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Photo: Rachel Rosenkrantz.
Rachel Rosenkrantz, a luthier, uses all-natural materials. For example, to build a bracing structure for the instrument above, she followed a bee blueprint, placed the structure in a hive, and waited for a year.

Now here’s a commitment to using natural materials that I bet you never heard of.

The nonprofit ecoRI News is great at finding stories like this one by Emily Olson on a Rhode Island luthier who makes guitars using mushrooms and honeycomb.

“During the pandemic lockdown,” Olson reports, “local guitar-maker Rachel Rosenkrantz collected shells from her daily two-egg breakfast. They seemed an appropriate — and certainly plentiful — biomaterial to integrate into a USB-chargeable electric guitar she was working on.

“ ‘Calcium is an integral part of violin varnish because it contributes to the sound quality,’ she explains. With this in mind, and inspired by the work of Gaston Suisse, a French art deco artist who worked with eggshell inlay, she used a laser cutter and manicure file to shape her collected shells into tiny triangles. The eggshell guitar was the last in a series of biomaterial-based instruments she completed during the pandemic. …

“Rosenkrantz had a thriving and well-established career as a commercial furniture and lighting designer when, 10 years ago, she had an epiphany.

“ ‘I can always make money,’ she says. ‘But I can’t make time. … I had been daydreaming about being a luthier for too long to not do it.’ …

“Rosenkrantz grew up just outside Paris in Montfermeil, an industrial town she describes as ‘the Fall River of France.’ She is the daughter of a family of tailors; her grandfather lived in an apartment above his small tailoring shop. …

“Rosenkrantz studied at l’ESAG in Paris, and in her college days, crossed the ocean a couple of times, first as an exchange student at the Rhode Island School of Design — ‘I loved the name Providence,’ she recalls. … She now lives just outside Pawtuxet Village in Cranston … above her guitar-making studio, Atelier Rosenkrantz. ‘I guess I’ve come full circle,’ she says, referencing her grandfather’s shop. … ‘This is my happy place.’ …

“Rosenkrantz is well aware of the negative impact guitar-making has on the environment. Though little seems more environmentally conscious than someone sitting outside plucking a guitar, guitars are made from wood. And it isn’t always harvested in a sustainable way. …

“Rosenkrantz relies on timber updates from the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, a Switzerland-based organization that, through international agreement, offers a framework to ensure that when plants and animals cross borders, a species’ survival isn’t threatened.

“ ‘Brazilian rosewood is a big no-no because their rainforests were depleted,’ she says. But it isn’t just the type of wood used that she considers; she also considers how a country manages its resources. ‘India, for example, manages their rosewood really well,’ she adds. …

“Replenishment also is important. ‘Every guitar-maker, every woodworker — if we consume wood, we should grow wood,’ she says. The alternative, of course, is to not use wood at all. …

“One afternoon Rosenkrantz was at RISD, where she teaches spatial design, and decided to spend some time in the Nature Lab.

“ ‘RISD has a whole library of natural specimens, including biomaterials,’ she says. … ‘I know that Styrofoam conducts sound because it’s full of air, so I tested RISD’s [imitation Styrofoam] mushroom sample with my sound diffuser and realized that I could make a solid body sound like a hollow body.’

“The thing that excites her most about using farm waste inoculated with mushrooms in her craft is that she can grow her own design — a plastic mold is at her feet, leaning against the bench. ‘It takes about a week to grow a guitar body — four days to grow, then four days to let a crust develop,’ she says. …

“She slides a banjo from a shelf behind her and explains the body is made from kombucha leather. Kombucha home brewers are familiar with a symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast (SCOBY), a cellulose mat that forms from the basis of kombucha — sweet tea — and houses the cultures that turn sweet tea into more kombucha. To get a SCOBY large enough make adequate leather for a banjo, Rosenkrantz brewed kombucha in a fish tank. ‘It took 11 tries before I made enough leather for one instrument,’ she says. …

“Rosenkrantz began dabbling in beekeeping, and as she researched hive options, quickly discovered the top bar beehive … a horizontal box with bars on top that support honeycomb, and it allows bees to build the way they would in nature. … ‘The bars in a top bar hive reminded me a lot of the bracing that goes in the front of a guitar that provides rigidity and guides sound,’ she says. … ‘I wondered if I provided the bees with bracing, if I could trick them into building a guitar.’

“But bees are not so easily tricked. ‘Bees have their own egress and architectural code,’ Rosenkrantz says, and she had to learn those codes to encourage the bees to collaborate on a design.

“So, after a great deal of research, she built a bracing structure according to the bees’ blueprint, placed it in a hive, and waited for a year. The result was something she never could have anticipated. The bees not only accepted her design and built their comb along her bracing structure, but they maintained the wood.”

