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Fiona Apple returned to the stage at SXSW last week. Her first tour in 5 years, she is backed by a quartet of amazing musicians including Blake Mills who is also opening up for Fiona on this tour. Blake plays Specimen’s Electric Tiple, a 10-string instrument about the size of a baritone uke.

The Tiple was made out of a sense of curiosity and enchantment with the concept of double-triple-triple-double courses and until Blake called its fate remained uncertain as it is a rather bizarre instrument. I’d like to suggest that Blake’s mastery of the negative space in his music has contributed to his ability to tame this crazy thing. A lot of players just ‘rip the licks’, but Blake has a special talent to integrate rather amazing runs and chord bends into the music. It’s like the sounds are underneath and not on top of the song. He certainly put it to good use at the show we saw in Chicago last Sunday. So far the tour is receiving rave reviews: Rolling Stone, Chicago Tribune

Video of Fiona Apple’s SXSW show on the NPR stage at Stubb’s BBQ

Last week Andrew Bird kicked off his US tour at SXSW playing a sold out show on the NPR stage. For this tour, Specimen created several spinning Aerosel horns that Andrew has incorporated into his stage show. The horns are completely handmade in our shop using the ‘stick and tissue’ method, which is similar to building vintage airplanes. Check out our Blog Post and see photos taken during the building of these spinning beauties.

Photos courtesy of How’s My Living

Below are You Tube videos shot at the SXSW show in Austin, TX and in Atlanta, Georgia.

The Aerosel project began back in the summer of 2010 after our Sonic Arboretum show at the Guggenheim in NYC. Part of that trip included a visit to Coney Island. Inspired by the beauty of structures like the vintage Cyclone roller coaster and remnants of the old parachute drop and other death-defying structures which haven’t been used for years, Ian set about creating an aerodynamic version of his horn speakers that would not only recall these inspirations, but take horn shapes to a radical new level.

Incorporating his beloved octagon, he set about making the new horns using dowel rods, fiberboard, and plywood – a method similar to building ‘stick and tissue’ airplanes from early aviation. He covered part of the first Aerosel horn in aircraft covering, tightly shrinking it across the horn’s vertical planes.

The resulting sculpture was to be the form for a mold, but it became clear that is was far too beautiful to sacrifice (as forms can be destroyed in the mold-making process). Hanging in the shop, the undulating horn captivated many people, including our dear friend Andrew Bird. Ian discussed various uses for the Aerosel horns and sent a movie of it to Andrew’s Lighting Designer, Ryan Murphy, who immediately saw the potential for shadow play on stage. In January, Ian and the Specimen crew began generating six new shapes ranging in size from 4 – 7 feet. The first two are going to Europe tomorrow as Andrew begins touring in support of his new album, Break it Yourself. The other four will join the US leg of the tour next week. It should be spectacular!