Sounds of the Soul

FULL EPISODE

Sounds of the Soul II

Sounds of the Soul is a docu-series that puts those who handcraft musical instruments center stage. We'll learn how those deeply personal creations are made to resonate specific sounds and why musicians seek out those hyper-specific qualities.

AIRED: July 16, 2020 | 0:26:46
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TRANSCRIPT

I just follow the vibration,

follow the music.

Music is a powerful thing.

We're just blessed to be a part of it.

We let every little stroke of sandpaper

tell a story that wasn't there originally

It's very important for me to play

The more I play the more at peace I am.

(meditative music)

- Music is everywhere.

All the time, I want to discover the sound.

That's why I just follow the vibration,

follow the music.

My name is Amado Espinoza.

I am a musician and composer and instrument maker.

I make Native instruments, Native flutes,

drums, tarangos, like the small guitar.

N'goni harp originates from West Africa,

Burkina Faso, Senegal, Mali.

People there are making this instrument for 1000 years.

The reason I just make a lot of instruments,

it's because I am very curious with the sound.

I want to see, I want to discover

what is inside of each instrument.

(light music)

When I was nine years old,

I had my first encounter with music.

That was very important for me.

I am from Bolivia.

I grew up in Cochabamba.

It's a very small town.

We didn't have a lot of money.

A lot of family problems.

So I need to work very hard and help my family.

So music was very important for me

to not be crazy when I was very young.

In my family, I was the only musician.

And they said, "Oh, if you will be a musician,

you will have a lot of problems.

It's better if you be a doctor or lawyer, or everything."

So my family all the time,

they are complaining about that.

But I just continue, and I ignore. (laughing)

(meditative music)

When I was studying in the Conservatory of Music,

I remember like the first week,

one of the teachers said "Oh, you don't have talent."

(laughing) "Don't come back" he said.

It was very hard for me to hear that one.

So I decided, work hard, very hard, and continue.

That's why I started to make my own instruments,

to understand how.

How, how is possible?

What is the very beginning of the music?

For making different instruments,

a lot of people, they are very precise.

But in my case, it's different.

I follow not the measurements.

I follow the sound.

That's why my instruments has different vibration,

different tone.

(low warbling)

When I play music, I transform.

Sometimes I disappear.

I am in different planets,

different dimensions.

Sometimes it's very intense,

especially when I am playing with another musician,

we have the same connection, and with the audience too.

So we are in the same place, sharing music.

Music is something very interesting

because you cannot touch it, you cannot smell it.

Only you can feel it, because it's vibration.

That's why it's very powerful for me.

(meditative music)

We need to harmonize not only with the instrument,

with ourself, so we will be in the same tune

with this world.

If we do this one, we will be harmonized with this universe.

If you are in tune,

you will not be sad or frustrated, angry.

That's why it's very important for me to play music,

to make instruments.

If I make an instrument and I give to somebody

and I see the happiness

when they are connecting with that instrument,

for me that is the top of the mountain.

For me, that's enough.

(upbeat guitar music)

- [Mark] Music to me is the most visceral form

of human expression I think.

(upbeat guitar music)

I love guitars because it's kind of universal.

It transcends language barriers.

(upbeat guitar music)

The best part about guitar players is

how they make the sound for themselves.

And it's just so cool watching people do that.

(rock music)

I'm Mark Penechar and I am one half of Seuf Guitars.

- I'm Sean Penechar and I'm the other half of Seuf Guitars.

- [Mark] We've always been like this.

We've always had a deep appreciation

for rock and roll and just music in general.

We've always just been into music

and we were playing for years and years and years

and you know, just running into problems

and stuff with our own gear.

Seuf Guitars was started in 2007 by Dave Seuferling.

I linked up with Dave, our mentor,

and he just kind of showed me the ropes over time.

- [Sean] I came on around 2013

when I moved to Kansas City from Columbia.

Just kinda started learning with Mark and Dave.

And, and now we own it. (laughing)

So that's cool.

(upbeat rock music fades out into slow guitar riff)

People really, really love vintage guitars.

But you know, you can't take 'em out every single night.

They don't hold up as well now

without tons and tons of maintenance.

Seuf guitars are a modern take on old, vintage guitars.

- In order to do it right,

you have to use the old techniques

or it just doesn't come out right.

We won't fake anything.

Everything that we do is by feel.

We play them, we grip them, and we make them feel old

before they even touch somebody else's hands.

(slow guitar music, grinding)

When we're building these guitars,

we can carve in that feel of something

that you've been playing for 30, 45 years

or that heirloom that your grandfather gave you

from the late '50s.

