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Homework: Odd Musical Instruments

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Homework: Odd Musical Instruments

Homework: Odd Musical Instruments

Homework: Odd Musical Instruments

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  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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Previous Weeks' Assignments

Last Week's Assignment

A double bell euphonium. i

Marco Ciavolino plays his double bell euphonium. Marco Ciavolino hide caption

toggle caption Marco Ciavolino
A double bell euphonium.

Marco Ciavolino plays his double bell euphonium.

Marco Ciavolino

Last week, host Andrea Seabrook asked listeners to send in home recordings and photographs of their oddest musical instrument. The responses were eclectic, and some were indeed strange. Here is a smattering of some of the more interesting instrument descriptions from listeners.

Double Bell Euphonium — Marco Ciavolino — Forest Hills, Md.

I bought a double bell euphonium for myself a few years ago for Christmas. It was delivered to my neighbor's house. Wrapped and disguised, it was placed under the tree. Of course they figured out I bought it for myself, so I told my wife, Susan, it was my midlife crisis purchase and it was this or a Ferrari. She settled for the euphonium. Double bell euphoniums were made in the late 1800s through mid-1900s. During this time many multibell instruments were created, but only the double bell euphonium survived. It allowed the player to create two different tonal qualities from one instrument. It is still played in some military and historic bands.

Friction Harp — Tom Kaufman — Traverse City, Mich.

I'm a professional musician, music educator and musical instrument developer. ... I've constructed some very unusual instruments that I use to demonstrate the scientific principles of sound. One of my favorites is a friction harp, which uses longitudinal vibrations to produce music that sound similar to a glass harmonica.

Nintendo Game Boy — Chuck Watkins — Austin, Texas

I am a comedian and musician, and my strange musical instrument is my Nintendo Game Boy, which I use to create 8-bit music with the aid of my nanolooper: a Game Boy ware designed to replicate, modulate and sequence original Game Boy audio into a song. It works a bit like computer programming. You create a loop of audio, give that specific loop an alpha-numerical designation, then create other loops to coordinate and complement each other, then order those specific loops into a pattern that forms a song. ... I use the instrument in conjunction with many other instruments, such as the electric guitar and the accordion....

Huffyphonic Gyrobanshee 1000 — Brett Doar — Los Angeles

The [Huffyphonic Gyrobanshee 1000] is a bicycle wheel with the spokes cut out and replaced by guitar strings. The wheel is mounted in a frame that allows it to be rotated by a motor. Mounted in the frame is an electric guitar pickup. The strings can be plucked or bowed with a cello bow to play all or part of the sequence of notes. A happy accident is that the strings do not technically need to be plucked at all — their motion past the pickup is enough to create a signal that can be amplified by a standard guitar amplifier. The overall sound of the Huffyphonic Gyrobanshee could be described as R2-D2 as heard from the deep end of a swimming pool.

Turkey Baster — Brad Bolton — Kent, Ohio

I play the turkey baster. ... I live in northeast Ohio and play my baster at local music gigs. ... Normally I play guitar at gigs, but I include one baster tune at places that allow some abnormality.

Bayou Volcano — Jack Sumberg — Glover, Vt.

The [Bayou] Volcano is a three-string bass hurdy-gurdy built in July 2008, from bicycle parts, scrap wood and weed-whacker string. ... A hurdy-gurdy uses a crank-turned wheel coated with violin rosin to excite the strings. The Bayou Volcano differs from the traditional hurdy-gurdy in that the resonator ... s mounted above the strings and sound is transmitted to it by three aluminum wood screws which sit on the strings near the wheel, in what we refer to as a reverse-osmosis configuration.

Gamelan Bamboo Marimba — Samuel Wantman — Oakland, Calif.

I don't have any clay marimbas, but I do have a house full of bamboo marimbas. They are all from the island of Bali in Indonesia. I've been playing Indonesian music for 30 years. Twenty years ago, while living in Bali, I started playing (and collecting, and building) bamboo instruments. They come in all sizes and several varieties. Balinese musical instruments are almost never played solo. Usually they are played in pairs. The music is pretty fast. Half of the notes are played by one person, and half are played by the other. The parts interlock and become something faster and more complicated than what one person could do alone.

Nyckelharpa — Matt Fichtenbaum — Chelmsford, Mass.

My instrument is the nyckelharpa, a traditional Swedish folk instrument depicted in church paintings from the late 1300s. It is a bowed string instrument with four strings that are bowed, 12 sympathetic strings that aren't bowed but resonate along with the played strings, and a keybox on the neck whose sliding wooden keys carry tangents that touch the strings and change their pitch — like a violinist's fingers on the strings. Incidentally, although the prevalence of nyckelharpa players among the U.S. population is less than one part per million, there's an organization — the American Nyckelharpa Association — devoted to the instrument and its players and music.

Listeners share their strangest musical instruments.



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