Here’s a piece by Trevor Cox in The Guardian featuring ten very strange musical instruments. Fancy playing one of these?!
The 10 strangest musical instruments
- The Guardian, Tuesday 21 January 2014
1 The Great Stalacpipe Organ
Leland W Sprinkle was an electronic engineer whose day job was at the Pentagon. Sprinkle spent three years, armed with a small hammer, a tuning fork and an angle-grinder, searching for good-sounding stalactites in Luray Caverns, Virginia, and then altering them so they played in tune. The resulting organ can play 37 different notes, with the reverberance of the cave adding an ethereal quality.
2 The Blackpool High Tide Organ
There are only a few examples of permanent sonic art in the world, and three of them are wave organs – in San Francisco, Zadar in Croatia, and Blackpool. The Blackpool one uses church organ pipes, through which air is forced by the ebb and flow of waves. The music depends on the vigour of the sea. Sometimes it moans and groans; sometimes it resembles a lazy orchestra of train whistles – or a slow-motion replay of a nightmare recorder lesson.
3 The road that plays Rossini
Just outside the city of Lancaster in California is a road that plays Rossini’s William Tell Overture. Made by Honda, it’s a bit like those rumble strips that line major roads and create a rattling noise should drivers veer off – except, thanks to the spacing of the ridges, this turns the rumble into a melody. Closeup ridges give a high note, further apart lowers the frequency.
4 Musical ice
Link to video: Norway’s Ice Music FestivalTerje Isungset, a Norwegian drummer and composer, makes instruments out of ice extracted from frozen lakes by chainsaw. His ice trumpet flares dramatically outward and has a primitive sound, like a hunting horn. The ice xylophone evokes like the clinking of an empty wine bottle being struck with a soft mallet. Any old ice won’t do: only the right microscopic structure will create a beautiful ringing.
5 The Cat Piano
Athanasius Kircher, a 17th-century German Jesuit scholar, documented some fantastical devices including the Katzenklavier (“cat piano”). It has a normal keyboard in front of a line of cages, each of which has a cat trapped inside. When a key is pressed, a nail is driven into the tail of one unfortunate feline, which naturally screeches. It was designed to shock psychiatric patients into changing their behaviour, rather than be something Monteverdi could be played on. Fortunately, it was probably never built.
6 Aeolus Acoustic Wind Pavilion
Aeolus is a 10-tonne instrument created by artist Luke Jerram. Long wires stretch from poles to a large metal arch. Each wire vibrates in the wind; the sound is then amplified by pipes. The result is an eerie, pulsing sound like a minimalist piece of music by composer Steve Reich in which tones come and go depending on the wind.
7 The Musical Stones of Skiddaw
Queen Victoria heard performances of Handel, Mozart and Rossini on this large stone xylophone, which took Joseph Richardson 13 years to construct out of hornfels slate from the Lake District. The vast lithophone currently resides in the Keswick Museum and Art Gallery in Cumbria, where visitors are encouraged to play it. Some stones ring beautifully, like a wooden xylophone; others make more of a thunk, like a beer bottle being struck with a stick.
8 The Singing Ringing Tree
The Singing Ringing Tree, near Burnley. Photograph: Trevor Cox SalfordFound high above Burnley on the Pennine moors, this 3m-high sculptureuses the prevailing westerly winds blowing across the ends of the pipes to generate discordant and haunting sounds to accompany the view from Crown Point. It was designed by architects Mike Tonkin and Anna Liu in 2006 and won a Royal Institute of British Architects award.
9 The Gastown Steam Clock
The Westminster Chimes ringing out from Big Ben are a familiar sound. A breathy version of the same tune is played by this clock in the streets of Vancouver, with notes created by steam forced through whistles. Based on a design from 1875, the whistles get their steam from underground pipes that heat downtown buildings. A plaque proclaims: “The world’s first steam-powered clock has been created for the enjoyment of everyone.”
10 The Vegetable Orchestra
Totally tubular … the Vienna Vegetable Orchestra rock out in Prague. Photograph: Isifa Image Service/Rex FeaturesA surprisingly diverse range of musical instruments can be made from vegetables, including pan-pipes, recorders and clarinets made from carrots. While these instruments can carry a tune, they mostly fail to create a pleasing sound. A notable exception are the instruments created by the Vegetable Orchestra of Vienna, who play concerts all over the world – and then, at the end, give audiences fresh vegetable soup.