(bright guitar music)

We can go in and make that feel exactly the same

on a brand new instrument and that really sets the feel

of our guitars apart from everybody else's.

- [Sean] We don't use modern finishing techniques at all.

When we make ours, we try and keep it as correct as possible

to what they would have done back then.

- [Mark] The feel is the most important part, you know?

We kinda let the guitar talk to us

and tell us what we need to do

to make it feel a little bit better.

- [Sean] You just know kind of

when it feels right, you know?

- [Mark] Using our knowledge from restorations

and repairs in the past, we are able

to recreate as closely as possible the kind of vintage feel

of these old guitars by eye, by hand,

and it's different on every single instrument.

Even the sound, it's just incredible.

Like we are spot on with it.

(slow guitar music, scraping)

What we really do is we let every little stroke

of sandpaper tell a story that wasn't there originally.

(slow guitar music)

Since we make these by hand,

we get to focus on every single detail

that goes into it and it's just the two of us.

- [Sean] We don't have any oversight except for each other.

So that gives us a lot of time

to just make everything right.

- Yeah we're good. - Cool.

- The pickup is the electromagnet

that makes the guitar come alive.

I'll go in and I will build up a bobbin,

wind it by hand, and each little layer

that I'm putting on there is completely random.

And what that randomness does is it changes the frequency

of the pickup.

The randomness of the wire on that bobbin is

what gives you that beautiful, beautiful sound.

I mean your low end is more pronounced.

Your high end is more pronounced.

Nothing is really shrill like some

of the modern manufactured stuff.

(mellow electronic music)

- I mix most of our colors by eye.

I'll look at pictures of old guitars

and I will play around with paint recipes

for 20 or 30 minutes until I get the shade

that I'm really happy with.

It's not gonna look like that color would have looked like

when it was brand new.

I mimic the UV that would have taken some

of the chroma out of some of these colors.

You know, I'm in there with toners

and pigments and I'm just playing

around with it till I get it right.

(mellow electronic music)

- From our perspective, you have

to do it the way that they did it originally

in order for it to look convincing at all.

If it doesn't look convincing, then what's the point?

(mellow electronic music)

There's kind of this romantic quality to the guitar.

Regardless of what it is, there's a style for everybody

and there's a shape for everybody.

There's a neck for everybody.

We strive to mimic the old ways

because when humans do things,

it's wonderfully unique every single time.

(upbeat music)

When you plug in an electric guitar,

it sets itself apart because you can amplify it.

You can run it through a million different effects.

You can create all these different textures.

You can just do it to play something straightforward.

(upbeat rock music)

The possibilities

with the electric guitar are absolutely limitless.

You can literally speak your language through the guitar.

(upbeat rock music abruptly ends)

You have to be romantic about it.

You have to feel it.

(mellow guitar music)

♪ This old was built

♪ Back in 1869

♪ This old house is still standing ♪

♪ Year after year

♪ Cracks filled with laughter

♪ Window sills stained with tears ♪

♪ As the walls collect memories ♪

♪ Passed down the line

♪ History tells the story

♪ Another place another time

(folk music)

- [Glenn] I'm Glen, and this is Bobbie,

And we're making trees talk.

My parents bought me my first mandolin when I was five.

My parents took me to a festival in Colorado,

called Rocky Grass.

It was like a whole new world.

Everybody could play.

So it was something that I really wanted a that point,

and now, it's my life.

You can only be as good as the mandolin you play.

And I learned that really quick.

I was going to college in Branson,

at The College of the Ozarks.

Mandolin was my main instrument,

and I was focusing really hard,

and my teacher said,

"You just have to get a new mandolin. It's holding you up."

"You're not learning fast enough,"

"because your instrument is not good quality."

And I went home and told my parents, and they went out,

and bought some wood and a book.

My dad said, "Here, we're gonna make one."

And we made the first one together.

If you want something so badly,

you can make it happen.

(mandolin music)

The main difference between our mandolins,

and other peoples mandolins are right here.

There's thousands of people out there making mandolins

that look exactly like Gibson's.

And if you want a Gibson, go buy a Gibson.

If you want an original, hand made instrument,

that's our main thing.

We do different body shapes that nobody else does.

With different sound holes that I design myself.

Well, it starts out with the tree.

That tree might not have even known

that it wanted to be a mandolin,

but by the time it's getting close, it's starting to scream,

I want to be a mandolin.

- [Bobbie] A lot of our cedar came from a forest fire,

that was in Alaska in 1934.

- On some of these instruments that we have,

you can actually see the smokiness in it.

