Buzz-a-Phone

Buzz-a-Phone

feb08b(1993-01-85) Donated by Carroll Bratman

The Buzz-a-Phone was built by the legendary New York xylophonist, percussionist, and recording artist William “Billy” Dorn. The provenance of this unique instrument is confirmed by Bob Ayers, who remembers seeing Dorn working on it in his studio/shop in New Jersey. Following Dorn’s death in 1971, Michael Rosen recalls that Carroll Bratman bought the entire collection of exotic instruments from Dorn’s widow. Phil Kraus remembers using the instrument for several radio advertisement jingles and on the RCA album Percussion – Playful and Plenty, where it is called a “Buzzimba.”

Dorn’s Buzz-a-Phone is comprised of twenty wooden “keys,” each designed as an elongated box, open on one end and closed on the other. Opposite sides of each key extend from the box-like construction on the open end, with the top extension serving as the “striking” or “vibrating” bar and the bottom as a mounting surface. The closed box functions as a resonating chamber. Mounted in the closed end of each key is a circular membrane that buzzes as the key is struck, creating a sound similar to the “tela” found in Guatemalan “buzzing” marimbas.

The instrument is constructed in a chromatic keyboard configuration and mounted on a wheeled frame, with a 1 1/2-octave range from F to C. Each key measures 2 1/2 x 2 1/2 inches in width and depth; the shortest is 8 1/2 inches long, and the longest key is 25 inches. The frame is 45 inches wide and 32 inches deep and stands 48 inches in height. For storage, the keyboard rotates to a vertical position.