Tuesday, 13 May 2014

The Weirdest Instruments Ever Made

by Julia Alsop

As an easily amused musician, I can say, one of the most exciting things to do is to find weird instruments. Ones that seem to have, seemingly, little purpose other than just the novelty of trying to make some form of music from are the most intriguing, and I thought I’d share a few of my favourites to show you all, so you can have a little revision-break giggle.

 1)     Geophone

This is probably the most serious one on the list. The Geophone was invented by the Twentieth Century composer Olivier Messiaen, and was a percussion instrument – a drum filled with lead pellets which, when shook, was meant to represent the sound of dry earth or sand shifting around, and is most famously used in his piece “Des Canyons aux etoiles’. To me it kind of sounds like a wind machine crossed with a sand storm, but I guess that was what he was going for.

A Geophone used in a 2008 production of ‘Des Canyons aux etoiles’

2)     Pyrophone

The Pyrophone, (also know as a fire or gas organ) in which notes are produced by heating glass tubes with flames, causing them to vibrate a produce a pitch. The sound produced sounds flute-like, or perhaps similar to when you put your finger on the rim of a wine glass. I don’t think any music has actually been properly written for it… put there’s always room for a first?

3)     Vegetable Orchestra

Okay, perhaps that’s not a specific instrument – but where weird instruments are concerned they probably take the cookie, or errr, courgette? The Vienna Vegetable have become reasonably well-known in the last few years since videos of their performances have gone up on the Internet. From carrot recorders, to pumpkins drums, and everything in between, they’ll try it. They have to create instruments for every time they perform because, of course, the vegetables won’t keep, and the orchestra members are constantly looking for new sounds they can make from the instruments. This video has some more information on them and shows some of the playing and instrument creation, it makes me tempted to go and raid the cupboards in the kitchen now…

I hope you’ve learnt a bit more about weird instruments – maybe you’ll try to make one yourself. I’ll leave you with this video of a man playing some Christmas tunes on the nose flute.

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