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Paul Dresher and Daniel Schmidt Invented Instruments

Ever since he began building musical instruments as a high school student in L.A., Paul Dresher has been deeply engaged with instrument invention. Over his long career, in close collaboration with builder-designer Daniel Schmidt and their design team, Dresher has invented dozens of remarkable instruments, including the following instruments used in Trace Figures:

Field of Flowers

Station 1

The Field of Flowers are wood-block “flowers” attached to flexible, spring steel rods that have a wooden ball encased within each flower and which rolls back and forth on a small track, alternately striking one side or the other of the “flower”/wood block.  Each flower has a unique pitch and period of oscillation, activated by simply pushing or pulling the block and releasing it. Once activated, the flowers can continue to play freely on their own or can be manipulated by hand.


Station 2

The Octagon is a large steel ring that spins on an octagonal, wooden platform that is slightly concave in order to keep the spinning ring contained within the perimeter of the platform. Unlike most instruments which get quieter and/or slower after you initiate the sound (by striking or plucking or blowing), the Octagon begins in silence but gets louder and faster and builds to an intense audio and visual climax before it dramatically stops.

Frame Drums

Station 3

The Frame Drums is a set of trapezoid-shaped pinewood frames onto which a hardwood plywood drumhead has been glued. The different sized frames and thickness and composition of the plywood gives each frame drum a unique pitch and timbre. The Frame Drum can be played with the hands, or with marimba mallets or with superballs attached to wood, rattan or fibreglass dowels.

Handy Grande

Station 4

The Handy Grande is inspired by its namesake, the hurdy gurdy, a medieval folk instrument about the size of a guitar with strings that are mechanically bowed with a hand-cranked wooden wheel. The Handy Grande is about four times as long and thus pitched much lower. It can be played with a hand crank or with a variable speed motor that leaves the performers’ hands free to play melodies, chords, and rhythms.

Percussion Table

Station 4

The Percussion Table is composed of interchangeable day-to-day objects like telephone bells, birch plywood, stainless steel mixing bowls, foam, threaded rod, fire alarm bell, small bronze cymbal, screws, nuts, bolts, and a hardwood dowel. Objects scavenged in streets and dumpster end-up to give the table’s variation its unforgettable character.


Station 5

Co-created with Daniel Schmidt, the Quadrachord has four strings over 13 feet long, each with two bridges that have an electric bass pickup adjacent to each bridge. It can be plucked like a guitar, bowed like cello, played like a slide guitar, prepared like a piano, and hammered on like a percussion instrument. With its extremely long strings, it can play harmonics up to the 36th partial and above and thus offers unique opportunities to explore alternative tuning systems based on the harmonic series.

Hurdy Grande

Station 5

The Hurdy Grande is similar to its prototype the Handy Grande, but with a variable speed motor operated by foot pedal. This addition makes possible many unique performance techniques that allow one or more performers to play in a fashion like the piano - using both hands to create multiple independent melodies, chords and/or rhythms - something that is impossible on a traditional bowed stringed instrument.

Marimba Lumina

Station 5

Like a traditional marimba (of the xylophone/ vibraphone family), the Marimba Lumina is a melodic keyboard mallet instrument. It makes sophisticated use of radio technology - unique frequency assignments allow each mallet to have it's own unique response. Overlapping antennas make position along the bar an expressive variable. It’s an instrument design by Don Buchla in collaboration with percussionist/ technician Joel Davel and programmer/percussionist Mark Goldstein. The Marimba Lumina is still exclusively developed and built and sold by Joel Davel.

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