When you were a kid, maybe you played with the spring doorstop. I know I did. Maybe you play with it now. I know I do. Anyway, here's The Electric Spring Doorstop, which is, as the kids say, totally awesome.
If you've got 20,000 to 30,000 bucks burning a hole in your pocket, you might consider purchasing the world's first electronic music synthesizer: the Helmholtz, which is up for auction.
A holophonor? Only a few people in the
whole universe can play that. And they're
not very good at it.
A holophonor? Only a few people in the
whole universe can play that. And they're
not very good at it.
Fly Me to the Moon on Otamatone. What is an Otamatone? It's a cute little musical toy that sings. Also: Otamatone metal. [more inside]
It's not so often that a new acoustic musical instrument is invented that really makes you go "wow!", but the Wheelharp might just make you go "double wow!" [more inside]
As American men went off to war during World War II, women stepped in to fill the jobs they left behind, keeping the factories and shipyards running, and the economy humming. While most were praised for their patriotism, one unheralded group of women worked in the shadows building Gibson guitars. The maker of the famous instrument never confirmed that women crafted its guitars during the war, and in an official company history, even reported it stopped producing instruments for those years. But now the time has come to shed some new historical light on the Kalamazoo Gals. [more inside]
I just stumbled upon some Thai music performed on an instrument I hadn't heard of until just now. But the curious machine-gun rhythm patterns are kinda rocking my world. It was uploaded to YT yesterday, and at the moment has a big FIVE views. And I think two of those are mine. Anyway, here it is: เดี่ยวจะเข้ [ Jakae solo ] : ครูทองดี สุจริตกุล [ Khru Thong-dee Sucharitkul ]. Now, here's another, apparently by the same lady. She's got a seriously percussive, take-no-prisoners approach to the instrument. But in neither of those clips do we see the instrument being played. So I looked around some more, and found this one, and though this guy's style is not quite as, um, *punk*, it's still pretty badass, and you get the visual idea of what the instrument is all about, not to mention the all-important twin-percussion backing. Hope you enjoy this little glimpse into the world of the Thai jakae.
I've been enjoying listening to this German guy playing the German bagpipes. That is, the Hümmelchen. Check out the cool tuning maneuver at the 0:57 mark of this clip for some hot Hümmelchen tuning action! And here he employs a groovy canned beat. Ya! He also dabbles in the Irish pipes, and loans out his workshop on occasion as a spot for some of the locals to get a little wild. Oh, and, of course, he also plays the Rauschpfeife. Yes, the Rauschpfeife. Hören!
Do you need a free library of high-quality, carefully-recorded samples of a wide variety of musical instruments? The University of Iowa Electronic Music Studios' Musical Instrument Samples page has got you covered, from alto flute to violin. [more inside]
Travis Stevens has created the ultimate guitar for Star Wars fans. While the Cargo Bay shows an impressive list of Star Wars-inspired musical gear manufactured by Fernandes Guitars, Stevens' one-of-a-kind instrument is... slightly different. [more inside]
Stadiums in South Africa are currently resounding with the riotous blare of the vuvuzela. And while most of the folks making their joyous noise in the stadiums will be doing so in a basically random fashion, this vuvuzela ensemble is demonstrating the funky hocketing technique that is a feature of certain strains of traditional African music, played for centuries on horns very much like these modern-day plastic versions. Well, anyway, like the shoe ads almost say, just blow it.
The Mellotron features prominently on the 1968 album, The Kinks Are The Village Green Preservation Society, more commonly referred to as The Village Green Preservation Society. The weird, eerie quality of this electronic keyboard, which uses pre-recorded tapes of individual sounds such as strings and woodwind instruments, worked well with singer/songwriter Ray Davies' nostalgic, backwards looking sensibility. [more inside]
Oddstrument is a blog about unusual musical instruments and other interesting acoustic technologies.
