Gear

Harrison Krix Made the Holophonor from 'Futurama'

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FUTURAMA HOLOPHONOR

Harrison Krix
 makes space guns for a living. One of his most recent toys is a musical instrument you might recognize from Futurama: the HolophonorAs a nod to the Futurama episode “The Devil’s Hands are Idle Playthings,” the Holophonor is an instrument from the 30th century which is very difficult to play. In Futurama, Fry plays it to try and win over Leela's heart (he makes a deal with the Robot Devil to get the robotic hands to play it).

Krix is not a robot himself, but he must have super hands to make an instrument like this—the whole DIY process step-by-step is here on his blog. The Holophonor is equipped with 52 LED lights in a clarinet salvaged from a thrift shop. Now, it's a glowing sci-fi musical masterpiece in a Canadian household.

Krix is a graphic designer and prop maker from Atlanta. The prop making began as a hobby in 2007 and grew into a profession through Halloween, creating props from video games and sci-fi because, as Krix notes, "Everyone loves a good fantasy rifle." Some of his masterpieces are commissioned (like the Holophonor, as you'll see below), while others are created just for fun. All in all, everything takes hours to build and is a unique, handcrafted collection of creations. Dude in his garage building stuff, simple as that. Looking at his portfolio, Krix has created a Daft Punk Thomas helmet, too. Here, he took some time out to talk about the clarinet, LED light shows, and everything in between.

HOLOPHONOR FUTURAMA

Noisey: Typically, you make space guns for a living. Why did you decide on a musical instrument?

Harrison: I'm drawn to anything from science fiction, really. My traditional fare is space guns and the like, though I've also done some more middle-age type axes and swords, along with shields, helmets and armour too. I draw a lot of inspiration from videogames, and a lot of videogames involve combat, so I suppose I end up looking like some intergalactic time traveling arms dealer. But the Holophonor is a unique artefact from the sci-fi world. A lot of series will focus, again, on the combat. You get a lot of fancy ray guns and scanning equipment, but here was a musical instrument that had capabilities unlike anything else in our time; it's a holographic projector and orchestra rolled into one. I'm a big Futurama fan, and the innovation that show displays with regard to future items is really inspiring. I haven't seen many Futurama themed replicas, and I thought the Holophonor would be great to bring into the real world. Making space guns is fun, but every now and again I like a bit of an off-the-wall project to stretch out a bit. I'd never disassembled a clarinet before this project. I'm fairly sure I never want to do it again.

Harrison, tell us the story about how you got your hands on this fine secondhand clarinet.
Ugh, that thing was more grime than instrument by the time it got to me. It was a "Vito" brand clarinet. I don't know much about woodwind instruments, but I can tell when something is manufactured as cheaply as possible, and this was a student-grade clarinet. I'm pretty sure the poor thing did time in a middle school band somewhere, probably making that loop two or seven times as kids got older and the clarinet was pawned off again and again. I found it on Craigslist, listed for sale in a sad shopping center at a store labeled only "Thrift Shop." The list price was $70, and even came with three "claimed new" reeds! Disassembly should have featured a hazmat suit and an eyewash station; I have my doubts that it had ever been cleaned at all. I expect we saved that little clarinet from another pass through the hands of a 6th grade aspiring musician.

How new is the holophonor?
The Vito itself had a stamped manufacture date in 1998, but my own project was completed in June of this year. I started around March, and I typically work on three or four things at once. I've had the idea forever though, since the Holophonor first made its appearance on Futurama in season two or three. I guess that would have been 2003 or so. You could say it's been kicking around in my head for quite a while.

How long did it take you to finish and did it cost a lot in supplies?
Somewhere between five and six weeks worth of actual work. I'm terrible about tracking my hours on a project and I typically just work until I pass out every day. I wouldn't say the supply cost was large, but there were a few things that tipped the budget scales a bit. Starting with a pre-assembled base helped a lot, though it did need to be modified quite a bit. Aside from the LEDs, the largest expense was the paint. I went with a two-stage lacquer to make sure all the painted keys were as durable as possible.

What other materials did you use? I see you’ve used 54 LED lights.
Mostly urethane resins and some styrene plastic. Nothing terribly exotic. There is an Arduino (a custom programmable microcontroller) that lives inside the bell and tells all the lights what to do. There's also about 50 feet of wire bundled inside that feeds signal and power from the controller to each LED and the batteries. I wish I could claim I used something a bit more exotic, but really it's nothing more expensive or unique than the throw-away vacuum formed plastic packaging that we see every day.

Does Futurama know you’ve done this? They really should know (unless that’s bad).
I actually ran into Phil Lamarr (who voices Hermes Conrad on the show) at Dragon*Con this year and was able to sit and chat with him a bit about the series. I had the chance to show some photos to him and he seemed pretty impressed, so that's a plus! Aside from that I haven't heard from anyone at Futurama, though apparently the guy in charge of FOX licensing—as I found out in an email recently—is a fan of my Facebook page. He liked it too, and it's always a relief when the copyright holders tell you "good job" instead of "knock it off."

FUTURAMA HOLOPHONOR

Does your holophonor play the same tune Fry plays in the show, does it play at all?

Unfortunately no. The main body of the clarinet contains a battery holder with three AAAs inside, effectively blocking any air passing through the lower half of the instrument. Even without that there the lower bell is sealed with a big squiggly lighted piece of clear acrylic, so there's still nowhere for air to go. As far as a speaker and sound effects go, sometimes that can be a cool trick and sometimes it comes off as a cheesy gimmick. I chose to leave sound out of this particular replica because any attempt would just be a poor imitation of what the conceptual instrument is capable of. The light show is cool enough, to me at least.

Who commissioned the holophonor? Does it have plans to travel somewhere special, like a movie or a museum, or was it created just for personal passion?
I have a client in Canada who actually owns several of my replicas. As it turns out I'm currently making him a scale Planet Express ship model to go with his collection right now. I don't think it has any grand appearance plans—though it would certainly be surreal to see my work in a museum someday—but knowing he's happy with the purchase and it's displayed proudly is all I need to know. I think he's just like me: a big fan of the series who likes to see fanciful things brought out into the world.

Do you plan on making more wonky, weird musical instruments? I sure hope so.
Oddly, and without any real reason, I've always wanted to make a shamisen. I have absolutely zero musical aptitude and don't have much interest in learning to play one, but the construction techniques and process of building a simple string instrument has always been a project on my to do list. I need to get a bit better woodworking equipment in my shop before I can make the attempt, but it's definitely in the "someday" pile. 

Nadja interviews crazy-awesome music inventors on a pretty regular basis. She's on Twitter - @NadjaSayev.

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