A Visit to the Workshop of Bart Hopkin

A Community for Iconoclasts

FRANK J. OTERI: This leads to the whole question of community. Many years ago you founded the Experimental Musical Instruments Journal. I remember buying a copy of it at a magazine shop that sold the most popular glossy magazines but also sold you’re totally unglossy publication! And I thought, ‘Wow, this is the only magazine I’m interested in this shop,’ and I bought it… But this was an attempt at building a community of people who were, by-and-large, sitting on the beach playing their own instruments in isolation. So what are some of things that you’ve been able to do as a community of instrument builders that you couldn’t do as individuals?

BART HOPKIN: Getting together and playing some music is the most important, I suppose. Another very important one is the exchange of ideas.

FRANK J. OTERI: When was the journal started?

BART HOPKIN: It was 1985.

FRANK J. OTERI: What made you decide to do it?

BART HOPKIN: Part of it was that I was enjoying doing this thing—building instruments, one-of-a-kinds—and I was thinking other people must be doing this but I don’t know who. And somehow that led me to the idea of doing something like an organ that would make a link between these people that I didn’t know existed yet. Something came on the radio about the newsletter of interestingly obscure subject of the autoharp. There was an autoharp journal for a while called The Autoharpoholic, and somehow Becky Blackley, the woman who put the whole thing together, was on KPFA talking about it. It was sometime after that that I thought I could do something like that.

FRANK J. OTERI: In developing this community of people, I could see that there might be problems in bringing together some folks who might be iconoclastic fanatics.

BART HOPKIN: I think Partch was an example of that; he was in some ways a prickly person and yet he really needed to work with other people for what he was trying to do. What can I say, it happens!

FRANK J. OTERI: But for the most part, people in the community are not that way?

BART HOPKIN: This is one of the things I learned about people: most of them are pretty nice!

FRANK J. OTERI: The journal no longer exists in print form but it continues as a website.

BART HOPKIN: Right. I sort of don’t want Experimental Musical Instruments as an organization to fall off the map. But doing the journal was extremely demanding as you very well would understand. And also other projects had come my way that I really enjoyed doing in connection with Experimental Musical Instruments but it was hard to do it. And so I stopped the journal. And in a way, the bottom really did fall out of things because there was such a feeling of connection involved. Here this thing showed up in people’s mailboxes four times a year and it made sure there was always a connection. Anyway, that happened. Since then, what I try to do is make sure that Experimental Musical Instruments, as an organization, comes out with something new often enough that we don’t completely fall off the map. So, here’s my opportunity to say we’ve just come out with this really cool thing, I think. We have two things we came out with recently which are nicely opposite each other. One was a book on how to put a pick-up on your instrument, whatever your instrument might be, just useful information. And the other is Funny Noises for the Connoisseur, a book and a CD which is full of every kind of hopefully funny sound that you can imagine and the book talks about how to make them.