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Review of May 21st waterphone performance

Jesse Stewart wowed the crowd in the Attic on Thursday, by playing a little known instrument called a waterphone. Start by picturing the MLB World Series trophy, now remove everything within the flagpoles and replace with a tall, hollow cylinder that acts both as a handle as well as the only entrance/exit for the water which partially fills the classic-spaceship shaped hollow stainless steel base. Does the image in your head look anything like this? If you're intrigued by the way that this instrument looks, you'd be dumbfounded by the ways that Jesse has discovered to play it...

The waterphone is traditionally played by running a bow along the outside of the tines (the flagpoles, with the flags removed) which historically has produced eerie soundtracks to movies such as The Poltergeist and The Matrix. However Jesse has been developing a style all his own, something he has dubbed "waterphonics." Basically this is playing the waterphone in any other way you can imagine.

He displayed these techniques in what was an incredible set, that built from the beginning with very quiet, haunting echoes from within the instrument that made the occupants of the small space lean in, and then developed into sweeping and brushing before culminating in tapping and snapping.

Sometimes the waterphone would sit upright in his lap, then in the midst of playing he would hold it by the handle, tilting to allow the water to slosh to one side which altered the echoing sounds. Then it would be held sideways to expose the stainless steel underbelly which could be tapped upon, and sometimes it was carefully tipped upside-down (to avoid wet feet) where the full base was available for playing.

By the end he had tapped it, smacked it, rubbed it, snapped upon it, strummed it, brushed it, swept it, picked it, and just about any other percussive hand motion you can make, Jesse had used to great effect. Then he did all of the same things with chopstick-like drumsticks, sticks with bouncy balls attached to the ends, regular sticks, and sticks adorned with balls of cloth (and probably more which I can't even recall). Maintaining the piece the entire time he never paused, even when switching sticks and ad-libbing by playing upon the wood-paneled wall. It was quite an awe-inspiring performance and it was only the first half of a set.

After a short break from the warm attic, Jesse returned to play the instrument more traditionally with sometimes one, and other times two, bows. Despite the slightly unpredictable nature of the instrument he was able to make it work with lovely results, managing to avoid making the traditionally haunting instrument sound too creepy. An incredibly creative way that he played was by threading both bows through two sets of tines each, like a Kerplunk stick. Jesse proved himself to be a wizard on an instrument that very few others have even attempted to master, and it made for a unique and amazing show.

Reviewed by Stefan Andrushenko