It's the middle of August, and chances are pretty good that it's HOT where you are. Let's lend our ears, then, to some of the most cooling music around, from the Indian bansuri. Air conditioning for your soul. [more inside]
Ever heard a chitravina? It's a 21-stringed musical instrument from India, similar in appearance to the more widely-known veena, but with a sonic character all its own, due in large part to the fact that it's fretless, and it's played with a slide. Here's an NPR feature on the instrument's prime exponent, N. Ravikiran. [NOTE: embedded audio on that last link] [more inside]
One fine old day in old LA, in the year of nineteen and sixty, one Frederick Usher met Eddie "One String" Jones, heard him lay down some deep blues on his diddley bow, and was so taken with Jones' monochord masterpieces that he ran home, grabbed his tape recorder and recorded Jones in the alley. One other recording session ensued soon thereafter, which was released as an LP in 1964. By that time, however, the mysterious Eddie Jones (if that was even his real name) was long gone, and was never heard from again. [NOTE: see hoverovers for link descriptions] [more inside]
With a pickup mounted on the body of the instrument just below the strings, Revathy Krishna, KP Sarada and Sivanandam and Jayanthi Kumaresh get an unexpectedly fat sound out of their veena. Rocking! The instrument is more often amplified with a microphone, in which case it sounds more like this performance by D. Balakrishna, who, as you'll hear, ain't no slouch, neither. And here Pichumani gets his groove on, no doubt about it. So, hey, two more raags for the road, courtesy of Rajeswari Padmanabhan. The second tune on her clip, by the way, has got some deep blues in it, so I'm thinking maybe Rajeswari might've been down to the crossroads at midnight... [NOTE: see hoverovers for link descriptions] [more inside]
In addition to violins, violas and cellos, there are also Stradivarius guitars. Two still exist: one in South Dakota and one in the Ashmolean in Oxford (see a reproduction of the Oxford one here). These are Baroque guitars, strung a little like modern ones without the low E string and with the other five strings doubled. Instructions for Baroque guitar. [more inside]
You say you don't like drum machines? Well, here's one even the staunchest Luddite has gotta love. Or you might like some of the recent experiments in making the interfaces more physical. And surely you'll admit this one's really very charming. Wanna go non-Western? Get yer talas out with this tabla machine. It'll be only a matter of time, then, till you get into the whole classical Hindustani gitchtronica thing, which is what the cool kids are into. [NOTE: see hoverovers for link descriptions]
Ever since I first heard mbira from Zimbabwe almost 30 years ago (via this record), I've been a lover of that enchanting, delicate and intricate music. It's only recently, however, that many of us who aren't actually players of the mbira could see just how the instrument is played: Holding the mbira, and scales - Lesson One - Two - Three - Four, and more and more. And here are some recommended mbira players and groups with MySpace Music pages worth checking out: Spirit Talk Mbira - Mbira Oracle - Kunzawa Mbira Group - Joel Laviolette. [more inside]
If you were around between the 1870s and the early 1900s, you were rocking out to the sweet tunes of the organette. Some were ornate wooden boxes played by turning a crank. Cool kids had tiny organette/harmonica hybrids called Rolmonicas that were played by mouth. Other variations included the Celestina, the Musical Casket, the Playasax, the PlaRola, and the Triola mechanical zither among others. Happen to have one? Pull it out of that yard sale! You can still find music for it.
