How to play a tractor live at a concert?
March 25, 2010 10:24 AM   Subscribe

Wrooom Wrroom Tractortronica: I'm going to perform live with three tractors. What kind of sounds can you get out of them?

I've been asked to create and perform, a concert for laptops/electronics and three real tractors. Its gonna be awesome, I have lots of ideas, but don't really know tractors and would like to know. Maybe some of you guys know your 'tors and can give me some tips...

Some info:
-Assume they're really basic ones (I don't know more right now)
-They have to stand still (they can't drive around and squash little children)
-The engines can be (will be) running, they will be "live"
-There will be drivers / controllers
-There will be technicians etc
-We can probably mic up what we need, no sound is too quiet

Tell me all the sounds a tractor can and will make! Regular and crazy ideas much appreciated.
posted by gmm to Science & Nature (19 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Rev the engine, beat on the thing, let the air out of the tires. Bigger tractors might have horns.
posted by box at 10:27 AM on March 25, 2010

Best answer: Here's some music made with a Jeep that should give you some inspiration of the variety of things you could eek out of any sort of object.
posted by Diddly at 10:30 AM on March 25, 2010 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Question for clarification: can you damage/destroy the tractors?
posted by box at 10:35 AM on March 25, 2010

You could jack up the back (assuming this can be done safely) and use the tires to strike chimes or something like a giant music box. I once saw a performance where a guy rode a stationary bicycle whose rear wheel had been converted to a disk with bullroarers attached. The faster he peddled, the louder (and deeper?) the noise became. You could do something like that, only larger (depending on how much you are allowed to alter the tractors).

Could the exhaust be diverted through a hose to drive organ pipes (or organ pipe-like instruments)?
posted by GenjiandProust at 10:37 AM on March 25, 2010

Response by poster: Question for clarification: can you damage/destroy the tractors?

I don't think so, and I wouldn't expect to. But good question, that'll open up for a lot more mayhem, I'll ask.
posted by gmm at 10:39 AM on March 25, 2010

Best answer: You might want to watch these YouTube Videos. Obviously that's not the same kind of music you're playing, but it should at least give you an idea of what can be done with the sound.
posted by DeWalt_Russ at 11:07 AM on March 25, 2010

Response by poster: Question for clarification: can you damage/destroy the tractors?

It's a possibility, they're looking into it.

Great suggestions everyone, thanks.
posted by gmm at 12:06 PM on March 25, 2010

It would cool if one of them was an old (think 1940's - 1960's) John Deere. These had single cylinder engines and have a very distinctive thump-thump engine sound, which of course could be adjusted via the throttle in real time. There are a lot of these around and running still.

Also, there will probably be some sound generated by the hydraulics of raising or lowering a drawbar if a tractor (especially an older one) is so equipped.
posted by imjustsaying at 12:08 PM on March 25, 2010

The older Deeres had a two cylinder uneven fire engine. I think that it would be more interesting to hear a hit-or-miss engine - on these the governor didn't control the throttle, it skipped firing events, so when idling they would only fire every couple of seconds. Most of these were used as stand-alone power sources instead of tractors, though.
posted by rfs at 12:42 PM on March 25, 2010

Best answer: Bigger tractors have power take offs (PTOs) that can be used to drive farm machinery. It's just a spinning shaft that you can run a pump or a mill with. These could be adapted to drive almost anything.
posted by deanj at 1:20 PM on March 25, 2010

Find some percussionists to work with a la Stomp. I bet there's all sorts of sounds you can get from banging on a tractor!
posted by platinum at 2:14 PM on March 25, 2010

Best answer: Some less-obvious sounds would the sounds of gears engaging if you can jack up the drive wheels or you have a bit of space to manuever (despite your description), and the sound pedals make (like brake/clutch) when released. My 25-year old manual SUV makes a satisfying chunk from the pedal/spring when I pop out the clutch.

I'd bet tractors are geared really low, so you might be able to move them and still get cool noises from the moving while still keeping things safe because they'll just be inching along. The low range on the above SUV is like that, you can really just inch along very carefully. If you even had just a handful of feet that you could use you'd possibly be able to move a bit.

Also, I assume this is outdoors. Exhaust and indoors wouldn't be good.

If they're old enough, you should find something that squeaks/groans when moved.

Basically you're going to be looking for movement. Seat adjustment, clicky switches, whatever. My SUV's power steering pump groans at the extremes of the steering.

Also, tractors are really good at tearing things out of the ground. So if you have a stump handy or something, maybe you could use that.

Potentially really dangerous, but possibly able to do safely: get a taut cable/chain between two of the tractors. I don't know if it's realistically possible to get a cable that you'd trust enough that it wouldn't break to get close enough to bang on or something. This really doesn't sound like a good idea but I'm throwing it out there in case it inspires something safer.
posted by RikiTikiTavi at 2:15 PM on March 25, 2010

Best answer: deanj pointed out the PTO, on many models of tractor just engaging the PTO results in a pretty awesome wind-up/spin-up whine.

Also, on most Case IH tractors the clutch depress triggers some pretty neat transmission sounds.

If these are tractors with cabs on them the cabs often have hydrolic rams that hold them open, then sometimes make a neat swoooosh sound when you open the door.
posted by Cosine at 4:38 PM on March 25, 2010

Depending on the tyre rubber, and the surface the tractors are sitting on, you might be able to get some squeaks out of the tyres when you turn the steering wheel.
posted by flutable at 7:21 PM on March 25, 2010

Be careful with the PTO - that's how farmers lose their arms.
posted by rfs at 8:48 PM on March 25, 2010

Older tractors have a belt attachment sometimes. You could mount drum sticks to that and have them hit stuff.
posted by sully75 at 6:40 AM on March 26, 2010

Big trucks often have a little hinged cap on top of the exhaust pipe that pops open and closed with a clanking sound. You could do something like that, or wind chimes in the exhaust stream, or a set of pipe organ pipes with solenoid valves all plugged into the exhaust pipe...

I'd love to see documentation of this performance!
posted by moonmilk at 7:41 AM on March 27, 2010

Oops, sorry GenjiandProust - you already mentioned organ pipes!

Contact microphones glued to various parts of the tractor will all pick up different vibrations and creaks and groans.

Guitar pickups or hand-wound coils (or even AM radios tuned to dead air) near parts of the engine's electrical system, if it has one.
posted by moonmilk at 7:44 AM on March 27, 2010

Response by poster: Thanks everyone, fantastic suggestions. I've marked some as best but I love you all.
posted by gmm at 4:32 AM on March 29, 2010

« Older Your Mother was a Boxer; Your Father was a Boxer   |   Building Recumbent Trike: bike pedal question Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.