In the new issue of Signal to Noise a number of writers and musicians list their “most-cherished musical possessions,” and aside from records and instruments most of them turn out to be useless ephemera imbued with meaning by the owner–a leg from a piano stool wrecked by Misha Mengelberg, for instance, or a sleeve from a shirt worn by Gibby Haynes of the Butthole Surfers.

Music writer (and former Reader contributor) Kevin Whitehead chose an instrument imbued with meaning: his “crackle box,” a handheld, battery-driven electronic instrument designed by Dutch engineer Michel Waisvisz (pictured), which produced “the goosey sound of an airport security wand.” (Click the header of this post to access a photo of the device.) He writes that hundreds were sold during the 70s, but by the 90s they were near impossible to find. Whitehead, who spent several years in Amsterdam researching his indispensable book New Dutch Swing, got his from Waisvisz himself.

Since 2004 they’ve been manufactured again, but sadly, Waisvisz died yesterday, following a bout with cancer, at age 58. For the past 27 years he was the director of the important Dutch electronic music center STEIM, where he became a strong advocate of experimental electronic musicians building and modifying their own instruments. Back in 1977 Waisvisz released an album called Crackle for FMP/Claxon, which ended up being the main item in his discography; after 1978 he almost never recorded, preferring ephemeral live performances. A few years ago Sonig Records released In Tune, an anthology assembled by Frank Dommert that mixed pieces from that long out-of-print album with a handful of live and live-in-the-studio pieces. Despite the primitivism of the crackle box, these recordings suggest its malleability and power–in the right hands, it doesn’t sound dated at all.

Today’s playlist:

Joe Bataan, Gypsy Woman (Fania)
Trinity, Shanty Town Determination (Blood and Fire)
Scott Colley, Architect of the Silent Moment (Cam Jazz)
David Behrman, Leapday Night (Lovely Music)
Wibutee, Eight Domestic Challenges (Jazzland)