Interview with John Stannard (Hammerax); May 2007
I often asked myself if it was possible to create sound sculptures for drumset players - little enough for being incorporated, looking and sounding good. Thanks to John Stannard's company Hammerax this dream became reality. Compared to the "proletarian" sounds of Factory Metal the products of Hammerax are the noblemen among the bronze instruments, but even a proletarian can afford them!!! So it´s high time to present the personality behind the Hammerax concept.
ragazzi: “Are you a musician, an artist or an inventor at first?”
John Stannards: “I sang with my father who was a piano technician and singer from age 2 or 3, so I suppose musician first. I built a banjo with rubber bands at age 5 and helped build a real guitar at age 6 or 7."
ragazzi: “Did you release any CDs then?”
J. S.: "In 1989 I produced a CD called Om. In 2003 I recorded a Microtonal CD using overtones based scales but utilized classical forms. Some Hammerax prototypes are heard on this CD."
ragazzi: "When did you get the idea for the Hammerax concept and how did you develop this idea?"
J. S.: "In 1979 I formed Om Percussion to make chimes but was always fascinated with bronze. In 1995 I went to Bali and learned a few things then came back and started research. In 2005 Hammerax hired our first metalsmiths. The idea is basically that the conductivity of bronze allows great richness but you can only go so far with traditional shapes. If you liken the sound of an instrument to that of a sung or spoken word, and you say that word with traditional shapes, you can get slight color changes, you may even be able to sing or speak with a different "accent". By developing new shapes and the alloys and hammering technology to support them, we are able to create "new words" through which drummers and percussionists can literally expand their expressive vocabulary."
ragazzi: "Who works out the ideas for new products?"
J. S.: "I conceive most everything but we have great metalsmiths who add a lot in every way."
ragazzi: "Do you vary parameters consciously or do you develop new instruments “by accident“?"
J. S.: "We often set out to either develop something or cure a technical issue and fail on both count, only to give birth to something new and wonderful. It takes a good ear to hear it sometimes, but sometimes the lucky accident emerges as a near perfect piece. As a result I recommend that people take pride in every prototype since it could give birth to a masterpiece."
ragazzi: "Do you still have any new ideas up your sleeve?"
J. S.: "Let me get back to you on that. :)"
ragazzi: "Do you have technical abilities for producing totally different looking and sounding “Hammeraxes” in the future?"
J. S.: "Yes, but demand is rising so fast that we are more concerned for the near future on keep the handmade quality high."
ragazzi: "The Bauhaus in Germany created the Slogan “form follows function”; what is more important, the sound or the look of your instruments? In other words does energy create matter or matter create energy (= vibrations in this case)?"
J. S.: "The sound is much more important, but if the look inspires people to play with a little more feeling, then the money spent on finishing touches is worth it. Most everything you see on our work has some relation to the sound. One false assumption though relates to color. A dark looking piece does not always sound "dark". We make some things with sizzling highs which we typically offer in a semi dark appearance. With regard to energy and matter I personally am a quantum guy versus a string theory guy. :)"
ragazzi: "Do the instruments within your series (the Boomywangs for example) complement each other tonally?"
J. S.: "I am not sure of the meaning of the phrase but since they all vibrate with a different bass vibrato frequency they complement each other very well."
ragazzi: "Will there be sound samples of all your instruments on your website soon?"
J. S.: "Yes, they should be up by May 10."
ragazzi: "Some of your products remind me on Asian metal instruments; is this similarity intended?"
J. S.: "No deliberate intention. The look causes many people to mistake them for gongs but we use very different technology to avoid gonglike sounds on most of our work. We are mostly doing lighter, airer sounds - with the exception of Hellbell hybrids which are quite heavy and loud. We try to think of many styles and Hammerax is already appearing to complement cymbals on POP recordings of many types."
ragazzi: "Do you have an Asian background in terms of philosophy or something like that?"
J. S.: "Perhaps with regard to Om as a meditation chant and Buddhist principles. One of my music teachers - Kenny Werner - wrote a book called Effortless Mastery, loosely based on eastern principles. I recommend it for people of many paths, whether it be music or cement work (which I did for 7 years), and especially for anyone hammering bronze. In Bali, a worker can effortlessly hammer a bronze cymbal for hours non-stop in very high heat in the fire pit by breathing and living in the moment."
ragazzi: "Which metals and/or alloys do you use?"
J. S.: "At this time several bronzes which we have patents pending. Different alloys serve different purposes. The hammering is often as important as the alloy."
ragazzi: "Do you have any endorsees yet?"
J. S.: "Several major artists use our instruments but we do not have an artist relations program as such."
ragazzi: "Do you have a German or at least an European distribution?"
J. S.: "We sell direct to Europe since early 2007 but are considering stores in some areas."
ragazzi: "Do you produce special sizes of your instruments on demand?"
J. S.: "Not at this time."
ragazzi: "Are you able (and willing) to realize ideas for totally new custom-made instruments?"
J. S.: "Not at this time."
ragazzi: "With what kinds of mallets should your instruments be played?"
J. S.: "The possibilities are endless for sticks, mallets, hand playing, and metal beaters. We highly recommend the players read our FAQ PAGE ON OUR SITE hammerax.com
for playing advice. Drumsticks are ok!. Drummers everywhere are using Hammerax."