57. Into The Real World

Carolan Guitar

You may remember from a while back that Carolan spent some quality time with folk-jazz band Carmina, during which their guitarist and composer Rob was inspired to compose a distinctive part for their new song Landmarks. If not you can read about Rob’s inspiration and also hear an early version of the song in Post 43.

Well, the band is now recording their new album, called Landmarks, featuring the new song. Even better, Carolan was invited along to the recording session to play a guitar part on the track.

The session was at Real World, a beautiful and secluded studio in Bath countryside that was established by Peter Gabriel and that has seen the recording of many great world music albums over the years.

Real world setting Real World studios at Box, near Bath

It’s a beautiful sunny day in late May as we catch the early morning train down from…

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50. Licks, tricks and cheats

Carolan Guitar

Carolan has been to stay with Mark Rouncefield, a researcher and guitar player from Lancaster. In his professional life Mark is an ethnographer who is well known for his naturalistic studies of how computers are actually used in real-world settings. At home, he invests considerable time into learning the guitar, including regular lessons with his teacher Willy Fluss. Carolan spends a week with Mark, after which we sit down to discuss guitars, the blues and the lifelong journey of learning to play …


Mark’s passion is for the blues and he can clearly recall that the first tune he ever learned was Freddy King’s ‘Hideaway’ so he’s naturally interested in some of Carolan’s previous blues players such as Jimmy Wiggington and Joe Barber from way back in post 33. He recalls how, like many, he began learning from books, but now increasingly draws on tracks transcribed by his…

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48. An Educated Thumb

Carolan Guitar

Carolan has spent time with renowned guitarist and luthier Steve Hicks. Steve and his collaborator Lynn Golbourn are currently busy touring folk clubs and festivals throughout the UK. Steve started out with flamenco guitar at age fourteen before studying with the legendary Duck Baker and expanding into fingerstyle jazz. Today, Steve is master of a bewildering array of styles spanning classic ragtime, swing jazz, blues, Celtic, early and modern classical. He has also given guitar playing workshops and master classes at venues including the Stamford International Guitar Festival and the Old Town School of Folk Music, Chicago. It’s quite a track record!

Here, Steve plays Baloney Blues, an original composition in the Nashville thumb-picking style (though he heads into Doc Watson’s Deep River Blues in the middle). Sounds lovely – that’s a truly educated thumb.

Steve is also a professional luthier with a full order book for his handmade acoustic…

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47. The Pipes are Calling

NIMES, live coding, spectator interfaces, music for the unborn baby and Carolan jams with a set of digital bagpipes

Carolan Guitar

A second installment from the New Instruments for Musical Expression (NIME) conference in Baton Rouge …

Compared to a traditional acoustic guitar such as Carolan, NIMEs are an unusual bunch, mixing physical controllers, with sensors, actuators and software to create highly innovative instruments. NIMEs range from traditional instruments that are augmented with digital technologies to radical, bespoke and often highly personalized instruments.

A lovely aspect of the conference is balancing a programme of concerts with a program of academic talks so that we get to see many NIMEs in action as well as learn about how they are put together.

There diannediantenne_2-3is Dianne Verdonk’s La Diantenne 2.0, a beautiful a harp-like instrument fashioned from tin plate that uses a contact microphone to produce sound in response to flexing, touching, stroking and percussive striking. Dianne’s paper explains how the instrument is also designed with the visual aspects of performance in mind. We’re struck by how her…

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45. Geert, Claire and Dylan

Carolan Guitar

Carolan has left the country of its birth, crossing the border into Wales to spend a week living, composing and recording with Geert and his collaborators Claire and Dylan. Deepest thanks to Geert for putting Carolan through its paces and for such a monumental effort in documenting and blogging Carolan’s visit. We’re very happy to hand over to him …

Alan Chamberlain had mentioned that guitar a couple of times already. Something special, he promised. I couldn’t get a clear picture of what he was talking about, but I was quite willing to wait and to see. Yes, sometime – soon perhaps – he would ask me to try out a new kind of guitar some people had been developing. Exciting! My patience was rewarded, because evening time on 7 May, he came round, carrying a bulky guitar-case and a bag or two. This, he said, was the Carolan Guitar and its travel entourage…

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44. Mementoes

Augmented artefacts leave behind augmented mementoes …

Carolan Guitar

How might you keep in touch with Carolan once it has passed on to someone else?

We launch our Summer collection of Carolan accessories. Like the guitar itself, they are decorated with  celtic knotwork that can be scanned to link to Carolan’s growing history. The perfect memento?


Plectrums are a useful accessory; stickers are a popuar way of personalising instrument cases to help you recognise your own at a crowded gig or session; it’s always good to leave a calling card; and button badges remain the coolest way to display your musical allegiance.


We’d love to hear your ideas for interesting and perhaps more personal artefacts that we can decorate with Carolan’s knotwork. Perhaps you’d even like to send us a valued object of your own that we can try out in our laser cutter? Anyone got a spare Uke hanging around? Or maybe a vintage Martin D-28 that needs some new life breathing into it?

Or maybe you’d like just to purchase your own Carolan accessory pack of plectrums, stickers, cards…

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42. Siblings

We’ve been decorating other kinds of instruments. D-Boxes are radically different from traditional acoustic guitars. However, they might still carry their histories with them.

Carolan Guitar

We bring exciting news that Carolan has acquired some siblings, although you would be hard pressed to spot the family resemblance.

The Carolan team has been collaborating with Andrew McPherson and his group at the Augmented Instruments Laboratory at Queen Mary to explore how we might decorate other musical instruments with their life stories. This is part of a new five-year research project called FAST that has been funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council to explore new forms of digital music object.

Andrew’s lab creates new musical instruments and also augments traditional ones with sensors, new types of sound production and new ways of interacting. A lovely example of Andrew’s previous work was to augment traditional piano keyboards with capacitance sensors so that pianists could naturally create vibratos, bends and other effects by moving their fingers on individual keys – an idea called TouchKeys.

In a quite different vein, their recent work has been exploring…

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