Brendon Bussy

How to build a People’s Harp (was Top Secret)

Posted in Design, Invention, New Old Old New by Brendon Bussy on February 10, 2012

In the spirit of freeing the People from the hegenomy of low quality  industrially extruded musical instruments, I’ve decided to fully disclose and publicly release instructions for assembling a People’s Harp.

My invention is vaguely based on a Congolese Kundi harp. The reason I say ‘vaguely’, is that the Kundi normally has at least five strings, whereas mine has one. However my harp is held and played in a similar manner. Some may say that that is where the resemblance ends. However, I can persuasively argue that my harp is in spirit a Kundi harp 🙂 And that despite being made of plastic bottles, it is surprisingly loud and sonorous (posts on how to play the harp will follow).

Let the People walk the streets with a harp in hand, rhythm in heart and happiness in head!

assembled Harp with People

a close up

Sound of People playing a harp:

Here we have the method: (more…)

Workshop: Making Useful Instruments

Posted in Design, Invention, Materials, Music, New Old Old New, Research, Workshops by Brendon Bussy on June 25, 2011

I’m going to be running a workshop focusing on building and playing stringed instruments made from found objects.

Based on traditional (and not so traditional) African instruments such as harps, fiddles, lutes – made from tins, cardboard tubes, boxes, and any suitable odd but useful object.

seriously playing a cardboard kora in district 6

In the first session we’ll explore (more…)

How to Build a Harp in the Ground

Posted in Invention, Materials, Music, New Old Old New by Brendon Bussy on June 2, 2011

Last week Nicola Visser and I decided to make a Ground Harp.

So we met at Cape Town’s Constantia Nek and headed into the pine plantation equipped with spade and Angel the dog – the essential ground harp equipment.

We placed a soundboard over a hole which Nicky had dug amongst the roots of a tree. Then one foot on the board, we tensioned a length of nylon gut which had been attached to the centre of the board.



The Pleasant Art of Bottle Arranging

Posted in Design, Invention, Materials, New Old Old New, Sound, Workshops by Brendon Bussy on May 25, 2011

I decided to try some lavish documentation of a few of my musical instrument experiments.

So, in the spirit of Ikebane (the harmonious art of Japanese flower arranging) we have:

The Breakfast Punch Harp.

Breakfast Punch Harp

Breakfast Punch Harp: 1 litre tetrapack, chopstick, gut

Made from a juice box of my favourite flavour, this ‘throw-away’ harp is one of my secret weapons.  Despite its temporary nature, and unpredictable sounds, I seem to use it more and more – live and in soundtracks. (more…)

Workshop: Young Industrial Designers Grock Harps

Posted in Design, New Old Old New, Workshops by Brendon Bussy on May 12, 2011

This week I completed a two session workshop with 4th year students at CPUT’s* industrial design department.  A basic crash course in stringed instrument building where bits of junk, cans, offcuts and fishing line became prototype designs for the African instruments of the future.

So here are a few of their creations:

A cardboard tube played something like a West African Ngoni. It sports a kevlar bridge (it was an offcut, so it counts).

cardboard tube ngoni

Made and designed by Cliff Beckett and Brent Ismay and played here by Jacques Fabre


Table Lamp + Inspiration = Soundtrack

Posted in Design, Invention, New Old Old New, Sound, Soundtracks by Brendon Bussy on May 2, 2011

Recently two of my troublingly diverse interests conspired to create a soundtrack for the production Door which will play at the Grahamstown National Arts Festival this year.

This is how it came about….

Earlier this year, I was wandering around Cape Town’s Cape  Design Indaba, after running a workshop.  I found myself  drawn to a project display which attracted me due to its ‘work in progress’  nature.  I love prototypes, they smell of pure idea and this one positively reeked 🙂

Run by two young industrial design graduates who call themselves ThingKing, their stand offered a kit table lamp fabricated as simply as possible –  a metal flat bar, elegantly bent and cut.  A bulb socket, light bulb and piece of A4 paper completed the construction.  On sale for a donation (to a worthy charity) and on display as a stimulus to conversation about efficient design, I couldn’t resist (especially the conversation) and I took one home to assemble for use on my work bench.

Here it is:

table lamp

And as a lamp it’s been very useful.  But little did I know that this useful object would become the catalyst for a sound track. (more…)

Gourmet Sound – The Chopstick and Sardine Kora

Posted in Design, Invention, New Old Old New by Brendon Bussy on February 16, 2011

I have a very nice mandolin made from very nice materials and made by a very nice mandolin builder. What more could I want?

Well recently I came across the quirky instruments made by Stewart Port.  Many people make instruments out of odd objects (don’t ask), but few match the elegance of these instruments.  I particularly like his Crutch Banjo, and his Water Jug Kora.  I love the thought of this guitar builder contemplating mundane objects and imagining new possibilities.

I also love the fact that he treats these as serious contenders and not as jokey objects (read what he says) . And I especially like the relationship to traditional African instruments (and other ‘ethnic’ instruments i.e. instruments not to be found in music chain stores) which are often made of things that happen to be around.

In fact I love these thoughts so much that I decided to try it myself. (more…)

The Problem of Stating Problems

Posted in Invention, New Old Old New by Brendon Bussy on January 14, 2011

At the end of last year I popped in to see Johan van Niekerk at CPUT’s* Industrial Design Department to discuss the problem of stating problems.

Earlier in the year I’d spoken to students at his department about the possibilities for musical instrument design (see my New Old Old New Project).  After that presentation I was approached by a few students who were keen to find music related design problems to develop as projects.  After some discussion a few project ideas emerged.  However a little later on I got to thinking – what if it were possible to anticipate these questions by creating an ongoing data base of ‘problems’ in serious need of a solution.  A resource not only for students but also designers and engineers looking for a challenge or even product idea. (more…)

Death of Great Japanese Assimilator of Instrument Design

Posted in Invention, Mandolin, New Old Old New by Brendon Bussy on February 15, 2010

News from the US today that famed guitar builder Taku Sakashta has been found killed. This builder’s wonderfully crafted instruments really epitomise, for me, the skill required to successfully assimilate design.

Read the article here.

Have a look at his instruments – guitars of essentially American invention are given a subtle design twist making them unmistakably Japanese.

I’ve often admired his mandolins – in particular the famous Mustang with its reverse scroll. This is what an F Style usually looks like.

Does innovation like this die with the innovator?

Rant no.1: There’s that pause and then (dah dah dah) The Other

Posted in Mandolin, New Old Old New by Brendon Bussy on February 5, 2010

Often I’ve just finished a performance or I’m somewhere at a social gathering talking music and someone will ask me:  “What instrument do you play?”.

A simple question, yet I hesitate. Because I know that trouble is ahead. It goes like this:

1) my answer:  “I play the mandolin.”

2) questioner pauses

3) questioner hesitates, then:  “Wow [or similar expression] that’s so cool”

4) I wait in (dark) anticipation

5) questioner again:  “You know, my grandad played the banjo”

6) me:  “Great” except I’m thinking:  “why do I have to know this ?!!!”

Every time.

Now you might think me unfriendly or even ungenerous to think such thoughts.  (more…)