So, you hollow out piece of wood into an oblong bowl shape, and you attach a dowel to it. Stretch a dried animal skin over that, and put some strings on it. Instruments of this general construction and in a range of sizes can be found from Morrocco to Nigeria and everywhere in between. It goes by any number of local names: Malian masters like Bassekou Kouyaté and Cheick Hamala Diabaté call it ngoni. Senegalese Wolof griots like Samba Aliou Guissé call it xalam. And Morroccan gnawa musicians like Hassan Hakmoun and Hamid El Kasri get way funky on the larger version that they call the gimbri or sentir. [not: see hoverovers for link descriptions] [more inside]
There is a small but very dedicated and enthusiastic group of people around the world making music with Nintendo Game Boys and other cheap electronic gadgetry. While many of them are consciously fitting their low-bit sonics into relatively straightforward and predictable dance-oriented forms, some others are taking a rather more whimsical and less predictable approach. One such favorite of mine is the utterly charming, Tokyo-based henna dress. Then there's her alter ego, beta dress. Then there's her 3rd alter ego, CAMEBOY (of GGG) . [more inside]
Dead musical instruments... brought back to life by YouTube? Check out this mellotron demo film, a rare trautonium keyboard in some guy's garage, trautonium music by composer Oskar Sala, an original Ondes Martenot, a documentary on the telharmonium (parts 1, 2, and 3), and the Sonovox (used to funny but not-suitable-for-work effect in this parody of Sparky's Magic Piano). Meanwhile, avant-gardists have revived the art of prepared piano, but more mainstream acts such as Tori Amos and Ferrante & Teicher have also experimented with it. Last but not least, another performer of prepared piano is Margaret Leng Tan, but I think she should get more accolades as the best virtuoso of the toy piano since Schroeder from Peanuts.
"There are literally millions of tone qualities and endless shades of dynamic level available on the Hammond organ." [more inside]
When Maurice Martenot met Lev Sergeivich Termen in the early 1920's and heard his revolutionary new musical instrument the Theremin, he was inspired to create his own electroacoustic instrument , which he christened Ondes Martenot. Next year will mark the 80th anniversary of the first performance of this remarkable hybrid keyboard which, aside from its lovely and ethereal sound, is also aesthetically pleasing visually, with its handsome collection of multiple speakers. See and hear the instrument being played and explained in this video interview and demonstration by Jean Laurendeau, which closes with a lovely rendition of the theme from Star Trek. And, here's the instrument in use, live, alongside who else? Radiohead. [more inside]
Musical saw. Musical saw. Musical saw. Musical saw. Musical saw. Musical saw. Musical saw. Musical saw. Musical saw. [more inside]
In 1975, armed with a big pile of 8-track car stereos and a whole lot of moxie, Dave Biro set out to change the sound of rock music. He failed spectacularly. This is the fascinating and tragic story of one of the rarest instruments in rock music- The Birotron. [more inside]
The gaida is a bagpipe from Southeastern Europe. Gaida mp3s? Lots of 'em here. Gaida on the YouTubes? Why, yes. Yes, of course. Certainly. There's a bunch. Really. A lot. And electric ones? Yup. And here's a deflated one. But do any hippies play this thing? And dance to it? Sure! But the real question is: What is the problem with this gaida?
The Tenori-On is a new electronic musical instrument by Toshio Iwai [wikipedia], the creator of Electroplankton [previously]. It was just released commercially by Yamaha [flash site], to great excitement among those of us who get excited about such things. But what does it sound like? [more inside]
When was the last time you listened to a hurdy gurdy? No, I mean really listened to a hurdy gurdy? No, I don't mean the The Hurdy Gurdy Man by Donovan. I mean a real hurdy gurdy. That is to say, an actual hurdy gurdy. Oh, and by the way, the French call it a Vielle à roue. [more inside]
The YouTubes have the African balafon you need. Alya Dioubate. Coulibaly Samadou. Kanazoé. Epizo Bangoura. Koeta Hakiri. Bala. Man and child. Danse Moderne Balafon!
Time once again to pay a little visit to Japan's ever-engaging electro-mechanical music overachievers, Maywa Denki. Here's some of their latest and greatest efforts.
A mainstay of the old-timey cinema era, the Photoplayer was a pump organ designed for player piano rolls, sound effects and a human composer. [Courtesy of Huell Howser]
The world's largest operating musical instrument? Hear it here. New York Times article here. (Log-in may be necessary)
Let's take a moment to consider that humblest of American musical instruments, the cigar box guitar. Many of the most important names in American guitar artistry got their start on the unprepossessing little instrument. And let's not forget its cousin, the cookie tin banjo. By the time you've heard some of those boxy tones you might just want to join the growing legions of players and make one of your own. Not the DIY type? There are lots of folks out there who'll make one for you. And friends, don't forget to pay a visit to the National Cigar Box Guitar Museum, and tell 'em flapjax sent'cha! In closing, if you've got a big stack of cigar boxes but none of this guitar stuff piques your interest, you can always try this.
