David Gowman, or Mr. Fire-Man as he’s better known online, is a prolific instrument-maker, performer, orchestra leader and culture creator.
Mr. Fire-Man creates events that allow viewers to become participators. He trains volunteers to act as ‘shills,’ or prepared performers hidden in the audience. He also creates physical artworks (horns made from local, natural materials), and composes song structures that allow simple interactions to happen – such as a ‘Call and Response’ song.
The result of such meticulous preparation is not only to make musical instruments, but also to create a cultural moment that sicks in participants’ memories. The result is a unique event where the barrier between performer and audience is removed, resulting in the union of creator and consumer.
From his Maker Faire bio:
“In 2002 I made a horn from a stick of elderberry wood. It took about two hours of labour to produce a sound. Nine years later, a band called the Legion of Flying Monkeys Horn Orchestra entertains with the descendants of that horn (there are over forty as of last count). Looking back, that simple act of burning a shaft through the pith to make a chamber was a turning point leading to a near decade of music, interactive art and instrument making.”
As I learned more about him, I became more and more intrigued. Homemade horns? More than forty of them? All made from natural materials? Combined to create a Horn Orchestra? And anyone can take part??
So I caught up with Mr. Fire-Man to find out more about his work, and hear what he plans to demonstrate at this year’s Maker Faire.
What’s the The Legion of Flying Monkeys Horn Orchestra all about? Can you describe your sound?
The Legion of Flying Monkeys is an interactive art project that happens to have an orchestra specializing in singalong music. We also have monkey puppets, parades of clowns, diabolical corporate geneticists and dangerously hypnotic lounge experiences, but perhaps for this interview I should focus on the orchestra.
Our sound is midway between Circus Sideshow and Zombie Apocalypse, though you should judge for yourself.
You make horns from local, natural materials such as old felt hats, hardwood branches, the dried stems of giant cow parsnip and papier mache. What are your favourite materials to work with, and why?
My current favourite material is empresswood because of its ease of carving, lightweight nature and speed of growth. Also, I am cultivating it locally at the Means of Production Garden with some success. A well pruned empress will produce 18 feet of new, hollow growth in a season.
A neat thing about your live events is how they allow the viewers to become participants. Can you tell us more about how this works?
Most of our songs have an interactive element, meaning a part that the audience can sing (or yell as the case may be). Simple structures such as a call and response style facilitate easy entrance into the spirit of participation even for the uninitiated.
How can someone check out your events? When do they happen, and where are they located?
My events are always posted on my website. Currently we’re playing Midsummer Fete at Colony Farms on Sunday June 24th, the Jazz Fest on Saturday July 1 in David Lam Park, the Railway Club on Wednesday July 18th (9pm) and Maker Faire before all of these, on the Saturday afternoon.
What do you plan on bringing / demonstrating at Vancouver Mini Maker Faire this year? How interactive will it be?
I’ll be bringing several horns for random visitors to try, many alcohol wipes to disinfect them in-between, and a huge selection of razor sharp tools for children to handle (just kidding). You can expect loud horn blasts to emanate from my booth throughout the day.