Machine Shop: Live Amplified Gong Experience

Machine Shop is a collaboration between percussionist Karen Stackpole and engineer and electronic music artist Drew Webster. Stackpole coaxes otherworldly vibrations from her wall of gongs with an arsenal of implements while Webster amplifies and augments the complex harmonics coaxed from this amazing metal with a passel of microphones, a couple of mixers, a laptop, and a some choice analog effects pedals. This arrangement brings the listener up close to the wall of gongs and beyond, offering an intimate sonic experience like no other.

The idea for Machine Shop was born in 2003 when Webster recorded an album of Stackpole playing improvised gongs and percussion. While mixing the record, he took a small selection of the performance and created a piece from it by subtly processing, editing, and arranging it. That piece became the inspiration for a live amplified gong/electronics duo that took shape, quite literally, in a machine shop.

Their repertoire is primarily composed, though the pieces have flexibility to breathe with the moment. At once visceral, muscular, musical, droning, soothing and surprising, Machine Shop takes the incredible sounds of vibrating metal that Stackpole conjures and then amplifies them through vintage tube amplifiers and cabinets. Webster captures some of the gong sounds and processes them in real time with subtle effects to be blended in against the sound of the unprocessed gongs.

The results are truly unique, both sonically and visually. The live setup with Machine Shop ensures the audience is fully immersed in even the quietest of Stackpole’s gestures, revealing the tremendous sonic spectrum of gongs.

photo: Michael Zelner