Interview wich Steve Hubback (cymbal- and gongmaker) in March 2008

Do you think cymbals and gongs have to be round to sound “properly”? Thanks to Steve Hubback you are totally wrong! This metallurgist shows impressively that many forms work well as metal instruments. Have you ever had some ideas for new cymbal- or gong-types? Then Steve is your man!!! His handmade instruments are one-of-a-kind. You don´t believe it? Please read on or visit his website (

ragazzi: “What would you tell a layman if he asked you to explain your profession to him?”

Steve Hubback: “I tell people I'm a drummer, percussionist and a blacksmith, bronzesmith and sculptor. I may go into more details on occassion and explain that I create musical sculptures, Visual outdoor ambient, symbolic and atmospheric sculptures and Mobiles."

ragazzi: “When and why did you decide to make your own instruments - did the existing ones not have the sounds you were looking for?”

SH: "It was at the end of the 80's. I was performing all over Europe and living in Scandinavia. At this time I found it hard to find gongs, although you would see a Paiste now and again. Anyway, I found 5 stainless steel discs in a scrapyard and used these as gong plates for a tour of the DDR with Dietmar Diesner. I bought some East German cymbals and cut them into different shapes. So this was the catalyst. I then got some thin stainless and started hammering and heating. Got good results and then really started to learn metalcraft. Also I sold a few pieces to some very known Nordic jazz players. So it was a good begining that developed into me learning blacksmithing and creating outside visual sculptures and exhibiting."

ragazzi: “What materials and what techniques do you use?”

SH: "I started with Stainless Steel and then Brass, Bronze and Nickel Silver. I still use these metals except for Brass. The techniques are rather old. Hand hammering on wood and anvils. Fire - can be a gas torch or quite often a wood fire. Hand chisseling, or on stainless I use power tools such as grinders."

ragazzi: “Are all of your instruments one-of-a-kind? Isn´t it hard to give them away?”

SH: "Yes, although with cymbal and gong sculptures they might part of a small series, but they will all be different with their own voice and character. Many times I sold a piece and thought. I should have kept it, but then I create a new one and so it keeps developing."

ragazzi: “Are there instruments made for customers that you didn´t sell to them and if so for what reasons?”

S. H.: “It has happened. I was making a large piece, when the person who ordered it decided to pull out. Reason unknown. I finished the work and sold it to someone else. This does'nt happen often."

ragazzi: “Were you ever an apprentice to a blacksmith?”

S. H.: “No. But I had guidance and advice from a master Norwegian Blacksmith/Swordmaker. Most of my craft has been learned through doing. The Blacksmiths Bible by Alexanda Weygers was the best book I came accross at the time and this really helped me develope my skills."

ragazzi: “Where are your limits in cymbal- and gongmaking?”

SH: "The limits tend to be financial - regarding working in large scale. I have some ideas for some really beautiful large cymbal and gong sculptures."

ragazzi: “Your instuments look amazing - did you attract the world of visual arts attention yet?”

S. H.: “Yes. I've done many exhibitions throughout Europe."

ragazzi: “How huge was the biggest sound sculpture you ever made and for which purpose was it produced?”

S. H.: “I forged a 2.5 meter gong in 1992 in Stainless Steel. It weighed 155 kilos and took a month to hammer out. This may have been the worlds biggest gong. This was made for the Amorphus project in Denmark which featured The Large Hot Pipe Organ by Bastiaan Marris. The giant high voltage Arc Harp by Barry Schwartz and Robotics by Chico Mcmurtrie. Someone called up the Guiness book of records, but they were not interested in the gong."

ragazzi: “Where can one buy your instruments?”

S. H.: “Best to buy from me direct. Although there are some other options. Red Biddy Gallery in Guildford in England usually have some of my work and then whatever gallery I may be exhibiting in Europe."

ragazzi: “If someone wants you to fabricate the instruments of his dreams - what do you need to realize them; descriptions, drawings or something else?”

S. H.: “Well, I only really work with my own creations. If someone came and asked me to make a piece they have designed I'd need to have drawings, ideas, descriptions and if it looked feasible I could do it."

ragazzi: “Can your instruments be heard on any recordings?”

S. H.: “About 20 CD's that I've done in the last years. I only perform on my own creations and that includes the sticks and mallets. Metal Moves is my main group. I formed them to only perform my music on my creations. The first CD Runecarver is released on FMR in England and I have 2 newer CD's waiting to be released, Illuminator and Nine Lamps. Then there are quite a few ECM recordings that have my sounds. Terje Rypdal's Skywards features many of my cymbals and metal percussion. Jan Garbarek had Marilyn Mazur in his band for many years and she has an extensive collection of my work. Quite a lot of Norwegian, British and American Drummers play my cymbals."

ragazzi: “Do you think it is possible to create music for entertaining and healing the audience? In other words: Are the musicians the shamans of modern spirit?”

S. H.: “Yes. It does depend on the player. If one performs with a certain intent on instruments that are in harmony with this intent, then yes, amazing things can happen. Also the opposite can be true. So it depends on who, why and the instrumentation. If the instruments are forged by hand with the craft of someone who has spent a long time learning and has a love and passion for life, then this will be evident. If an instrument is machine made in a factory, then this will give a more mundane energy."

ragazzi: “Do you think it is possible to produce instruments that are able to work on the chakras in order to relax or energize the player and maybe the listeners too?”

S. H.: “Yes. Gongs especially work well for this. However, I actually do not conciously work on creations for their Chakra energies. However, the gongs I create all have very powerful Chakra energies that almost everyone can feel."

Frank Bender