For Alex Pardee’s most recent show, Vertigo, he asked me to build one of the “props” he’d have displayed along side his new paintings.
When Alex does a solo show, he also writes an insanely detailed story to go along with the theme of the show. For his show “Vertigo”, he had the idea of a Nightmare Hunter that traveled the globe hunting nightmares that terrorized villages. The main character, Verti Parker, uses a custom music box that plays a series of notes which causes the nightmare to materialize. You can read more about the story here: Verti Parker site
Most importantly, we wanted the music box to be realistic and built in a manner that all the components were practical. We sat down and tried to figure out every detail of the box. How would Verti carry it? Is he right handed? What kind of materials does he have to work with? How old is the box? How would he carry it on his expeditions? How would he change the musical notes? We did some simple sketches and quickly decided on a design and size that seemed practical for Verti.
At first I tried looking for pre-made jewelry boxes or music boxes that I could easily deconstruct and use as a starting point to elaborate on. Nothing seemed to work right, and since time and cost were an issue, I decided to buy raw wood and build the entire box myself - this would ensure that the design would be 100% original. I don't have much of a background in woodworking, in fact, my only real experience was when I took Woodshop 1A in junior high - I built a wooden deer and got a C+. But hey, I figured this would be easy, its just a cube, right?
After cutting the initial sides of the box, I started building a cradle for all the exposed gears that would eventually be on the left side of the box. I wanted to have the gears look like they were coming deep from within the box, so I made the cradle about 3” deep and started stacking up clock parts, old door locks and other random brass metal objects. With the interior wood stained dark, it helped the illusion.
I assembled the box, leaving one side open so I could tighten anything that had to be bolted or screwed in from the outside.
I approached each side of the box a little differently. On the right hand side, I used the crank of an old spice grinder. We had the idea that Verti would be able to change different handles out to achieve different sounds.
For the speaker, I used an mason jar lid and a strainer. I painted them black and used Metallic Brass and some sandpaper to give it an older antiqued look. Like the crank, we wanted Verti to be able to change the speakers out.
I scratched some tick marks into the back. We figured that Verti would like to keep track of each nightmare he defeated.
I stuck a clock in the top. The idea was that Verti had to start playing the melody at certain times for an exact duration to lure the nightmare out.
The handle and trigger are, in my opinion, what really transformed the music box into a more of a offensive instrument. Verti is now able to easily aim the box in different directions while controlling the pitch with the trigger.
I also put together the luggage that the box would go into. We figured that the box would travel in its own special suitcase when Verti would go on his hunts. I liked the idea of him being able to assemble the music box - much like a rooftop sniper would put his gun together before a kill. As you can see, my cat approves.
I used an existing piece of luggage and built all the interior compartments. I put tools and spare parts on the lower section of the luggage and tiny jars with “relics” on the inside lid. We liked the idea of Verti taking a souvenir from each of his nightmare adventures. I also hid a mp3 player and speakers in the lining of the luggage that would loop a creepy melody.
And that's it! We built a little stand for the box to sit on, and it all fit together quite nicely.