Moondog's Corner Main Page

Moondog's Instruments

Square Drums

"In Salt Lake City, I got some leather skins from an artifical limb place, and built a set of square drums out of some piano boards. I did this in the men's room at the Salt Lake police station. In fact, one of the traffic cops helped me nail it together."
(in: Oo, That Frantic Snaketime by Leonard Feather, Downbeat, July 1, 1953)

(in: There's a Stranger in Town by James H. Payne,
20. August, 1949, Argus photo)

Sometimes he steps over to speak an encouraging word to a Cornish game hen, setting in a basket built of twigs, log-cabin style. Sometimes he squats with his square drum and lets its single head speak for the startled study of redbirds.
(in: Community Crossroads by Ben Kizer, ca. 1950, Easton Express Photo)

He carries with him a set of "bongo drums," claves, drumsticks and a flute.
(in: Blind 'Snake Rhythm' Composer, Syracuse Post Standard, Sept. 14, 1949)

The drums, too, are square and covered with a heavy rawhide. They have a distinct, characteristic tone not shared by ordinary round drums, he says… Moondog's drums are not played like the conventional drum. He sets them on their sides on the floor, places a rectangular teakwood block atop one of them and begins his strange, steady beat of opposites, the heavy thud of the rawhide contrasted with the rich clink oft he teakwood. In the left hand a maraca adds a softer, sifting rhythm. (in: Blind Composer … , ca. 1950)

Louis "Moondog" Hardin, … last night demonstrated his new rhythm creation on two square tom-toms for Rawlins residents… Tilting his bearded face forward over the square drums, which, incidentally he beats with a pair of round-beaded sticks, Hardin explained further his revolutionary rhythm. (in: Moondog hopes … , ca. 1949)

You can hear the weird music of a bearded blind man named Moondog as he huddles against the side of a dark building beating his strange square drum. (in: Main Stem Madcaps by Dorothy Kilgallen, Saturday Home Journal, September 2, 1950)

Changing from square to triangle

Moondog plays an appalling variety of instruments of his own and more classically accepted design. He created his percussion pieces in triangular shapes because square instruments, he said, warp; and Moondog lives outdoors all the time. He sleeps on a 6th ave. rooftop daytimes and performs in concert in doorways from 10 p.m. until dawn.
(in: Moondog's Euphonies by Jack O'Brian, New York Journal American, June 4, 1952)

Trimba - Dragon's Teeth

These are Moondog's instruments:
Triangular drums, an object like a shoeshine box, round gourds, a cymbal, sticks, bells, and a cowhorn.

One original creation is the trimba, a series of ten drums, triangular in shape, used in graduated sizes. Moondog has used the trimba in recordings to introduce rhythms of snaketime.
(in: Moondog, People Magazine, March 7, 1956)

Moondog with Trimba (and Oo)

(in: Rhythme, 1954, 15 Oct., Jazztime U.S.A)

His trimbas, or drums, are triangular in shape and made mostly of mule or goat skin stretched over mahogany. A set of trimbas are called "dragon's teeth". Although the dragon's teeth were built by a cabinet maker, the rest of the instruments were manufactured by Moondog himself. (in: Moondog; Study In Snaketime, by Donald Dunkerly, ca. 1953)

Moondog in Schweden, 1986, Photo: Stefan Lakatos

Dragon's Teeth: This number serves
to introduce the trimba, a series of
ten drums, triangular in shape, used
in graduated sizes.
(LP Moondog and his Friends,
10" Epic LG 1002, 1954)

The Oo

Photo: Moondog and his wife Suzuko, Philly,1955

… the "oo," a triangular 25-stringed harp, … (in: Records: Moondog, by John Briggs, NY Times, 1953)

What's an oo? "A harp-like affair with a triangular frame and sounding board; it can be tuned anyway I like - happen to be pentatonic at the moment, but I change it often. It's played with claves, using a teeter-totter technique that gives bounce; mostly offbeat playing against drums' onbeat playing."
(in: Oo, That Frantic Snaketime, by Leonard Feather, Downbeat, July 1,1953)

His wife ran a thumbnail across a homemade harp of wooden quarter-inch dowels instead of strings and produced an uncanny but musical sighing sound. (in: 'Moondog' in Debut, by Paul V. Beckley, NY Herald Tribune, 1953)

Moondog was playing, with his right hand, a percussion instrument of his own devising, and with the other, an equally unusual stringed instrument, which he calls an "Oo." The stringed instrument is an equilateral triangle with piano strings uned to a seven-note scale with two augmented seconds. Moondog played it with a clavis, a wooden affair not unlike a pharmacist's pestle. (in: Moondog's Euphonies, by Jack O'Brian)

The Tuji - The Utsu - The Uni

EP Cover (ori: Dan Grossi,1953),
In the front from left: Trimba, Tuji, Utsu
In Moondogs left hand: A clave, playing the Oo
Behind right: Uni

