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Subscriber: null; date: 20 November 2019

Bates, Bob locked

  • Hugh Davies

(b Kansas City, MO, Jan 23, 1940). American artist and educator, co-founder in 1989 and artistic director of Inner-City Arts in Los Angeles. He holds a BA from the Kansas City Art Institute and an MFA from the University of Cincinnati. Working in Los Angeles since 1976 he has built several instruments, based on the hurdy-gurdy principle, which he plays in solo performances and in duets with his wife, Gail Bates. The first was a drone instrument (1976), in which a bow operated by a pendulum moves across a string. The Fuser (1978) uses a similar idea: each note on its two 40-note keyboards operates a ‘finger’ at a different point along the length of one of two strings, which are bowed by treadle-operated, rosined wheels. The hollow tubing of the framework adds to the effect of two dome-shaped resonators, one at each end of the instrument. Two people play the Fuser, which measures about 3.5 × 1 × 1.25 metres. The Converter (prototype 1977, completed 1979) is an instrument for one player and has the same basic features. The single keyboard has 50 notes, and the whole instrument is about 4.5 metres long. A pedal varies the tension of the string, which is bowed by two wheels so that two notes can be produced simultaneously. The transmission of vibrations to the two resonators can be independently adjusted by altering the degree of contact that each of two bridges (to which they are mechanically linked) and the rosined wheels have with the string; the resonators can even be disconnected completely. The Portable Converter (1981) has 44 keys and flat resonators and is only about 2.3 metres long.

In all these instruments variations in the speed of operation of the treadle, the pressure on the keys, the string tension, and the combination of the two resonators have a substantial effect on the sound. As with related instruments, such as Russolo’s intonarumori and the Radiotone, the timbre often resembles that of brass instruments or a saxophone.


  • R. Smith and R. Wilhite: Sound: an Exhibition of Sound Sculpture, Instrument Building and Acoustically Tuned Spaces, Los Angeles Institute of Contemporary Art, 14 July – 31 Aug 1979, Project Studios 1, New York, 30 Sept – 18 Nov 1979[exhibition catalogue].