How The Blue Man Group’s Crazy Instruments Are Created
This is fascinating. It takes serious skill to turn PVC piping into musical instruments!
If you’ve ever heard or seen the Blue Man Group perform, you know its members march to the beat of their own drums (or pipes, in their case). The performance-art trio debuted in 1991 in Manhattan when creators Matt Goldman, Phil Stanton and Chris Wink mounted a multimedia show. The original act involved making live art, playing musical instruments and even involved food.
Over the years, the act has evolved into one of the most popular, and eclectic live shows not only in New York, but around the world. What makes the Blue Man Group stand out are the appearance of its members (bald, blue heads and stark, black clothing), how they create musical instruments with PVC pipe and what they use on stage to create moving pieces of art.
How The Blue Man Group Makes Music
It takes a special kind of talent and creativity to take plastic piping and be able to turn it into something that makes music. But, that’s exactly what members of Blue Man Group spend hours experimenting with and perfecting. Recently, the group allowed Insider a peek into its studio to learn about how the team pulls things together (or even sometimes breaks them apart) to develop its signature sound.
The drum bone is one of the group’s mainstay instruments. To the untrained eye, it looks like a couple of pieces of twisted plastic that isn’t overly complicated. However, looks can be deceiving, according to Blue Man Group’s sound engineer Andrew Schneider.
“It basically has five notes total, but it takes three of them to play it,” he told Insider. “I love that.”
Many of the instruments the Blue Man Group uses come from creative experimentation in the studio. Non-musical instruments are taken and transformed into playable pieces of art.
One great example of the group’s ingenuity is the Shredmill — a treadmill that was turned into a drum machines that uses magnets placed on the belt to produce different rhythms.
“This is the Shredmill. An electromechanical sequencer that converts a magnet-covered treadmill into a drum machine. The magnets are moved around on the belt to change rhythm patterns and there is a wide range of speed adjustment as well. We built this a few years ago, but have just recently used it out in the world. Both at the World Science Festival here in NYC and, most recently, at the NPR offices in Washington, DC, where we just did a performance for their Tiny Desk series. We’re really happy with how that turned out. It’s surprising what you can squeeze into that cramped space! It airs on September 26th. Please tune in!" – Mike from the Lab #BlueManFridays
“Anybody can bring an idea to the table,” said Ben Flint, the technical manager of musical instruments, to Insider. “Our tone mill was one of our Blue Men that drew a sketch.”
The tone mill looks like a huge spinning wheel with PVC pipes of varying size on it. The different sizes create unique pitches. One of the group members turns the wheel while another hits the tubes with a stick.
Take a look at the tone mill and a few of the other instruments under development by the Blue Man Group and its technical crew in Insider’s video below.
Have you ever seen the Blue Man Group perform live?