Meet the Hurdy-Gurdy Man
December 21, 2018 2:01 PM   Subscribe

A hand-cranked medieval instrument with 80 moving parts. “In the Middle Ages, it was known in Latin as the organistrum and the symphonia, and in French as the vielle à roue (the vielle with the wheel).” With a sound produced by a “rosined wooden wheel, turned by a crank” that set “a number of strings in continuous droning vibration,” the hurdy gurdy can, it's true, give off a bit of a folk horror vibe.
posted by MovableBookLady (23 comments total) 40 users marked this as a favorite
A previous hurdy-gurdy post.
posted by pipeski at 2:07 PM on December 21, 2018

Here's a Hurdy Gurdy kit you can assemble yourself from laser cut plywood. It sounds terrible! :)
posted by Popular Ethics at 2:14 PM on December 21, 2018 [5 favorites]

10 Iconic Guitar Riffs Played on the Hurdy Gurdy Part 1 and Part 2
posted by otherchaz at 2:21 PM on December 21, 2018 [9 favorites]

"...who can tell me what this is called in French?"

Le hurdy gurdy?
posted by thelonius at 2:25 PM on December 21, 2018 [5 favorites]

The late, great Ethan James recorded several albums of haunting and beautiful hurdy gurdy music. They are worth a listen. Here's a playlist.

This was James' third musical reincarnation. Previously, he produced and engineered albums by punk and underground bands, like Black Flag and the Minutemen, at his Radio Tokyo studio in Southern California. And before that, he played in the early heavy metal band, Blue Cheer. What an amazing, if too short, lifetime.
posted by ferdydurke at 2:50 PM on December 21, 2018 [11 favorites]

Bear McCreary used one for the (beautiful) opening sequence of Black Sails.
posted by NotMyselfRightNow at 2:53 PM on December 21, 2018 [5 favorites]

I love Omen by Guilhem Desq (with backup selection Break Your Crank).
posted by komara at 2:54 PM on December 21, 2018 [1 favorite]

Speaking of McCreary’s Black Sails theme, he gave a pretty good interview talking about the hurdy-gurdy’s versatility, and in which he says that he was struggling to make the instrument sound good until he realized that he didn’t need to sound good*, he needed to sound like a pirate.

* I think it sounds great, but his standards are apparently a lot higher than mine.
posted by Parasite Unseen at 3:42 PM on December 21, 2018 [6 favorites]

Subject of the saddest song ever written.
posted by drlith at 4:09 PM on December 21, 2018 [2 favorites]

posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 4:41 PM on December 21, 2018 [36 favorites]

Subject of the saddest song ever written.

And here's the same song sung in English by Harry Plunket Greene. Nearing seventy he can no longer offer vocal splendor, but what an artist. No label credit for the pianist, Gerald Moore. Abbey Road, 1934.
posted by in278s at 9:53 PM on December 21, 2018 [2 favorites]

I've got a couple of albums by the gurdycentric band Ad Vielle Que Pourra (music on youtube) which I like. Apparently the name is a pun.
posted by moonmilk at 10:39 PM on December 21, 2018

Swiss folk/pagan metal band Eluveitie uses the hurdy-gurdy quite a bit. Check out Eluveitie's Anna Murphy Explains The Hurdy-Gurdy and a live version of their song Thousandfold.
posted by mirthe at 12:36 AM on December 22, 2018

Yeah, I love this instrument, as it consistently punches my ASMR button.


YouTube hurdy gurdy mediaeval tune with organ
posted by allium cepa at 3:17 AM on December 22, 2018 [2 favorites]

Quasthoff’s performance of Leiermann is also stunning.
posted by snuffleupagus at 3:40 AM on December 22, 2018 [1 favorite]

Thank you for posting. Clearly there was a hurdy-gurdy-shaped hole in my listening life.

In my brief tumble down this rabbit hole, I found this, which ends up a bit like an outtake from Physical Graffiti pending Robert Plant’s vocals.
posted by the sobsister at 8:11 AM on December 22, 2018

the hurdy gurdy is "the only musical instrument that uses a crank to turn a wheel to rub strings like the bow of a violin to produce music."
See also, Godley & Creme's Gizmotron from 1975 which replaced the crank with a little electric motor. Actually, six motors, and wheels -- one for each string of an electric guitar.

You can hear it used on their Consequences. Note the Wikipedia entry says LZ used it on In Through The Out Door.
posted by Rash at 8:26 AM on December 22, 2018 [1 favorite]

Oh thank you for this post. I am becoming such a big fan of the hurdy gurdy since that pirates show intro and the last MF post. Bring on all the hurdy gurdy stuff you've got internet!
posted by WalkerWestridge at 8:59 AM on December 22, 2018

It is also vital when attempting to recover the Coconut of Quendor.
posted by delfin at 12:59 PM on December 22, 2018 [2 favorites]

It sounds a lot like bagpipes.
posted by Just this guy, y'know at 1:32 PM on December 22, 2018

I was introduced to the hurdy gurdy when I saw Arcade Fire on SNL in their early days. There was a chick just getting so into it with some weird instrument that I had no idea what it was. This video is from a little later tha year (2007). Watch to the end for a broken camera lens!
posted by hydra77 at 8:29 PM on December 22, 2018 [1 favorite]

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