those vibrations to an amp.
The result is an improvisation of sounds not normally heard in natural acoustic space. The experimental, found-sound music is nothing like guitars or bass.
“The instruments are without gender, in any cultural contexts,” said Thorpe, noting that they girls can stake their musical path without taking on male-dominated tropes of rock.
“It’s not like men are known for playing boxes with contact mics on them,” said Jones.
The teenagers of Girls Rock Philly will be playing their homemade electronic instruments at a public concert at the Rotunda at 4014 Walnut Street in West Philadelphia Tuesday evening as part of The Gate series by the experimental music presenter Bowerbird. The free concert begins at 7.