Museo universal, sobre sonidos mexicanos, a virtual museum of pre-Columbian Mexican tlapitzalli (aerophones), is universal because it does not include language-based information; all it requires is Internet access and the ability to use a computer mouse.
Clicking on an illustration takes the user to an enlargement of the image along with a sound file of a brief performance on the instrument and a spectrograph of the sound. Written in the standard HTML markup language, it can operate on all major platforms.
Above, a screenshot of part of the museum; below, a brief demonstration of pre-Columbian Mexican instruments.
In 2014 the guitarist Charlie Sexton and other musicians from Austin, Texas, collaborated with Danish and Swedish musicians in the cross-cultural jam known as Ice Music in Luleå, Sweden.
The artists co-wrote and performed songs on violins, cellos, and other “icestruments” designed by the instrument maker Tim Linhart. The icestruments are played inside igloos to slow the melting process. Some must be suspended from the ceiling to avoid cracking, and all require frequent tuning, re-freezing with dry ice vapor, and spot repairs, as handling and body heat cause nearly instantaneous melting.
Linhart hopes the collaboration with the musicians from Texas will be the start of a long-term project to establish a new genre of music inspired by the elements.
This according to “For these musicians, hot licks provide cold comfort: Players in Sweden make music from ice instruments; beware of melting violins” by Anna Molin and Miguel Bustillo (The Wall Street journal CCLXV/57 [11 March 2015] pp. A1, A10); an online version of the article is here.
Above and below, Ice Music in Luleå.
Some viola jokes disparage the instrument itself. (The difference between a viola and a trampoline: You take your shoes off to jump on a trampoline.) More often, they disparage the player. (What do violists use for birth control? Their personalities.)
Violists are depicted as inherently nonmusical. (Why are violists’ fingers like lightning? They never strike in the same place twice.) Reverse viola jokes provide violists’ revenge. (Why are viola jokes so short? So violinists can remember them.)
Some viola jokes are narratives. (When the orchestra manager broke up a fight between a violist and an oboist the latter said that the violist had knocked his reeds all over the floor. “He had it coming,” cried the violist, “he retuned one of my strings and now he won’t tell me which one!”)
This according to “No laughing matter: The viola joke cycle as musicians’ folklore” by Carl Rahkonen (Western folklore LIX/1 [winter 2000] pp. 49–63).
Above, a viola joke by Charles Schulz; below, a particularly elaborate viola joke.
In 1845 Adolphe Sax patented the saxotromba as an instrument and as a form to be applied, with modifications, to saxhorns, cornets, trumpets, and trombones. There are no known extant copies of the saxotromba, and a detailed study of its development sheds light on the fate of this family of instruments.
Inconsistent terminology in instrument catalogues, tutors, and other sources of the era complicates the study; but a comparison of measurements taken from Sax’s patent drawings, surviving instruments, and minutes from court proceedings of lawsuits involving the saxotromba shows that dimensions of existing instruments heretofore identified as alto and baritone saxhorns more closely resemble the dimensions of the alto and baritone saxotromba.
This suggests that at some point alto and baritone saxotrombas replaced alto and baritone saxhorns in the saxhorn family. If this is the case, then surviving instruments hitherto considered to be alto and baritone saxhorns are in reality alto and baritone saxotrombas, though the existence of a complete family of saxotrombas indeed appears to have been a fiction.
This according to “The saxotromba: Fact or fiction?” by Eugenia Mitroulia (Journal of the American Musical Instrument Society XXXV  pp. 123–149.
Today is Adolphe Sax’s 200th birthday! Above, his drawings of the soprano and bass saxotrombas (not to scale); below, a somewhat antic trailer for a film about Sax’s life.
Systematik der Musikinstrumente: Ein Versuch is 100 years old this year! This system of musical instrument classification, devised by Erich Moritz von Hornbostel and Curt Sachs, is still the most widely used by ethnomusicologists and organologists. It was issued in Zeitschrift für Ethnologie XLVI/4–5  pp. 553–590; the first pages of the system are shown above (click to enlarge).
