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Ann Arbor District Library now offers electronic music instruments, wild sounds

By Adrian Hedden
Managing Editor

Strange, but upbeat blips beeps echoed through a cluttered office as Jody Harnish, a librarian at the Ann Arbor District Library’s downtown branch, was hard at work crafting the future of his job.

The 33-year-old Ann Arbor resident has, for the past six months, tested and selected a collection of 22 electronic musical instruments now offered for check out at the AADL since Aug. 1.

And all you need is a library card.

“The overall goal is to add value to the library in adding non-traditional objects to the collection,” Harnish said. “These are things that many people have never seen before.”

The collection is only available at the AADL’s downtown branch, and a list of the equipment along with instructional videos can be found at aadl.org/mtools.

 

Top 10 instruments available:

  • Pocket Piano GR, small electric keyboard, Critter and Guitari
  • Etherwave Theremin Exploration Kit, Theremin set and amp included, Moog Music
  • Kaossilator 2, touch screen effects box, Korg
  • Bliptronic 5000, melody programmer, Think Geek
  • Digital Tanpura, internal amp for stage performance, Raagini
  • Otamatone Dual-Pack, music-shaped magnetic synthesizers, Maywa Denki
  • Thingamagoop 2, robot-shaped optical synthesizers, Bleep Labs
  • Macpipes, electronic bagpipes, Pine Tree Electronics
  • Concertina, small accordion
  • Stylophone, touch screen beatbox with stylus, Think Geek

NOTE:

Items are allowed a one-week rental period with no holds for the first few months.

Late returns will be charged one dollar per day, just like all other items at the AADL.

The AADL created a Twitter feed, @aadl_mtools, to provide updates on the collections as well as suggestions for additions to it.

The collection, funded by the library’s internal development fund to the tune of $20,000, was inspired by the success of a telescope rental program implemented in April. Library officials initially pursued a grant to offer science-related kits for educational purposes.

When the grant was denied last year, Harnish looked forward to fewer restrictions in compiling the collection. He then spent two months researching instruments that were easily playable before contacting their manufacturers directly for purchase.

Harnish estimated that he reviewed about 500 products before selecting the 22 now available for checkout.

“The grant was restrictive,” Harnish said. “Once it was out of the picture, we were really able to expand the collection more. We were focused on instruments that could easily be picked and played without lessons. ”

Miniature keyboards, synthesizers and a state-of-the-art Moog Theremin populate the collection offered to the public. And local musicians have already begun using the free rentals in their careers.

“I just thought I’d take advantage of a few new toys they’d have available,” said Alex Taam, a local electronic-music performer. “I view it as an opportunity to have free toys to play with and record. I can’t think of anywhere else that does that. It’s a very impressive collection.”

Known as Mogi Grumbles onstage, Taam has checked out a pocket piano built by music company Critter and Guitari. He says the instrument will serve well for lead melodies on his upcoming album, and he will be performing his latest works at a Sept. 1 show at The Blind Pig.

Taam, a 27-year-old Ann Arbor resident, describes his music as a blending of old school house music and more modern, electro dance, but looks forward to learning from the AADL’s collection and expanding the sonic palette of his projects.

“It’s about learning the little quirks of the various instruments and finding their individual sounds,” Taam said. “Those wild sounds, I just had to figure out how they were made.”

Associate Director for Information Technology and Production at the AADL, Eli Neiburger, views the initiative as the defense of the library’s relevance against the threat of digitization of media and their implementation on the web.

“As the media goes digital, the library has a real opportunity to diversify the objects offered,” Neiburger said. “We are looking into things that provide the library with unique value in the community. Now that the community owns these, it will undoubtedly provide that value. ”

Maintaining that they aren’t only for sharing books, CDs or DVDs, Neiburger believes libraries provide an efficient way of sharing objects of all kinds.

The collection’s launch was celebrated by a talk given by the Robert A. Moog Foundation, an organization formed by pioneer electronic music engineer, Robert Moog.

“I hope it goes well, “Taam said. “I just hope people treat the instruments with respect.”

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