What was this large contraption a band had on stage?
September 29, 2019 9:29 AM   Subscribe

There was a group that could best be described as a jam band with a 'worldbeat' sound, I think from Minneapolis, that frequently played college towns in the upper midwestern US in the 90s and early 2000s. I really wasn't into them so I don’t recall their name, but they played so frequently at parties and other venues they were hard to avoid. The thing that’s stuck with me is a memory of an almost-phone-booth-size device they had on stage that seemed to be part of their audio setup. What was it? [description follows]

It sat off to one side of the stage. Imagine something that looks kind of like a really big centrifugal fan, spinning on a vertical axis, inside a boxy enclosure the size of a very large, very tall refrigerator. I think the enclosure was made of wood. The audience-facing side of it was partially open, so the fan-like thing spinning inside was somewhat visible. The spinning part was going maybe as fast as 80 RPM - fast enough that it was surprising how stable the whole thing appeared, for as big and clunky-looking as it was. It may have been motorized somehow, but I seem to recall someone had to reach into the enclosure to manually start it spinning. I don’t think it was on during every song.

I’m not exactly sure how the band used it. They may have put an amp behind it and directed audio through this thing towards the audience. I think it may have had an attenuating or distorting effect on whatever audio they sent through it. I sort of also recall a kind of whooshing drone sound that it might have produced.

Any ideas what this contraption might have been? Does something like this sound plausible as a piece of specialized audio gear, or more likely just an odd experiment that wouldn't actually do much sound-wise?
posted by theory to Media & Arts (9 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Any chance it was a rotating Leslie speaker? Like this one?
posted by mandolin conspiracy at 9:39 AM on September 29, 2019 [9 favorites]

Yep, sure sounds like a Leslie speaker, and most likely it was connected to a Hammond organ.
posted by jonathanhughes at 9:44 AM on September 29, 2019 [1 favorite]

Wow, that may be what it was. The cabinet was much bigger than your linked example (I remember thinking it was TARDIS-size) and my impression was that the rotating unit took up most of the interior - or was at least up at eye level - and it had sort of a more homemade look to it... but it seems pretty likely that's it. What a cool thing.
posted by theory at 9:55 AM on September 29, 2019

Savage Aural Hotbed was playing a lot in Minneapolis in the 1990s and they make a bunch of their own contraptions. If it was them you saw, it could have been a unique object.
posted by paper chromatographologist at 10:13 AM on September 29, 2019 [4 favorites]

Sounds like you have your answer but it reminded me of an Andrew Bird show I went to where on stage he had a massive rotating device that reminded me of the speaker on a phonograph. This video calls it a horn and is smaller than the one I recall.
posted by amanda at 10:36 AM on September 29, 2019

It definitely wasn't Savage Aural Hotbed (glad to see they're still doing their thing!). This group was more in the jam band mould, like Phish maybe? Very skilled musicians but probably didn't have much profile outside the region.

After further research I think the thing in question had to have been a Leslie speaker, maybe a DIY job. Thanks for solving the mystery!
posted by theory at 11:32 AM on September 29, 2019 [2 favorites]

The Big Wu? Not at all my scene but you sure couldn't miss them - they played basically non-stop.
posted by Frowner at 11:37 AM on September 29, 2019 [2 favorites]

Also a possibility: Wookiefoot?
posted by RedEmma at 2:19 PM on September 29, 2019

In case anyone's interested, I've been informed by a friend who also remembers this band and their amazing, possibly homemade Leslie speaker, that they were called Mango Jam and they were indeed from Minneapolis.
posted by theory at 4:24 PM on September 30, 2019 [1 favorite]

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