December 28, 2005

What Price Creativity?

Filed under: Art and About Me — admin @ 2:39 pm

Sometimes I drive myself crazy with the need to be creative. I value original thought and creative expression so highly that the compulsion to honor these impulses often tromps practicality, pragmatism and rationality to the point of certifiable insanity.

A recent and arguably most insane example began last May when I was stripping grass paper from a hallway off our entry. The hallway housed a large, 50-year-old door chime, covered in matching grass paper to “conceal it.” The chime offended my aesthetic sensibilities and I took it down, intending to easily replace it on a trip to Home Depot.

Wrong. Everything at Home Depot that didn’t look ugly, sounded ugly. I turned to the Internet.

I Googled “doorbells” and hundreds of sites came up. Looking at the vast array of door chimes, it dawned on me that this could be an opportunity put a personal stamp on the experience of entering our home. I wanted to find a chime that could greet visitors with the strains of my favorite music programmed into it. This door chime is located in a public area so it also had to look as good as it sounded.

I found a company called Doorbell Expressions that made an oak unit with a faceplate that could be custom engraved with any design. The guts of the unit was a tiny computer that recorded 12 seconds of music. I placed my order. The custom faceplate would have the Comedy/Tragedy theater masks logo, our unofficial family crest.

It took two months for our new door chime to arrive. For eight weeks straight my mom asked me if our doorbell was working yet. When the chime finally arrived, it looked great but we quickly discovered the little unit couldn’t handle the rich range of frequencies produced by an orchestra. What we got was more static noise than music. Then we remembered the single-instrument introductions of the characters in “Peter and the Wolf. The mellow clarinet of the cat theme recorded beautifully. We hung the doorchime, pushed the bell and nothing happened. We re-wired and tried again. Nothing.

Rich at Doorbell Expressions conferred with his doorchime engineer and they hypothesized that our 50-year-old, two-wire system was incompatible with their unit. But they did not give up. After two weeks, the engineer sent drawings of a way to re-wire the unit without tearing into our walls. It worked — for four days. Then the music started playing uncontrollably by itself. I unhooked it from the wires, but that darn cat theme looped itself into eternity. I had to kill it to make it stop.

Rich told me to send the doorchime to Jim in Iowa, whose company made the unit. I sent the chime off and waited for two months. They eventually found a software glitch and repaired it. I got the chime back in a box postmarked Kansas City, Missouri. This was a well-traveled door chime.

Impatient to wait for a break in my husband’s schedule to help me record the cat theme sound bite, I decided to play the notes myself on the piano. After all, I took 10 years of piano lessons and it was time I put them to good use. It worked — for four days. Once again, I had to kill it. I was frustrated, angry and even shed a few tears. I chanted, “don’t sweat the small stuff.” I blamed the old house wiring. I blamed the new computer technology. I blamed Rich and Jim.

Jim graciously repaired the unit one more time. Upon its return, it worked for four days. Jim said he’d replace the unit with a new one, which he sent promptly. It lasted for 13 days, but only after my husband replaced our doorbell, thinking that might be the problem.

With a heavy heart, we returned the doorchime to Rich and Jim, but kept the faceplate as a souvenir. Google helped me find another programmable unit that isn’t outwardly artistic but sounds nice. Our current doorchime transformer isn’t powerful enough to get a whole tune out with one push of the button, but that’s easily fixable. The unit made a clunky debut over the holidays when the transformer could only manage to power two notes of a song with each push of the doorbell as the relatives came over for a visit. But those two notes made people smile, although I don’t know if they were amused, bemused or confused.

Was it worth all the time, extra expense and frustration just to have a few seconds of personalized music? As soon as they let me out of my padded cell, I’ll let you know.