Thomas Truax

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Thomas Truax
Thomas Truax (cropped).jpg
Truax in 2010
Background information
Origin New York City, United States
Genres Steampunk, outsider, independent music
Years active2000-present
LabelsVarious labels

Thomas Truax ( /ˈtræks/ TROO-aks) is an American songwriter, performer, and inventor of experimental musical instruments. [1]

An inventor is a person who creates or discovers a new method, form, device or other useful means that becomes known as an invention. The word inventor comes from the Latin verb invenire, invent-, to find. The system of patents was established to encourage inventors by granting limited-term, limited monopoly on inventions determined to be sufficiently novel, non-obvious, and useful. Although inventing is closely associated with science and engineering, inventors are not necessarily engineers nor scientists.

Experimental musical instrument

An experimental musical instrument is a musical instrument that modifies or extends an existing instrument or class of instruments, or defines or creates a new class of instrument. Some are created through simple modifications, such as cracked drum cymbals or metal objects inserted between piano strings in a prepared piano. Some experimental instruments are created from household items like a homemade mute for brass instruments such as bathtub plugs. Other experimental instruments are created from electronic spare parts, or by mixing acoustic instruments with electric components.



Thomas Truax with 'The Hornicator' at the Innocent Village Fete August 2007 ThomasTruax at Innocent Aug 07.JPG
Thomas Truax with 'The Hornicator' at the Innocent Village Fete August 2007

Truax first came to prominence as a solo performer in the 1990s in New York as one of a group of musicians and songwriters (including Lach, Jeffrey Lewis, Curtis Eller, The Burning Hell, Dibs, Boo Hoo and Beck) who made up the antifolk movement based around the Sidewalk Cafe on the Lower East Side of Manhattan. Truax's emergence as a solo act came after years of fronting bands (most notably Like Wow). [2] The move was in part to remove the need to rely on other people to perform and to embark in a new direction that would distinguish his act from the hundreds of bands and singer-songwriters active in New York. This new direction involved the construction and playing of unique instruments, as well as more traditional singer-songwriter style songs. The "inventor" side of his musical act drew on his work as an animator on MTV's Celebrity Death Match and a fascination since early childhood with building objects out of whatever materials he had available. Thomas's use of "primitive" technology, the often fantastical elements of his songs and gothic overtones (his website talks of his instruments "as though plucked straight from the mind of Tim Burton") have led to him being linked to the subgenre of steampunk.

New York City Largest city in the United States

The City of New York, usually called either New York City (NYC) or simply New York (NY), is the most populous city in the United States. With an estimated 2018 population of 8,398,748 distributed over a land area of about 302.6 square miles (784 km2), New York is also the most densely populated major city in the United States. Located at the southern tip of the state of New York, the city is the center of the New York metropolitan area, the largest metropolitan area in the world by urban landmass and one of the world's most populous megacities, with an estimated 19,979,477 people in its 2018 Metropolitan Statistical Area and 22,679,948 residents in its Combined Statistical Area. A global power city, New York City has been described as the cultural, financial, and media capital of the world, and exerts a significant impact upon commerce, entertainment, research, technology, education, politics, tourism, art, fashion, and sports. The city's fast pace has inspired the term New York minute. Home to the headquarters of the United Nations, New York is an important center for international diplomacy.

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Truax's first two instruments were the Cadillac Beatspinner Wheel and the Hornicator, the former being a system of spinning wheels, metal spokes and small cymbals, which, through the use of various contact mics, "beats out" through the PA a primitive drum beat that forms the backing to songs that Thomas then plays on guitar. Its large size made the Beatspinner Wheel unsuitable for touring, so Truax created a smaller version, entitled "Sister Spinster" that he uses to this day. The Hornicator started life as an old gramophone record horn, before Truax added a set of strings, a kazoo and a microphone. Here Thomas beats out the rhythm on the horn's metal casing (using a ringed finger to create a 'click' and other fingers to create a contrastive "thud") which is then repeated through the use of a looper pedal that records the beat and loops it over the PA, allowing Thomas to add more layers of other instrumentation (through the strings and other implements attached to the Hornicator). Finally Thomas sings a vocal through a microphone attached to the instrument.

Other instruments work as variations on automatic rhythms and looped beats: the Stringaling features a vaguely bongo-like drum at the top of a length of clothes drier tubing to which is attached a variety of musical devices with pull-strings; Mary Poppins features a metal column attached to which are two arms that fly out to the side and spin, creating a train-like rhythm; the Backbeater, made up of several rotating spokes, straps on to Thomas' back and spins to create a low rhythm. Some songs do not feature any of his inventions, most notably "Inside the Internet" which is played solely on guitar, and "The Butterfly & The Entomologist", which is again played on a guitar, albeit with the use of a pocket fan that Thomas used to hit the strings to produce an eerie effect. Common themes in Thomas's songs include love, loneliness, travel, the animal kingdom, nature and technology. [3]

Bongo drum Type of drum

Bongos are an Afro-Cuban percussion instrument consisting of a pair of small open bottomed drums of different sizes. In Spanish the larger drum is called the hembra (female) and the smaller the macho (male). Together with the conga or tumbadora, and to a lesser extent the batá drum, bongos are the most widespread Cuban hand drums, being commonly played in genres such as son cubano, salsa and Afro-Cuban jazz. A bongo drummer is known as a bongosero.

Truax was once challenged to show how he makes an instrument. Given many items retrieved from a recycle bin, within 15 minutes he created a rhythmic invention which he looped through effects with water and rubber bands. [4]

Though Truax usually only performs solo, his records contain songs with full band arrangements, along with his invented instruments. He has been featured in several music documentaries including Adam Clitheroe's "One Man In The Band" (2008) and Gabriel Shalom's "Instrumental" (2005). [5]

In 2013, Truax composed a new original score for Henrik Ibsen's play Peer Gynt, which was staged at the Theater Dortmund, Germany during its 2013/14 season, with music performed live by Thomas in an open metal container suspended above a stage of water. [6]


Compilation tracks


See also

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  1. "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2008-12-04. Retrieved 2008-10-07.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  2. "Thomas Truax - Biography & History - AllMusic". AllMusic. Retrieved 23 June 2018.
  3. "Archived copy" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 2008-12-04. Retrieved 2008-10-07.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  4. "SUPERSWEET : WRONG URL". Retrieved 23 June 2018.
  5. "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2016-03-04. Retrieved 2008-09-27.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  6. "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2013-11-13. Retrieved 2013-11-14.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)