Homemade for Homegrown: Tim Kaiser’s tinkering

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Tim Kaiser has been tinkering for 40 years.

In his basement workshop Tuesday afternoon, he was fashioning a thumb piano or kalimba out of a Geiger counter, a device used to measure radiation.

"I build unusual instruments and whatnot," Kaiser said. "I have customers all over the world, really."

His workshop is filled with finds from flea markets and surplus stores. But he’ll use pretty much anything, as long as it either looks or sounds good.

"So this is spring steel stock. This is what the keys for the kalimba will be made of," Kaiser held up a thin piece of metal. "And I get these from different places. Leaf rakes often have just the right kind of metal."

His website calls his instruments "gonkulations and acousto-electric contraptions." Once he finishes building one, he brings it upstairs to his home studio, plugs in an amp, and tests it out.

There, you’ll also find instruments like a spring bass made out of piano strings, curtain rod springs, and a gear from a snowmobile track.

Kaiser started on the guitar and says he has a basic understanding of most stringed instruments. He is part of the group Big Science, which played Homegrown Monday night, and is playing his own set Friday. His music is about layering sounds.

"It’s not music in the traditional melody-rhythm sense," he said. "To me, I’m creating a sound environment, a sonic environment."

He was inspired by classes in college that looked at sound from a physics standpoint.

"Anybody that wants to kind of experience a period of time that’s different than just a 4-4 drum beat, I’m your guy," he said.

He tours the country making music.

"I only play a few times a year in Duluth. Homegrown’s my big one," he said. "And the rest of the time, I’m playing out of state. But I’m a hardcore Duluthian. I love it here. And there’s a fantastic scene in its own right here in Duluth."

He says Homegrown showcases not just the talent but the community.

"It’s more than like a big party for a week. It’s a celebration for a week," Kaiser said. "I mean, just when people are like, ‘Hey, happy Homegrown!,’ you know, it’s like ‘Merry Christmas!’ It’s the same kind of thing. And I love that."

Kaiser plays at 6:30 p.m. Friday at the Annex du Nord.