I am fascinated by early psychedelic music. Especially fascinating is the real early stuff – when it was experimental and not mainstream; creative and not cliche. I like the way the music can grab at a particular emotion or function (or malfunction) within my brain and evaluate it. The music is almost a scientific tool for self-evaluating conscious and subconscious. When the music works, often only one small element, background sound or word group acts as this evaluating agent. One element as a key to the chaos.
The 13th Floor Elevators were psychedelia pioneers. Their music resonates with me despite Roky Erickson being committed long before I was born. Most specifically, I am fascinated by the electric jug played by Tommy Hall…
Electric Jug? Yep. That’s what the liner notes say. I haven’t heard that instrument anywhere else. Somehow, Tommy would amplify the sound made when blowing into a jug and create that signature fluttery background rhythm. The electric jug sounds like a crazy scientific instrument designed to test some phenomena like the doppler effect, but one cannot discern whether it is coming or going. Another may describe that the music is played over the background of a hearing test. I have only seen a few photos of Tommy Hall playing this instrument – a blurry image of him holding a jug and a microphone at the same time.
I am not a musician. But, in fits of boredom and inspiration, I occasionally try to replicate the electric jug sound. I tried blowing across the mouth of a moonshine jug into a microphone. It sounds vaguely similar, but also not at all the same. I tried different sizes of jugs, different ways of blowing, and different types of microphones. Still nothing.
For my latest attempt, I drilled a hole into the bottom of a large glass beer bottle using a diamond drill bit. The bottle came from a brand of beer called “He-Brew” – I think it is intended to be drunk by those who keep the covenant (whoops) – but a wine bottle is about the same size and could also work. I then hot – glued a Radio Shack piezo-transducer over the hole in the bottle, and soldered the wires to a mini microphone jack. Connected to my computer, it sounds like this:
Again, it seems like I am on the right path to creating the Elevators’ sound, but am still way off. Something can’t be right because I quickly run out of breath. I’ve managed to create an interesting sound, and perhaps if I just tweak or try breathing differently…
Here is the sound after running it through freeware sound editors on my computer. I had no idea what I was doing, just trying to make something that sounds weird. Now it sounds like a theremin broadcasting through a blown speaker, or table saw with a bad bearing.
Lastly, I tried speaking into the bottle while reciting a poem. Crazy stuff. I imagine this is what things sound like if one was to speak into an overturned bucket while under water. Completely claustrophobic. So how did Tommy Hall create that sound? Beats the smoke out of me. Perhaps some things are best understood as mysteries.