A hellish cacophony, as if a herd of dinosaurs were roaring between bursts of artillery fire
January 4, 2009 7:55 AM   Subscribe

Pyrophones are organs where the notes are sounded via explosions or other forms of combustion. Often beautiful just to look at, they also make otherwordly noises (open up all these links at once for a real wake-up). Unlike other fire-based instruments, they can even play recognizeable melodies. Here's how to make one. They've become quite popular at events (7 MB video, more videos) like Burning Man, but they've been around since the 17-1800's. If you're new to experimental instruments, a read/listen through Gravikords, Whirlies and Pyrophones should be your next stop. Related: chemical harmonica, burning harmonica, singing tubes. [via & prev.]
posted by jessamyn (29 comments total) 53 users marked this as a favorite
Holy goodness this is awesome. I want one today. If anyone knows who has one of these sitting around in the Philadelphia area, I'll buy them a drink. Or a car.
posted by nosila at 8:10 AM on January 4, 2009

I fell in love with this post from the first sentence.

Related: The Zeusaphone. ObDisclaimer: I know the guy who builds these (actually, I think it's two guys now, know 'em both) and am incredibly honored to know the smug smart ass clever wit who came up with the name.
posted by eriko at 8:11 AM on January 4, 2009

This is possibly the grooviest thing in the entire world history of grooviness. Science + music geekness + plus blowing things up real good. Who could fail to love it?
posted by FelliniBlank at 8:15 AM on January 4, 2009

Vaguely related: the Sea Organ. No explosions, though.
posted by box at 8:20 AM on January 4, 2009

And I thought I had problems trying to find a place to practice...
posted by Jode at 8:58 AM on January 4, 2009

Finally, something I can use for my band when we cover Negativland's "Car Bomb."
posted by adipocere at 9:26 AM on January 4, 2009 [1 favorite]

I love posts like this. There have been other crazy instrument posts on meta. I need to track them all down. I like making soundscapes, but am tone deaf and don't know any music theory. This is why these type of things appeal to me.

"That sounds like crap!"
"Back off, I did it with a blow torch!"
posted by cjorgensen at 9:45 AM on January 4, 2009

What an excellent site. So much to explore. I love the glass armonica and the musical Tesla coil.
posted by binturong at 9:46 AM on January 4, 2009

Would whistle tips count?
posted by dunkadunc at 9:57 AM on January 4, 2009

Bagpipes make excellent pyrophones.
posted by Wolfdog at 10:03 AM on January 4, 2009

I have that book/CD, and every time I think of it, it's to the tune of Beck's "two turntables and a microphone.

And here's Oops, I Did It Again on a flaming tuba.
posted by moonmilk at 10:13 AM on January 4, 2009 [2 favorites]

I love living in a world where Crazy Harry's Explodaphone is real.
posted by mhoye at 10:29 AM on January 4, 2009

I'd make one of these, but I have a feeling it wouldn't end well. I tend to burn toast just by looking at it.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 10:51 AM on January 4, 2009

Once upon a time, there was a Large Hot Pipe Organ (warning: browser resizing link).
posted by musicinmybrain at 11:25 AM on January 4, 2009

My mom gave me Gravichords, Whirlies, and Pyrophones years ago and I listened to that CD almost exclusively for months. So much great stuff... my very favorite track from that CD is the opening track, featuring Hans Reichel (warning, flash-heavy awesomeness) and his incredible Daxophone, which is essentially a handheld fretboard that allows one to play a bowed ruler with great expressiveness and control.

The companion volume, Orbitones, Spoonharps and Bellowphones is out of print but also featured some amazing work, including Babbachichuija by Tom Waits, which features Tom growling "Babbachichuija" rhythmically whilst accompanied by squeaking doors, drills, and sewing machines. Also around is The Grand Galope by Leonard Solomon, played on a sort of a one-man-band made out of junk. Very goofy but entirely unmissable.
posted by ulotrichous at 11:33 AM on January 4, 2009 [3 favorites]

And here is a way too-short excerpt from Le Bal, Hans Reichel's opening track from the Gravichords CD.
posted by ulotrichous at 11:36 AM on January 4, 2009

...And holy crap, what an awesome post (and thread) this is! Thanks! (Is there a contest going on?)
posted by not_on_display at 12:10 PM on January 4, 2009

I showed the first link to my boyfriend, and he told me that one of his mentees had made a Ruben's tube for a final project, which is kinda the opposite as this (you play music and the tube vibrates, manipulating the fire, instead of manipulating the fire to get music)

anyways, here's the youtube video they submitted to their teacher http://oddstrument.com/2008/08/29/pyrophones-and-explosion-organs/
posted by rubah at 12:25 PM on January 4, 2009

. . . I've been on LJ too long, click
posted by rubah at 12:26 PM on January 4, 2009

This post gives me needs.
posted by Jairus at 1:22 PM on January 4, 2009

This post was amazing. I was attracted to it because I am personally connected to whales.
posted by Tacodog at 1:30 PM on January 4, 2009

I didn't know these existed. Thanks! The music the otherworldly link led to was hypnotic; I just drifted off into the soundscape.... (I guess it was a good thing the clip was only a few minutes long.)

(And I hope Keith Emerson finds out combustion concertos are possible without destroying pianos....)
posted by Kronos_to_Earth at 7:29 PM on January 4, 2009

Cool post, jessamyn. Thanks!
posted by flapjax at midnite at 7:30 PM on January 4, 2009

When we were kids my best friend Jim and I used to carefully put together plastic model airplanes, pack them with gunpowder, light the fuse and throw them off a bridge into a dry creek bed. At some point we discovered that if you hold a piece of burning polystyrene about four feet off the ground, as the melting plastic drips fall they make the most wonderful sound; if you don't know what that sound is, I don't think I can describe it. You'll just have to try it yourself.
posted by Restless Day at 3:38 AM on January 5, 2009

And here's "Oops, I Did It Again" on a flaming tuba.

Moonmilk, I'd like to present you with this "Absolute Best Sentence I've Read So Far This Year" award.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 10:44 AM on January 5, 2009

Did you hear about the streaker in the cathedral? The police nabbed him by the organ.
posted by Rumple at 11:27 AM on January 5, 2009

Coming back in because I have to say:

Everyone? Go look at the link Moonmilk posted. I have laughed myself to the point of tears -- it is one of the most glorious things I have ever seen. (flails)
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:31 PM on January 5, 2009

"Absolute Best Sentence I've Read So Far This Year"

Thanks! Though I'd be even more proud of myself if I'd received the award last week.

More about the flaming tuba, created and played by Simpsons producer David Silverman [previously is where he's a viking].

There seems to be a lot of interest in weird instruments here on metafilter (for instance, I did this last year and I'm thinking of doing it again). Maybe we should start a club! No, a band!
posted by moonmilk at 9:31 PM on January 5, 2009

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