The National Music Museum has photos and descriptions of a wealth of odd, beautiful and unusual historic musical instruments, including the schediphon, trombacello, Tristan trumpet, basset horn, lyre guitar, ophicleide... plus a few serpents. And if that doesn't satisfy your curvy horn jones, things get pretty serpentine here.
The bouzouki, the saz, chonguri and sarod, the veena and the shamisen, the cuatro and the oud. These and many hundreds more are to be found at the Atlas of Plucked Instruments. Plenty of guitars, banjos and mandolins as well.
Of course you know the rhythm box/drum machine has had a profound impact on modern music-making, but how much do you know about its history? Was the Rhythmicon the very first rhythm machine? Korg's DoncaMatic (great name, eh?) was one of the first commercial models. Up until 1979 they were all pre-programmed, but Roland ushered in the modern era with the user-programmable CR-78, and followed it up soon after with the legendary TR808. Go here for a fairly comprehensive overview of vintage drum machines (organized alphabetically, with photos and descriptions/background info). And here you can interact with a wide assortment of virtual [Flash] rhythm boxes of the 70's and 80's. (Knee-jerk Flash haters, go ahead and hate it, but this is one of the best uses of Flash I can imagine.)
At one time or another you've probably rubbed your finger along the rim of a glass to produce a note. In 1761 Ben Franklin took the idea further with the invention of the glass (h)armonica. The instrument enjoyed some popularity, but is believed to have caused health problems due to lead content in the glass. Performers complained of loss of feeling in their hands, some even suffered nervous breakdowns. People became very frightened of the armonica, and by 1830 it was all but extinct. But there's been some renewal of interest: they're being played, and they're being made. You can play a surprisingly good-sounding virtual version. Or listen to a charming rendition of a seasonally appropriate tune. [more links inside] Oh, and: [previously]
If you're interested in musical instruments from all over the world, Wesleyan University's Virtual Instrument Museum should not be missed. Instruments are searchable by type (idiophones, aerophones, etc.), by materials (wood, bamboo, etc.), or by geographic region. The photos are very good, and many instruments are represented by excellent MP3 audio clips. And the exhibits (QTVR movies: drag your mouse to see the instrument from all angles) are wonderful.
You may have never heard of it, but you've damn near certain heard it. The Mellotron (FortuneCity link) is a keyboard instrument; each of its keys triggers a tape with a pre-recorded instrument on it. It was effectively the world's first sample player. [more inside]
Macon, Georgia, the 1840's. African-American Alabama Vest brings his design for a musical instrument to German clockmaker Thaddeus von Clegg. The modern KAZOO is born. It sees its golden age during the Jug Band era. Later it rears its buzzy head on songs by Hendrix, Queen, Red Hot Chili Peppers and many others. Originally made of metal, these days they're mostly plastic. And I, for one, agree that the humble kazoo is the ideal choice for designation as The National Instrument.
Hans Reichel (previously) is a man of many talents. His own site (flash/sound) is fun (often funny) and chock full of agreeably wacky sounds, but can take some time to navigate. Reichel hasn't made it easy for you if you happen to be in a hurry. You may well get stuck somewhere and just give up. That'd be a shame, though, cause you'd miss getting acquainted with the guitars he makes and plays. Or how he designs fonts. The mixing board shenanigans are not to be missed (once you get past those curious little fellows in the brown hats), plus you can sorta kinda play his daxophone yourself. And of course conduct your own little ensemble of meercats when one of them finally comes out of hiding and says "Hallo! Play with me".
Your laptop is a musical instrument. The Back to Basics software offered by Hard rocking, hard ware band O.R.I. will not garner many comments, but should be tried out. Devo meets Servotron and pretends to be Phillip Glass.