More at ecoRI News, here. Amazing pictures. No firewall.

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Photo: Andrew Jackson for the Guardian
Elin William says, “From the moment I started strumming, the turkeys crowded ’round.”

A few months ago, I told my younger grandson that I had read a story about a woman who plays music to calm down turkeys. I don’t think he quite believed me.

But it’s true. Elin William wrote at the Guardian about her unusual use of music.

“I got my first guitar when I was 12, and it’s been a slow process of self-tuition since then. I also play piano and violin, but I only play the guitar to the turkeys on the Rhug Estate farm in Corwen, north Wales, where I work.

“It began as an experiment. Rhug is an organic farm, and the main principle is to create as little stress as possible for the animals. But the farm is on the side of a main road, so some get spooked by loud noises: the traffic, machinery or sounds from the car park. We started playing the radio to them overnight. We’d put on Classic FM when we were shutting up at 7 pm and leave it on until we returned in the morning.

“The turkeys in particular responded really well. So we started playing the radio all day, every day. Then my boss, Lord Newborough, thought, ‘What if the music was much more up close and personal?’ He knew I played guitar and suggested I had a go. …

“From the moment I started strumming, the turkeys crowded ’round. I got the impression they enjoyed listening to me play. They started pecking on the guitar and plucking the strings. That’s the result of organic farming: you get inquisitive animals, rather than ones that are scared. …

“I’ve now performed in front of hundreds of turkeys. … I sing Welsh folk songs and ones my dad would have loved to hear, like the Animals’ ‘House of The Rising Sun’ – that’s the one I like playing most. …

“I’ve been described as a turkey whisperer. It’s like a horse whisperer, but not as glamorous. I don’t have a magic touch – anyone who played to them would get the same reaction, to be honest. …

“I’m an animal lover and it’s important to me that the turkeys are happy. But I’m not a vegetarian. Getting so close to the birds doesn’t make me think I have to give up meat. Farming is a mega industry, but here the focus is on quality of life. Having worked with them, it’s impossible to imagine turkeys in cages.” Read more at the Guardian, here.

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Tom Murphy wrote recently at the Providence Journal about a shop in North Kingstown that will teach you how to build your own guitar.

“Owner Dan Collins and his partner, Ariel Bodman, design and build guitars with the skill and dedication of artists,” writes Murphy. “They talk about the sound produced by different kinds of wood with terms like the ‘color’ and the ‘ring.’ …

“Dan and Ariel have brilliantly carved out a niche in the industry by sharing their deep knowledge and experience with student builders who pay a fee to craft their own custom instruments. With his background in art and hers in music, they give students a much deeper appreciation for their new instruments than they might get walking out of the average music store. …

“Many students become hooked on the experience and come back for a second, third, even a fourth build. ..

“The custom builds, the repairs and the teaching are the business side of Dan Collins’ unique shop, but from 7 to 10 p.m. on the last Saturday of each month, something really extraordinary happens.

“The floors are swept, tools are put away, equipment is pushed aside and the long work bench in the middle of the room is transformed into a banquet table as Shady Lea Guitars holds its ‘open mic night.’

“In a cleared portion of the workshop, there is a well-lit stage and an odd assortment of comfortable old chairs. It’s potluck, so students, customers, friends and enthusiasts alike can share their favorite recipes along with their music. The friendly audience always puts participants at ease, and they respond with heartfelt performances.” More here.

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Nate Homan recently wrote a good human-interest story for the free subway newspaper, Metro. It’s about one of Boston’s subway musicians, a blind woman.

Michelle Abadia sits at Harvard Station early each morning that her T performer permit allows, strumming her guitar and singing to an audience she cannot see.

“ ‘Music was my passion from an early age. I don’t have a memory without it,’ Abadia said. ‘I am told that I was helping tune the piano when I was three.’ …

“She lost her sight to congenital cataracts at the age of 4 after six unsuccessful eye surgeries. She has started a GoFundMe page hoping to earn $20,000 to fund her musical career and to help pay for medical bills. …

“She earned a double degree in language studies and music in Boston College, and went on to earn a master’s in French literature and International Latin American Studies from Tufts. After that, she earned New England Conservatory master’s for vocal performances.

“Now she is trying to earn a living as a musician, after teaching Spanish at several colleges in the area and working as an interpreter in courtrooms.

“ ‘The commuters are half asleep, and I don’t know how effective I can be in brightening their days, but some people say the I do,’ Abadia said. …

“ ‘For anyone who is blind wants to be a musician, or anything, I would tell them to follow their dreams,’ Abadia said.”

More here.

Photo: Metro.us

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