Category Archives: Instruments

Asante gold-dust weights

Until the second half of the mid-19th century, the Asante and related peoples of Ghana and the Ivory Coast used small brass castings made by the lost-wax process as weights for measuring their gold-dust currency.

These weights, made in large numbers by professional metal workers, came in all shapes and sizes. There were two sorts of weights: those which represent miniature objects, creatures, and activities from local life, and those in non-representational, geometrical forms.

Many of the representational weights depicted musical instruments, either on their own or being played, and activities which traditionally took place to the accompaniment of music. The great majority of these weights show only two types of instruments: ivory trumpets, and various types of drums.

This according to “Music and gold-weights in Asante” by Malcolm Donald McLeod (British museum yearbook 1980, pp. 225–42).

Above, a weight depicting a pair of atumpan drums of the Akan people; below, the atumpan in action.

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Filed under Africa, Curiosities, Iconography, Instruments

From virginal to Tangentenflügel

 

A small polygonal virginal built by Franciscus Bonafinis in 1585 was ingeniously converted to a tangent piano in 1717; this was accomplished simply by replacing its jacks with shorter slips of wood and moving its strings so that they lie directly over the jack slots, producing an instrument with struck rather than plucked strings whose sound varies in loudness with the force applied to the keys. The instrument is now at the Metropolitan Museum.

Instruments employing this principle were well-known in the eighteenth century—the trend culminated in the Späth & Schmahl Tangentenflügel.

This according to “En route to the piano: A converted virginal” by Edwin M. Ripin (Metropolitan Museum journal XIII [1978] pp. 79–86).

Above, the Museum’s depiction of the instrument; below, Aleksej Borisovič Lûbimov performs on a tangent piano.

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Filed under Curiosities, Instruments

Cuba’s corneta china

 

As one of the four main ethnic groups in Cuba, the Chinese people have made notable cultural contributions. Among the most significant of these is the corneta china, a shawm derived from the Chinese suona.

The instrument is no longer played by Chinese Cubans; rather, the corneta china has been appropriated by other ethnic groups—particularly in the eastern region of the island, where it is played almost exclusively by performers of African descent. Despite a short-lived attempt to reintroduce the instrument in Cuban performances of the Chinese Lion Dance in the 1980s and early 1990s, the corneta china and its originators have followed separate paths.

This according to “The Chinese community and the corneta china: Two divergent paths in Cuba” by Rolando Antonio Pérez Fernández (Yearbook for traditional music XLVI [2014] pp. 62–88).

Above and below, the corneta china in action.

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Filed under Curiosities, Instruments, West Indies

Poster stamps

Poster stamps, or Reklamemarken, were advertising labels or seals printed like postage stamps on perforated sheets of adhesive paper.

Widely used and extremely popular before World War I in Europe, especially in Germany, these little collectibles almost disappeared after World War II.

As music iconography, they are exemplified in a collection of recorder-themed poster stamps recently donated to the American Recorder Society by Ewald Henseler, the author of “Not postage stamps—but recorder poster stamps” (American recorder LIX/1 [spring 2018] pp. 32–39).

Above, recorder poster stamps advertising Tobler chocolate; below, a chocolate recorder. Don’t miss the climactic ending!

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Filed under Curiosities, Iconography, Instruments

Béla Fleck’s Africa Project

In early 2005 Béla Fleck traveled to Tanzania, Uganda, Gambia, and Mali to meet, jam, and record with an impressive array of musicians, bringing along a recording engineer, a film crew, and enough gear to ensure that no encounter would go unrecorded. He accompanied the player of a massive marimba in Uganda, played with kalimba masters and harpists in Tanzania, and encountered a possible banjo ancestor—the akonting—in Gambia.

In an interview, Fleck explained that his aggressive travel agenda was part of a strategy to circumvent his inner control freak. “By putting myself in a situation where I couldn’t really be completely prepared, I was forced to dig deep into things that I do that I can’t tell you where they come from. I have been pegged as a complicated guy, and so it’s funny that I feel freer not being complicated in this setting.”

This according to “Béla Fleck’s Africa Project” by Banning Eyre (Guitar player August 2009).

Today is Fleck’s 60th birthday! Above and below, excerpts from his award-winning film Throw down your heart.

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Filed under Africa, Instruments, Performers

Karinding Attack’s heavy metal bamboo

Karinding Attack is a group from Bandung, West Java, that performs original songs, covers international death metal hits, and engages in collaborations with musicians who specialize in other genres—all to the accompaniment of Sundanese bamboo musical instruments that were virtually extinct only 20 years ago.

