The document of my 2018 CACIS residency agave horn build must rightly begin with mention of Thomas Melchert. A German woodworker of enormous skill and creativity, I was introduced to him in 2012 the day after asking my host, Roser, if she knew anyone with a bandsaw. In the way that adventure abroad can become larger, in a moment, than you had ever expected, I was ushered without fanfare into Thomas’ fantasy woodshop, set there above Artes in a not-making-this-up 800 year old castle.
We’ve been friends ever since.
So there it is, three years after my last visit, and sure enough I’m back in town, knocking on the door at Thomas’ place begging more bandsaw time. A happy reunion, Thomas and his wife, Sarah distract me with a tour of their renovated castle/mansion/fantasy getaway suites (which you can rent on vacation in Catalunya!) before I notice, leaning against the wall at the base of the foyer stairs – a 10 foot, dried agave stalk.
I distinctly said, ‘Thomas, is that a 10 foot stalk of dried agave?’
and he said, ‘Yeah, would you like to have it?’.
I suspect he already knew the answer. Thomas had saved the stalk from where it grew on his yard and even done a great deal of preparation. (Agave, in my experience, is no easy plant to harvest, so, if you’re reading this, Thomas, thank you again. Also, I want to butter you up a bit, because you’re about to appear shirtless in the photos below. At least you have a wicked bod, like Bavarian Tarzan or something.)
The enormous advantage of the agave material is the combination of very hard outer crust fading into a sponge softness centre. Carving the inside was accomplished much by feeling, as the density of the stalk becomes incrementally harder as you approach the outer wall, fascinating to me, but also maybe 100 times faster than carving, say, rockhard goddamn Spanish Pine. This time-saving translates into the possibility of a much more stage ready horn, with curves and suspension, that can fit into a car and take up 1 square foot on stage, unlike it’s 12 foot long, unbent predecessor, la Banya Gran (which I still love very much).
As I left her, La Atzavara was a high functioning, glow-in-the-dark D# instrument with exceptional bass tones and range.
However well she survives the test of time, I hope to return in 2021, add enough length to bring her down to a D, and get her in the band.
Below, dear reader, the slideshow of my 2018 CACIS (Center for Comtemporary Art and Sustainability) residency. It is, of course, much more than woodworking, as my band must be managed on our small tour, my wife is alongside me for her own residency, and CACIS itself is a rich community of contributing artists inviting as much participation as a fella can muster. To that I’ll be throwing in some more human pics, though you should know that it will be mostly obsessive woodworking shots, just FYI.
My love, thanks and respect to:
- my wonderful hosts, Roser Oduber, Joan Vandrell, & Irene Vandrell, who offer up an entire world to my wife and I when we visit and make us look good in the Catalunyan Art community.
- Culture hero and rennaissance man, Valenti Escale Villa for his friendship, his horn playing, local guidance and equipment sourcing.
- Carme Rienda for her assistance and documentation with the LFM.
- Thomas and Sara Melchert for long term assistance, and their willingness to care for la Atzavara despite my warnings about the dangers of becoming a musician.