The Tuji An instrument with nine tuned wooden pegs
(in: Records: Moondog, by John Briggs, NY Times 1953)

Sometimes, with a thing he (Moondog) calls a tuji, he creates a darting rattle like that of an angry Western diamond back.
(in: 'Moondog' in Debut, by Paul V. Beckley, NY Herald Tribune, 1953)

The Utsu A rudimentary keyboard instrument tuned to the pentatonic scale G-A-B-D-E
(the same intervals as the black keys on the piano). (in: Records: Moondog, by John Briggs, NY Times, 1953)

The Utzu is a small keyboard device tuned to the five note Chinese scale.
(in: Moondog; Study In Snaketime …, ca. 1953)

Utsu, Suzuko plays the Utsu in 5-4 time.
Introducing the Utsu, a small, keyboard instrument in the 5-tone scale.
(EP On the Streets of New York, Mars, 1953)

The Uni The Uni (short for unsison) has guitar like strings all tuned to the same pitch.
(in: Moondog; Study In Snaketime by Donald Dunkerly, ca. 1953)

Chant, introducing the Uni (7 strings in unison). A pedal point to a two part round for voice and Utsu in 1-2 time.
(EP On the Streets of New York, Mars, 1953)

The uni is a seven-stringed instrument that can be plucked like a harp, struck with a mallet, like a piano, or played with a bow. (10" LP Moondog and Friends, 1954)

A seven-stringed zither (in: Records: Moondog by John Briggs, NY Times, 1953)

"The uni is based on the word unsison. I use it as a pedal point or drone bass to music written in a 5-, 6- or 7-tone scale. You can strum the seven strings like a harp, hit them with a mallet, or you can get a weird sound and many harmonics by playing them with a double bass bow. The strings are made of piano wire."
(in: Oo, That Frantic Snaketime by Leonard Feather, Downbeat, July 1,1953)

The Samisen

EP Moondog On The Streets Of New York
Cover Photo by Benn Michell
In front: Trimba
Left: Stick with one string (Samisen?)

A single-stringed, bowed instrument of Japan
(in: Records: Moondog, by John Briggs, NY Times, May 31st, 1953)

"The samisen, as far as I could gather, is a kind of portis on the franistan, which can be glaviolated with artificial snerbs."
(in: Oo, That Frantic Snaketime, by Leonard Feather, Downbeat, July 1,1953)

Lullaby (2 West 46th Street), Suzuko sings in three octaves against Samisen, etc.
(EP On the Streets of New York, Mars, 1953)

Hexagonal Drums

(in: Moondog - rosad särling, by Måns Wallgren, ,
21. - 28. Maj, 1988, Dagens Nyheter, Sweden)

(in: Die Straße gibt ihm die nötige Stimulanz, hol., 6.6.1975 WAZ, Germany)

From the Guestbook Archive: willem wittstamm, 13.08.2008

I was happy enough to live with moondog for a while in our Hexenhäuschen in Recklinghausen, leading him to the streets corner where he spent his day reciting and drumming. Quotation: "came to germany to bring you back the drumming". Never forget the big "Hagall-drum" we played on winter solstice. Really blew me away! The skin was from the Recklinghausen slaughterhouse, he had spend days and nights in our bathroom cleaning the bloody skin with knife and salt, what a mess, what a smell, what a character. We always invited him to our hippie feasts, he played the drum like hell, then suddenly layed down, slept deep in the middle of the orgie, woke up, played on. More info on demand, greetings willem

Troubadour Harp

"He stopped at Madison where he had a troubadour harp made for him by a couple of musical instrument makers there."
(in: Moondog brings his poetry to campus, by E.J. Birdie, The Marquette Tribune, Milwaukee, Wis., September 20, 1972)

(in: Moondog Gets a Harp and A Very Warm Feeling, by Emily C. Bucher, Capital Times, September 20, 1972)

When he thumbed his way to Madison last month to promote his records, he found far more than increased sales - for as Moondog left last week, he was in "very delighted" possession of a unique troubadour harp, made for him by young local musicians … Soon after his arrival in Madison, Moondog said, he was sitting under a crabapple tree on the Library Mall when two young fans wandered up. He discovered in the course of the conversation that Glen Johnson and Dan Hecht, both classical guitar teachers, also made and repaired musical instruments in their farm commune at 7301 Old Sauk Road in Madison. Moondog confided to them a dream he had been nursing for two years, and the two responded by offering to develop the prototype of what Moondog hopes to promote as a new kind of troubadour harp. Johnson and Hecht designed Moondog's harp smaller and lighter than the standard troubadour harp, to make it truly portable. It is played on the knees instead of standing on the floor, and has 27 strings as opposed to 33 on the standard model. Other innovations include changed wood grain direction on the sounding board, and easily available guitar strings replacing harp strings. The instrument made of oak and top-quality imported aged spruce, weighs about 20 pounds.