You can see the burn marks on the outside.

For some reason, it's just spectacular wood.

(upbeat strumming)

Starting from the blocks of wood,

you have to make sure,

especially with the soundboards,

that you're straight quarter cut.

That's kind of a difficult process,

cause a lot of these old pieces of wood that we use,

you can't even see the grain on the end. You know.

If it's cut right, and then arched right,

if it's got everything right,

then it starts reacting the way you want it to.

Every piece of wood that we touch, we tap tune.

That's just telling me how thin I need to carve it,

or how thick I need to leave it.

But, once it's carved properly,

for the piece of wood that it is,

then it really starts to come to life.

You can really feel every vibration,

once you get to the right point.

The mandolins themselves, tell me when they're done.

Whenever they respond properly,

the way that I want them to,

then I'm satisfied.

(Upbeat music)

Well my favorite part about making mandolins,

is watching Bobbie bend sides.

(both giggle)

She's really good at it.

I mean, and it's not an easy thing to do.

- I pick out very specific pieces,

every time that I bend sides.

This flame is going to be really nice,

this one needs to go this way,

I make sure that they book match.

You know, the emotional attachment really is-

just-

doing it.

- Just being beside her,

everyday,

is enough.

The mandolins, they are derived from our relationship.

These mandolins are like our children,

we spend so much time with them,

we put, literally, our heart and souls,

and blood, sweat, and tears,

everything into these instruments.

Music is a powerful thing.

It's just overwhelming,

if it's a song that you heard when you were a child,

you're going to go back to that exact moment,

when you heard that song,

that exact memory.

Music makes the world a better place.

We're just blessed to be a part of it.

When a mandolin comes to life,

I feel elated.

When you do something right, and you can be proud of it,

it's very powerful.

(meditative flute music)

- In Hinduism, they would say that

breath controls consciousness.

If you control your breath,

you can shape the way you think.

It's a way to connect with the whole world.

The world is a breathing, living thing.

And we are just an extension of that.

My name's John Mark Aladeen and I like to make flutes.

Playing the flute,

you're controlling an extension of your breath.

Beyond the physical body.

If I want to further understand myself,

I can do that by making a flute

and understanding how the air moves.

In the process of doing that,

we discover if we don't take great care

in everything we do,

then something's gonna get messed up.

You're gonna see somewhere like, oh,

there's a little nick there,

that's gonna make the air spin funny

and I'm not gonna be able to play the lower notes.

And I think the same thing of my being

and in my thoughts, in my actions.

Every little thing makes a difference.

When I was a kid in the Philippines,

growing up I always stopped by the guy

on the side of the road making flutes out of bamboo.

I couldn't tell you why,

but I needed to have it.

Beyond any rational thought.

So this whole journey started with that flute.

I didn't know how to play it,

I didn't understand anything about it.

But as I grew up,

I understood I needed to do this.

It doesn't take much to turn a rod into a flute.

Mother Nature grows bamboo,

and bamboo's a form of grass, it's abundant.

It's already kinda got a bore inside,

you just gotta help it along.

If a bamboo gets broken or cut

sometimes just the wind will play it like a pan pipe.

And so, nature's playing you a song.

I wanna capture that.

Grab onto it, so that way,

whenever I wanna experience nature,

all I have to do is play the flute.

And all of a sudden, I'm there.

The juice of the bamboo, when you heat it,

it kinda changes molecular structure.

And it turns into a natural varnish.

That tells me that these are just waiting

to be made into flutes and I think that's amazing,

it's already set up to become a flute.

Every flute that is made has its own personality.

No two are alike.

You could have the same color, the same material,

the same length, the same spacing in the holes,

but there's a personality that comes out.

When you actually make something that sounds fantastic,

and you play it, all of a sudden you're transported

to a different time, to a different place.

And it's full of wonder.

Just by hearing the sounds.

(peaceful flute music)

It's very important for me to play.

And the more I play, the more at peace I am.

And I find,

that's the most important thing in life,

is peace and joy.

I would like to imagine that when I'm playing,

I am a clear and open channel for spirit.

Just being a clear vessel for the music to flow through.

It just turns into a ride.

I'm riding the waves of the music.

For me, making flutes has been a journey of self-discovery.

When we take a deep look at ourselves,

and allow the space for us to improve ourselves,

everything around you is also improved.

The more you can bring yourself up,

I think the more it brings everybody up.

And I find the more we can control ourselves

through the breath,

the more we can experience the nature of creation

and the reality around us.

And the more we understand,

the more we can be at peace.

(meditative flute music)

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