Thursday, April 24, 2014
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Introducing the Cleophone
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The Cleophone. It's inventor, Dave Krejci, made it by stretching 12 piano strings over a piece of African rain forest wood. He used pickups from a Fender Rhodes electric piano to generate its sound. (MPR photo/Chris Roberts)
What looks like a dulcimer and sounds like electronically altered Balinese gamelan? The answer is the Cleophone. The instrument's Minneapolis inventor created it mainly for the sheer pleasure of sonic exploration.

Minneapolis, Minn. — It was probably inevitable that Dave Krejci would eventually invent an instrument like the Cleophone.

All his life he's tinkered, at times obsessively, with objects that emit sounds. Stuff like recording notes from several different organs over each other, or running short wave radios through a number of amps to see how they drone.

"But this was kind of the next step I guess," he says. "And it was a little bit more fun because you actually made the sound as opposed to just turning on a bunch of things and letting them do their own thing."

It all started when Krejci began imagining what might happen if he took the pickups or little microphones from a Fender Rhodes electric piano and used them on regular piano strings. His Cleophone consists of 12 strings of various thicknesses on a narrow piece of super hard African rain forest wood stretched over a series of strategically located pickups. It's hooked up to two B-3 Hammond organ amplifiers.

Krejci uses piano hammers, bows, brushes even bones to play the Cleophone, each drawing a different sound from the strings. With the help of the reverberating organ amps, the notes take on a life of their own.

"They start to mix with each other in ways that I could never imagine playing," he says. "So you start hearing things, I'll start hearing things that I'm not playing. But they're two notes clashing that create a different sound and start vibrating against each other."

Krejci says the Cleophone went from something he putzed around with in the basement to an actual instrument when he thought up its name.

"My daughter's name is Cleo," he says. "She loves the name of it. I think the first time she heard she made some reference to the 'spooky Scooby Doo sound' so I took that as a very high compliment."

During the day Krecji works for a Twin Cities PR firm. At night he sometimes plays in a loud rock band known as the Reverend Strychn Trio. What he likes about the Cleophone is its potential to reach audiences beyond the dingy bar scene.

"It has no lyrics," Krejci says. "It has no inherent point. There's no politics behind it, there's not even any emotion behind it. It's simply just there to exist as a nice sound."

Nice, especially if you like ethereal haunting sounds that can immediately become the soundtrack for a suspense or horror film.

Krejci has no plans to mass produce the Cleophone, but he would love it if other people tried to play his. He thinks percussionists might have a special knack. He dreams of playing it himself in some kind acoustically pristine concert hall.

Krejci worries a little though about how people will respond when they hear it.

"What I really want to accomplish is have them not care that this was an invented instrument, have them not care that I made the instrument, I want them to sit there and like the music," he says. "I will be disppointed if people who say 'wow that's great that you did that' and then they go hear it and don't think it sounds that good. Because it's obviously about sounding, it's not about looking."

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