The system is based on one devised in the late 19th century by Victor-Charles Mahillon, the curator of musical instruments at the Conservatoire Royal de Bruxelles/Koninklijk Conservatorium Brussel. Mahillon divided instruments into four broad categories according to the sound-producing material—air column, string, membrane, or the instrument’s body. For the most part, Mahillon’s system was limited to instruments used in Western classical music; Hornbostel and Sachs expanded Mahillon’s system to make it applicable to any instrument from any culture.
The Hornbostel– Sachs system is formally modeled on the Dewey Decimal Classification for libraries. It has five top-level classifications, with several levels below those, adding up to over 300 basic categories; it was updated in 2011 as part of the work of the MIMO Project – Musical Instrument Museums Online.
Below, perhaps the grooviest time you’ve ever had with instrument classification.
Instrumentos de la música folclórico-popular de Cuba: Atlas provides a definitive overview of traditional instruments in Cuba, including discussions of their history, construction, musical characteristics, function in society, historical dissemination, and performance practice.
The accompanying atlas shows the numeric dissemination by county for every traditional instrument played in Cuba on geographical maps of the island. The set was issued by the Centro de Investigación y Desarrollo de la Música Cubana (CIDMUC).
Above, two of the atlas’s pages (click to enlarge); below, a Cuban group that features an unusual instrument—a leaf between the guitarist’s lips!
In an experiment, 54 participants were instructed to play Twinkle, twinkle, little star using the Smule ocarina app on the iPhone, which involved blowing into the microphone of the iPhone and placing fingers on the screen to produce different notes.
One week after receiving instruction, the participants were randomly assigned to either an acute-stress induction procedure or a no-stress control group. The acute-stress group exhibited elevations in levels of cortisol as well as negative mood and arousal (as measured by two self-report measures of mood and arousal), compared to the no-stress group.
Participants in both groups were subsequently randomly assigned to one of three 10-minute-long activities: playing or listening to Twinkle, twinkle, little star on the iPhone ocarina or sitting in silence. Participants who had undergone the stress-inducing procedure and who played or listened to the ocarina during the stress-recovery period showed significant decreases in cortisol levels compared to those who sat in silence. However, as expected, participants in the no-stress group who played the iPhone ocarina showed significant increases in cortisol levels relative to participants who listened to it or sat in silence.
This according to “Effects of individual music playing and music listening on acute-stress recovery/Les effets du jeu et de l’écoute musicale sur le rétablissement d’un individu la suite d’un stress aigu” by Gabriela Ilie and Ramen Rehana (Canadian journal of music therapy/Revue canadienne de musicothérapie XIX/1  pp. 23–46).
Above and below, the iPhone ocarina in action.
The German town of Hameln continues to re-enact the legend of the Rattenfänger, known in English as the Pied Piper, each weekend during the summer. A number of musicians have assumed the role of the piper since the 1950s, playing flute, oboe, or clarinet.
Since 1979 the role of the Rattenfänger has been played by the Pennsylvania-born clarinetist Michael Boyer, who performs on one of two U.S.-made metal clarinets: a Gladiator model from the 1930s or an American Standard model from the 1920s, both made by the H.N. White company of Cleveland, Ohio.
This according to “Hamelin’s Pied Piper: An unexpected American connection” by James Gillespie (The clarinet XLI/3 [June 2014] pp. 56–60). Above and below, Mr. Boyer’s summer job.
The world’s largest water-powered cuckoo clock, built by Richard Pim for his Westbury Mill water gardens in Herefordshire, features a birdsong barrel organ from the W & A Boggis organ building firm.
A few minutes before the hour the doors open below the clock dial and the cuckoo emerges. It sings on the hour, and two minutes of bird song from the barrel organ follow. The valve for opening and closing the water supply to the driving wheel is controlled by two alternately emptying and filling Guinness cans.
This according to “The world’s largest singing bird? A garden folly in Herefordshire” by Christopher Proudfoot (The music box: An international journal of mechanical music XXVI/6 [summer 2014] pp. 230–231). Above and below, the clock in action.
BONUS: A closer look at the inner workings.