Adapted musical instruments and the invention of Heavy Metal


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I’m reading ‘The Great British Dream Factory’ by Dominic Sandbrook at the moment and there is a little story in there about Tony Iommi and the birth of Heavy Metal that I think is really interesting and relevant to the work we are doing in DMLab adapting and innovating with instruments.

Tony Iommi (the guitarist for Black Sabbath) lost the tips of two of his fingers in an accident at the sheet metal factory in which he worked, on the afternoon of his last day at work. He thought he would never play guitar again, however while in hospital he was persuaded to listen to Django Rheinhart and this inspired him to start playing guitar again.

To allow him to play he created plastic thimbles from melted fairy liquid bottles, using leather from his jacket on the end to stop them from slipping. Despite this he still found it hard to play, with standard strings too tough, so in the end he tried thinner Banjo strings, later de-tuning them – and so defined a new guitar sound that became Heavy Metal.

I think that well designed adaptive and assistive music technology is just good and interesting music technology, and I think this is a great example of how an adaptation can have a deep and lasting impact on music culture.