04 Jul Berna creates her own Balafon
Since I have acquired a quantity of Padouk wood, I offer interested parties to make their own balafon under my guidance. Padouk is a type of wood with beautiful sound characteristics and is used in Cameroon and Mozambique (for the Timbela, among others). Earlier, I offered it at the Byggefest, construction festival in Ebeltoft, Denmark. While there, I did know that a few might come forward and I had old keys of Rosewood for that. Several people have already indicated that they would like the idea, but Berna, one of my students in the Betuwe group wanted to start working on it this summer. Together with her husband Bertus, who is experienced with woodworking and makes art objects from it, she would start. Below is the account of the various stages. Just before my holiday, they came for the first appointment to collect the wood I had reserved for her. They were free and without plans at the time and eager to get started on the construction; Berna creates her own Balafon!
Sawing & sanding
Most of the sound bars had previously been roughly cut to size by Youssouf Keita and myself. But some also had to be cut from Padouk planks. The fine round sawing of the ends and sanding was also to be carried out by Berna and her husband Bertus. Bertus himself also works with wood to create works of art. He works mostly with fosile wood. This is wood from oaks that have been lying in the peat for 5,000 to 7,000 years under low-oxygen conditions. It is hard and pitch black. In the Binnenveld near Rhenen, many oak trees emerged during the excavation of farmland for nature development. Bertus used this wood to make several works of art for the municipality of Rhenen, which can be found on two roundabouts, among others. Using saws and sanders, Bertus has now finished the rough work of making the sound bars.
Tuning of the keys
For tuning the sound bars, I had recommended using a tuner app on the phone. Berna does not use an android phone and had to pick one herself to install on her phone. In the photos she sent me, it was already clear to me that she had found another tool, the melodica.
15 July 2023
“Hi Paul, keys tuned, it feels like more: the frame. I have 3 examples at home (to study and possibly use their model, ed.) My preference is as light as possible and slightly curved key row. What wood do you recommend me for the curved bar? To us, beech seems good for the lower beam. Do you agree or are we overplaying our ambition? “
At the start of the project, I had already recommended using some of the fossil wood that Bertus also uses for his works of art for the decorative pieces on the two sides. Furthermore, my advice was solid wood for the frame and flexible wood (I often use pine for this) for the flexible part.
30 July 2023
“Making steady progress. Frame provisionally assembled. Used willow and oak”
First intermediate result
Time for a first test. Meanwhile, I am back from my working holiday to the Festival Byggefest and Utamaduni African Camp, both in Denmark. We can make a new appointment. Although the keys are not really attached properly yet, Berna can play a bit on them. It looks like one of the last taught pieces. But I hear it’s not quite right…. Has she composed a new piece: ‘Berna creates her own Balafon‘?
2 August 2023
“Welcome home! It does not yet sound as it should; fine tuning is necessary. Which days are you available? This week and next, I’m still at home until Thursday. Will pick up the phone later”
Follow up meeting
Berna soon arrives for a follow-up. She is still eager to continue. It turns out that the app installed on her I-phone to tune the keys, was not working properly. She therefore switched to tuning using the melodica. However, this turned out not to be completely well tuned, so there is some new fine-tuning to be done on the precise tones.
Together, we find a new app for her phone and practice using it. With that, she can get back to work at home. Most of the keys still need to be tuned slightly higher and we consider making them shorter or sanding down the bottom outside. We choose the latter and Bertus will get back to that.
For the frame, she has used beautiful wood and leather with a nice red-brown colour. Only the willow wood used is a bit out of place. I offer her Padouk timbers to use as gourd sticks and suggest a nice straight bamboo-stick on the side. She takes that into consideration and I show her how to tie it properly.
Fixing gourd wood
A good knot for the keys-mat
5 August 2023
“Valuable lesson learned. With the app “tuner light”, fine tuning will definitely work. And the videos give a good idea of how to lash bars and keys. There is work to be done and I am looking forward to it. Thanks Paul..”
Bertus makes corrections
At home, Berna & Bertus get right to work. Berna the calculating and measuring work; Bertus the planing and sanding.
“And now just hope that it sounds like it should…”
Berna creates her own Balafon ….. to be continued …….