Sitting On The Porch This Morning
(A Musician Muses)

By Bret Hart

From Aural Innovations #20 (July 2002)

Sitting on the porch this morning, I am listening to the seven improvisations recorded yesterday.

1. Ja-pianistic [1929 banjo-ukulele] 6'03"
2. hobos and buzzing bridges [1929 banjo-ukulele] 11'40"
3. having breakfasts [Pan-Jo] 5'52"
4. crochet 1 [saz] 5'32"
5. crochet 2 [saz] 3'42"
6. the Ampeg bass I didn't get [baritone saz] 2'06"
7. cliffside in Uruguay [acoustic guitar - drop-D tuning] 7'41"

These were done completely raw, an attack on boredom, in four bursts (1-2, 3, 4-6,7) between 10A.M. and 5:30 P.M., through a DOD DFX9 into the BOSS BR-8 digital recording platform. no future accompanists were in my head with these, so even that 'idiomatic' prefatory 'structure' is absent from these pieces.

It's gotten very green in North Carolina during the last rainy, humid week... almost to the LUSH stage. when I listen to the birds, of which we have many varieties and species. I hear the most incredible blend of structure and chaos in their song, and in the random (social?) embroidering of their combined voices. The semi-structured chaos I was hearing in the birdsong is "structured" in terms of the regularities in the note-ranges of individual/ similar birds, the duration of 'rests'/silences between notes, and hastening/diminution of tempo (i.e.; fast repeating notes that slow smoothly). Subtract those qualities from the entire audible-moment and what remains is the chaos.

I was simultaneously - quietly, through a cheap boombox - hearing the beginning of the third track: "having breakfasts". A sameness, a rapport crept out.

Using the Pan-Jo during improvisation is always full of surprises. it is a 2-stringed homemade instrument that can be played with or without amplification. 'Unplugged', it has a gentle, 'gut-string' voice that can be made to sound quite like a kayagum or komungo.

With its two mics (1 homemade piezo contact mic, 1 attached electret) plugged into signal-processing stuff, the Pan-Jo's voice can be manipulated in as many ways as can an electric guitar. the Pan-Jo is an old Silvertone banjo neck (5th string tuner broken-off) bolted to a 2qt. pressure cooker. mid-neck, there are two 4" high bridges over which the two steel strings pass. the strings can be plucked, strummed, fingerpicked, bowed/E-bow'd, or played with a slide.

Pitch change, through bending, is accomplished by applying/releasing direct pressure on the string(s) on the side(s) opposite the sounding (i.e.; plucking) of the note. The steel 'pan' (and strings) can be played percussively with fingertips, sticks, or mallets. Hanging from the pan is a small metal keychain with a heavy coin. Shaking the Pan-Jo generates a nice, loud clanking and banging commotion around it. It also can act as a 'cancel/engage switch' for the piezo mic, which creates unexpected challenges and sudden surprises.

It is a very versatile means of generating sounds and noises.

Birdsong and pan-song have me thinking of the 'symbiotic' relationships between incidental and intentional, accidental and Occidental, call and response, mockery and worship, fight and flight, lethargy and love.

But then, there's coffee.

Eden, NC

Bret Hart's many exciting free-improv recordings, both solo and duets, have been covered extensively in Aural Innovations. Check out his InstrumenTales web site at:
You can email Bret at:

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