After the Sundanese people’s embrace of a hegemonic modernity in the 20th century relegated these instruments to obscurity, their efflorescence represents an alternative modernity in which, instead of adopting disdain for their own past as the primitive Other against which European hegemonic modernity is constructed, Sundanese people construct their own history against which to articulate a coherent Sundanese modernity.

This according to “Heavy metal bamboo: How archaic bamboo instruments became modern in Bandung, Indonesia” by Henry Spiller, an essay included in Studies on a global history of music: A Balzan musicology project (Abingdon: Routledge, 2018, pp. 241–55).

Below, Karinding Attack covers Sepultura’s Refuse/Resist.

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Filed under Asia, Curiosities, Instruments, Popular music

RILM’s one millionth record

RILM’s one millionth record is now online!

The record documents 音乐考古学与古代音乐遗迹研究 (Archaeomusicology and research on music relics) by 方建军 (Fang Jianjun) (Zhongguo yinyue/Chinese music 3:147 [2017] pp. 75–82, 106).

Fang’s article discusses the relationships between archaeological environments and musical functions, between ancient workshops and the building of instruments, and between soundscapes and music performance, with reference to archaeomusicological sites in Europe and Africa as well as China. China has many such sites, among them Xiaoshuangqiao of the early Shang dynasty (16th–11th century B.C.E.) in Henan province, Sanxingdui in Sichuan province, and the Neolithic tomb sites at Jiahu village, also in Henan province.

Above, flutes excavated at the Jiahu site; below, reproductions of bronze bells from a tomb dated around 433 B.C.E.

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Filed under Antiquity, Asia, Instruments, RILM, RILM news

RILM publishes its 200,000th full-text record!

 

In 2016 RILM announced the release of RILM abstracts of music literature with full text on EBSCO Information Services. Today we celebrate the publication of our 200,00th full-text record!

The milestone record is a review by Markus Lutz of Martin und Johann Christian Hoffmann: Geigen- und Lautenmacher des Barock—Umfeld, Leben, Werk (Leipzig: Hofmeister, 2015) published in Journal of the Lute Society of America (XLVI pp. 80–88). Above, a lute made by Johann Christian Hoffmann; below, a copy of a lute made by Martin Hoffmann.

Highlighting this review gives us an opportunity to remind you that reviews in RILM’s database are always linked to the item under review—so when you read a book review the record for the book itself is just one click away!

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Filed under Baroque era, Instruments, RILM, RILM news

Singing flames

 

As early as the 18th century physicists were experimenting with tones produced by the effect  of flames on nearby glass tubes, and in 1873 the physicist Georges Frédéric Eugène Kastner developed a keyboard pyrophone.

More recently, singing flames have been featured in mixed media works by artists such as Andreas Oldörp, whose Singende Flammen (1988) was installed in a preexisting tunnel beneath Hamburg’s Hans-Albers-Platz. Composers who have used singing flames in their work include Alvin Lucier.

This according to “Singende Flammen: Andreas Oldörps Arbeiten zwischen Experiment und Installation” by Volker Straebel (Neue Zeitschrift für Musik CLX/2 [März-April 1999] pp. 45–47).

Above, Kastner’s pyrophone; below, two views of singing flames in Sydney’s Darling Harbour in 2011.

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Filed under Acoustics, Curiosities, Instruments, Science

Bicycles as interactive instruments

Movable Party is a mobile, real-time interactive music system where audience-participants pedal stationary bicycles to generate power and perform interactive music, creating a bustling public and streetside vibrancy in the decentralized metropolis of Los Angeles.

The system consists of three stationary bicycles, each equipped with rear wheel hub motors that generate enough energy to power a medium-sized public address system. The bicycles are also equipped with sensors to track rear wheel speed as well as rider position, transforming them into interactive musical instruments in two different modes: Interactive DJ and Step Sequencer.

The Interactive DJ mode enables a laptop performer to create and mix music with data from the three bicycles. The Step Sequencer mode enables rider-participants to directly control a three-voice, eight-step sequencer. Sonic mappings are focused on representation of rear wheel speed, which translates directly to power generation.

This according to “Movable Party: A bicycle-powered system for interactive musical performance” by Steven Kemper, Wendy F. Hsu, Carey Sargent, Josef Taylor, and Linda Wei, an essay included in Music technology meets philosophy: From digital echos to virtual ethos (San Francisco: International Computer Music Association, 2014).

Many thanks to Pryor Dodge for bringing this to our attention! Above and below, Movable Party in action.

#bicycle

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Filed under Curiosities, Instruments, Science