DETROIT — When was the last time you enjoyed a shared vibrational experience? Spend a little time around Detroit-based artist and educator Chris Reilly and you will likely get the opportunity, in one of his Intimate Instrument Workshops, which offer participants a unique interpersonal art activity.
I attended a workshop on Saturday, May 14, at Spread Art, where Reilly was recently a resident. The format is simple: Reilly supervises participants, working solo or in pairs, as they construct a “Linguaphone of Tremulous Communion” based on an easily customizable kit form of his own devising. The spring steel keys and frets of Reilly’s instrument resemble those of a thumb harp (or kalimba), but there are two sets of tines facing in opposite directions; the sounds generated by plucking them are not amplified within a hollow cavity (traditionally a gourd), but rather inside the skull cavities of its players. Participants engage two at a time with the linguaphone by biting down on either side of the fabricated hickory base, which is shaped like a thick tongue depressor and supports the frets and keys. The vibrations that result from playing the keys are barely audible to observers, but transmit straight through the bones of the players, creating a deeply phonic and physical resonance.