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B.C. artists debut new musical instruments

By Eric MacKenzie

Daniel Tones and Brian Nesselroad of the Fringe Percussion quartet rehearse on the Chromarimba, a new instrument invented by B.C.’s Benton Roark that’s making its premiere on Friday in Vancouver. 
Submitted

Daniel Tones and Brian Nesselroad of the Fringe Percussion quartet rehearse on the Chromarimba, a new instrument invented by B.C.’s Benton Roark that’s making its premiere on Friday in Vancouver. Submitted

Benton Roark has composed his share of original music, but his latest project sees him creating something musical in an entirely different way.

Roark and other B.C. artists have collaborated on a musical project called “City of Water, Sea of Glass” that will include three brand-new percussion instruments that stay true to the show’s themes.

The Chromarimba, Roark’s reimagining of a traditional marimba, and the other new instruments will make their world premiere on Friday night in Vancouver.

For Roark, Friday’s unveiling of the Chromarimba is the culmination of more than a year of planning and constructing the new instrument.

“This was a challenge for me because I’d never really built an instrument before. But I had the misfortune of imagining it,” he laughed, “and I was like ‘Shoot, I guess I have to go build that now that I’ve thought of it.’”

Roark’s interest in microtonal music led him to develop the Chromarimba, which has 94 glass keys. The instrument has a three-octave range with 31 notes per octave, as opposed to the regular 12 per octave.

B.C.-based glass blower Heather Konschuh’s work is featured in the other new instruments. That includes The Rainbow — designed and built by Robert Studer — which holds glass bowls of tapering sizes, and glass bowl-gongs that incorporate water into their design.

The Fringe Percussion quartet will be playing the instruments during Friday’s performance — curated by Redshift Music Society and This Is It Design — at The Waterfall Building, They’ll also be debuting the music of five B.C. composers, including Roark, who has written miniature pieces showcasing the Chromarimba and its unique tuning.

The instruments are slated to remain in Vancouver after Friday and Roark expects more Chromarimba performances to be offered up in the future. A worldwide call will be put out to composers interested making new music with the instrument, with the hope that another concert can be programmed as a result. Roark, himself, has been working on a more extensive piece incorporating other instruments around the Chromarimba.

“Hopefully, that’ll be next season,” he said.