A daxophone being played by the inventor, Hans Reichel
(Friction idiophone individual plaque)
The dax in daxophone is derived from the German word dachs, meaning "badger" and referencing the many animal sounds that the daxophone is capable of generating, changed to dax so that the instrument name echoes Adolphe Sax's saxophone.
The first usage of the daxophone in a musical work was the release of Hans Reichel's album The Dawn of Dachsman in 1987. Even with Hans Reichel's second album featuring the daxophone, Shanghaied on Tor Road: The World's 1st Operetta Performed on Nothing but the Daxophone, the instrument had remained very obscure. It was not until after his release of Yuxo: A New Daxophone Operetta that the daxophone began to gain notability through the internet, spawning YouTube videos and inspiring other artists such as Michael Hearst to create their own albums featuring the daxophone. Even today, the daxophone remains fairly obscure, and as such it has not been mass-produced, requiring any aspiring daxophonists to build their own.
The daxophone consists of a thin wooden blade which is free to vibrate, approximately 330 mm in length, 30 mm in width, and 5 mm in height, fixed in a wooden block (often attached to a tripod, but also clamped to a table top), which holds one or more contact microphones. This wooden block has a cavity which is carved with a chisel for the insertion of two contact microphones, and a snakewood soundboard laid on top with the contact microphones glued to it. A wide range of voice-like timbres can be produced, depending on the shape of the blade and the type of wood. The blade shape is made with a bandsaw or jigsaw. Denser woods such as ebony and oak produce a mellower sound than light woods. These sounds are notable for their comical, often human sounds.
Another vital part is the dax, sanded into a curved shape approximately 150 mm long and 50 mm tall, with a custom width tailored to the player's hands, and curved on both sides to allow for frictionless pitch changing. One side of the dax is fretted according to a random logarithmic succession, while the other is left unfretted and covered with a sheet of cardboard for a mellower sound and to preserve the surface. Two large fingerholes are drilled through the sides.
Reichel has documented the construction of the instrument in a way that a skilled woodworker could build his own. Plans are downloadable from his website, with a collection of proven shapes for the blade delivered in the file format of a font, thus playing on Reichel's other profession as a typeface designer.
Normally, the daxophone is played by bowing the free end with a bow, most commonly a double bass bow, but it can also be struck or plucked, which propagates sound in the same way a ruler halfway off a table does. Vibrations then continue to the wooden-block base, which in turn is amplified by the contact microphone(s) therein. The timbre is adjusted by where it is bowed, and where along its length it is stopped with the dax. One side of the dax is logarithmically fretted, though the frets are too far apart to play every note in the chromatic scale, which is why the unfretted side is more frequently used in known compositions.
List of known daxophonists and discography
- Daniel Fishkin
- You're A Strong One
- Michael Hearst (born 1972)
- Michael Hearst Songs For Unusual Creatures (2012) (Urban Geek Records)
- Hans Reichel (1949-2011)
- Shanghaied on Tor Road: The World's 1st Operetta Performed on Nothing but the Daxophone (1992, FMP CD 46)
- Lower Lurum (1993/1994, Rastascan BRD 016)
- Yuxo: A New Daxophone Operetta (2002, A/L/L 003)
- The Dawn of Dachsman (1987, FMP)
- Mark Stewart
- Kazuhisa Uchihashi
- Some information on the daxophone by Hans Reichel (19 MB)
- Hans Reichel's FMP releases
- Reichel's step-by-step construction of a daxophone
- EFI daxophone information page
- Daxophone demonstration by Mark Stewart
- Album by American daxophonist Daniel Fishkin, featuring some live-looped daxophone recordings