Favorite Sites: Experimental Musical Instruments

One of my earliest musical memories is of pulling all of the pots and pans out of the cupboards, arranging them around the kitchen floor and hitting them with wooden spoons.  Later, it was filling bottles and glasses with water to tune them.  Many years later my son showed me something he had made – a piece of wooden board with nails of all different lengths hammered partly into it, and a wooden rim.  I asked him what it was and he said “a musical instrument!”  He put two marbles onto the board between the nails and tilted the board back and forth – the marbles bounced randomly between the nails, sounding a different pitch each time they pinged off a nail.

The fascination is still there for me, and so it seems, others  – the appeal of found sound sources and experimental musical instruments.  Some of the instruments listed below are technical marvels, some are breathtaking in their simplicity, the most successful to my mind are the ones that combine whimsy with expressiveness.

Experimental Musical Instruments online magazine, a gallery of globular horns, moaning bowed wooden instruments, rotating wheels and many more odd and delightful creations. Most have audio samples to play.

Experimental Musical Instruments website

The Hang drum, a beaten steel drum-like instrument played by hand. These are mesmerizing to listen to, and I imagine to play (haven’t had the opportunity to try one)

Hang Drum

Thomas Bloch, player of rare instruments, many made of glass

  • Cristal Baschet : YouTube Video played by rubbing glass rods that are connected to tuned metal rods
  • Glass Armonica : YouTube Video : Video 2 played by touching wet fingers to spinning glass disks. You have rubberd your finger around the rim of a wineglass to make it ‘sing’?  So did Benjamin Franklin (yes, that Ben Franklin), and he invented an instrument where the glasses spin and the fingers stay still.

Cristal Baschet & Glass Armonica The Ondes Martenot was invented in 1928 and along with the Theremin (which it somewhat resembles in tone) is a direct predecessor of the modern analog synthesizer. YouTube Video

Ondes MartenotOddMusic.com online magazine with a large collection of, well, odd instruments and musical samples

OddMusic WebsitePeterson bottle-organ – a pipe organ made from beer bottles

Peterson Bottle OrganDarkRoastedBlend article on automated musical instruments – the robots are among us, and they are tuneful.

Truth be told, we have had musical robots for centuries; player pianos, music boxes, cuckoo clocks, singing water fountains, mechanical singing birds and musical automatons built for the aristocracy, pipe organs with additional percussion, wind and stringed instruments played by remote control.  Guiness Collection of Musical Automata

Pat Metheny’s Orchestrion orchestra of automated MIDI controlled acoustic instruments Live performance video
The Orchestrion, (constructed with the help of LEMUR a non-profit organization that makes robotic musical instruments) is made of acoustic instruments that are actuated by solenoids and relays, under command of MIDI messages, which can be generated from a computer or a MIDI equipped instrument. Metheny uses a guitar with a MIDI interface that converts the notes he plays into pitch and control messages, which are processed by a computer and sent out to the many different instruments.

Pat Metheny and OrchestrionThe Silophone – empty grain silos in Montreal, Quebec were equipped with speakers and microphones, and were used like the world’s largest organ pipes to create a resonant, reverberant instrument when excited by input waveforms from the speakers.  What takes this project over the top is that it was integrated with the Web, so that anybody in the world could ‘play’ the Silophone with sounds from a library of samples.  Sadly, the website (like a few others listed here) has not been kept up to date and has issues. This site is more usable and includes other sound installations from the artist’s collective [The User] that originated the Silophone.

SilophoneSo, return to your childhood, let out your inner mad scientist.  Put clothespins on piano strings, find out how many sounds you can make with a pencil and an office desk, bang on a metal railing and hold your ear close to hear the reverberations chase each other down to the end and back again.  The world is full of unheard sounds.

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