Mack Reed : XyloVan Memorial Disc Gong Array
XyloVan Memorial Disc Gong Array
A compact array of gongs from the instruments I had built for XyloVan - the musical mutant vehicle I created for and drove at Burning Man.
Making a new instrument from the biggest instrument I ever made
New York City
I had to leave XyloVan’s xylophone keyboards (84 keys!) behind in storage when we moved from Los Angeles (no room in NYC).

The keyboards (see my site) were 2.5-octave, traditionally chromatic xylophone instruments (one mounted on each side of XyloVan) measuring 8x3 feet each.

But I brought the disc gongs with me because I wanted to keep a portable XyloVan close to me when we moved.

I took the opportunity to engrave them all in the style of the two spare-tire-mount gongs, which are front and center in the array.

I made the from scrap metal - remnants from 11-, 14-, 15- and 16-inch-diameter logs of T6 aluminum salvaged from our local metal supply house.

I found the dead-center of each piece (the node) by balancing each on my fingertip until it leveled out, then marking and drilling it at that point. I finished each by milling the edges, polishing the surface, and then engraving patterns that I had sketched out with a compass and Sharpie.

The randomness in tone is intentional. The instrument is meant to be played in the spirit of intentional contemplation and exploration of time and resonance - choose how long you want to hear/feel one gong ring before hitting the next - then decide the rhythm, intensity, and overlap of using multiple gongs. (the demo video shows just the individual tones - I can upload a new one with intentional playing if it will help!)

There’s a lot of energy stored in these gongs, from all the thousands of people who played them since I first bolted them onto the van back in 2010.

I love that I can still play with those souls through this thing.
Frequently Asked Questions
What inspired you to do this?
RIP XyloVan. When it came time to move from Los Angeles to NYC, I decided to strip off the instruments I bolted to it 10 years earlier so I could sell the van. No room on the streets here to park such a beast, plus it was hungry for gas (I'm the only idiot in the world to build a musical instrument that gets 8 mpg going downhill in a tailwind) and it was time to refocus my energies. The xylophones are in storage in Los Angeles, and I brought the gongs with me to NYC, to keep some of the original energy nearby.
How long did it take to make it?
Building the base and mounting pins took probably 6 hours. Pondering the design another 3 or 4, and then marking and engraving all the gongs took approx 12 hours.
How long have you been doing things like this?
Building instruments since 2002.
How much did this cost to do?
The gongs are scrap, purchased for $2.79 a pound at Industrial Metal Supply in Los Angeles. The plywood I had lying around, and the hardware cost another $20 or so.
Have you done other things like this?
http://xylovan.com
What did you wish you knew before you started this?
Not a thing. This was an act of love - for all the thousands of people who had been banging on these gongs during XyloVan's 10 years of life. Their energy is stored inside, and I was happy the build went so simply.
Are there plans available to make this? Do you sell this?
It was unplanned, and sort of documented at http://xylovan.com
What’s next?
I'd love to mount a gong array on an adult tricycle so I can roll through the park and invite people to bang on it. So much more economical and environmentally friendly than a huge v8-powered van.
Resoures?
Too many to list. I blame the Disneyland Imagineers, Jim Doble's "Basic Xylophone Building" guide, the shinyshiny scrap-aluminum bin at Industrial Metal Supply and my own monkey curiosity.
Mack Reed : Maker, technologist, Burner, volunteer
The maker Mack Reed
New York City
I fell into making instruments thanks to Disneyland. The Imagineers built a "junkyard orchestra" space in the ground floor of the Tarzan Treehouse, and there was this simple xylophone made from raw bar steel.

I banged on it, felt a toddler's simple joy at hitting something to make musical sounds, and thought to myself, "I could make one of these!"

And there my troubles began. ;) I built a one-octave xylophone from scrapped T6 aluminum bar while bored on paternity leave during my 4-mo daughter's many naps.

Then I built XyloVan for Burning Man, which showed me that giving people permission to bang on musical instruments sparks their joy and mine.

And I branched out into building tank drums, cajóns and marimbulas. These seem to be the shortest path from physical action to the sounds that resonate with people -

The magic lies not in the player's hands, nor the instruments' construction - but in the space in between, where people wonder, and explore, and feel the music they choose to make.

I love enabling that space.
Connect with Mack Reed
How I can help you:
I'm deeply interested in co-creating instruments, happy to fabricate anything matching my skills, tools and available materials.
How you can help me:
See above. ;) Reach out, let's chat and explore together - co-creativity comes from random, then intentional conversation, exploration and making.