Masley, Michael

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Masley, Michael

Masley, Michael, American instrumentalist, composer, and instrument maker; b. Trenton, Mich., Sept. 22, 1952. He studied creative writing at Northwestern Mich. Coll. (1970–72), and in 1973 began working with hammer dulcimer player Bob Spinner, who became a mentor. He played using traditional 2-hammer technique until 1979, and during months at a fishing lodge in northern Mich., he developed a 10-fingered “fingerhammer” technique. In 1982 he engaged the dulcimer maker William Webster of Detroit to make him a cymbalom; he added sections of violin bow to the finger hammers in 1983, creating his unique “bowhammers.” In 1982 he moved to Palo Alto, Calif., where he met guitarist Barry Cleveland (1983) with whom he performed as the duo Thin Ice, releasing the recordings Thin Ice Live (1984) and 1st Frost (1985). He also played on Cleveland’s later albums, Mythos (1986) and Voluntary Dreaming (1990). In 1985 he settled in Berkeley, Calif. His own recordings include Cymbalom Songs (1985), The Moment’s River (1987), Bells & Shadows (1989), Mystery Loves Company (1990), Sky Blues (1992), and Life in the Vast Lane (1993); also the compilation Mystery Repeats Itself (1994). His innovative cymbalom technique enables the player to strike, bow, or pluck notes with all 10 fingers in any combination. The resulting timbrai distinctions are used to create unusually complex contrapuntal textures for a solo instrument, to which he often adds pitched and tunable percussion instruments.

—Nicolas Slonimsky/Laura Kuhn/Dennis McIntire

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