The gamelatron, a robotic gamelan built by the sound artist Aaron Taylor Kuffner, has appeared regularly at events such as Burning Man, raves, and exhibitions.
Breaching the conceptual divides between instrument and art installation, performance and recording, sculptor and composer, and prosthesis and robot, the gamelatron is a singular site for investigating imaginaries of the human, machine, and media.
This according to “Atmosphere as a concept for ethnomusicology: Comparing the gamelatron and gamelan” by Andrew McGraw (Ethnomusicology LX/1 [winter 2016] pp. 125–147.
Below, the gamelatron in action.
One day Manny Greenhill, Reverend Gary Davis’s sometime manager, received a desperate call from Wurlitzer, one of Boston’s most staid and respected music stores.
A quavering voice explained that an elderly man, a minister of some sort, had seized the most expensive guitar in the store and refused to part with it.
The man had tried out several models, had chosen the top-of-the-line Gibson, and had been there for some time, talking to it, and playing and singing spirituals in a loud voice. No one dared to take it away from him. “He says he has no money, but he gave your name, Mr. Greenhill, as his manager. He is upsetting the other customers. What shall we do?”
Greenhill bought Davis the guitar, and the debt became a longstanding joke: Davis was always going to pay him back for Miss Gibson “on the next check.”
This according to “Remembering Reverend Gary Davis” by Eric von Schmidt and John Kruth (Sing out! LI/4 [winter 2008] pp. 66–75).
Today is Davis’s 120th birthday! Above and below, Davis and Miss Gibson in action.
The vocal tract organ is a new musical instrument that consists of three-dimensional (3D)-printed vocal tracts (throat and mouth) for individual vowels sitting on loudspeakers to enable static vowel sounds to be produced.
The acoustic excitation from the loudspeakers is a synthesized version of the typical waveform produced by the vibrating human vocal folds during pitched sounds, which enables the instrument to be played from a keyboard.
The vocal tract organ will become an instrument in its own right, and it could be used as a direct replacement for the vox humana organ stop, given that its acoustic output is a much closer representation of the human vocal output than that from a vox humana organ pipe. The 3D-printed tracts may also be used in vocal and choral workshops as well as degree-level music technology education.
This according to “The vocal tract organ and the vox humana organ stop” by David M. Howard (Journal of music, technology & education VII/3  pp. 265–277).
Above, an illustration from the article; below, a composition by Professor Howard.
The inscription Dum vixi tacui, mortua dulce cano on an early 18th-century Italian spinet in Edinburgh is identifiable with the second line of a riddling couplet found in Nikolaus von Reusner’s Aenigmatographia (1599). The literary ancestry of Reusner’s couplet is traceable to a traditional Greek riddle about the tortoise-lyre, where the tortoise becomes vocal only after its death.
Many examples from classical authors and imitators in later European literature and popular tradition can be found. The motif was transferred to instruments made of wood, and Reusner’s couplet was much used as a motto on early violins; the famous luthier Gasparo Duiffopruggar particularly appears to have been associated with it.
This according to “The riddle of the tortoise and the lyre” by Edward Kerr Borthwick (Music & letters LI/4 [October 1970] pp. 373–87).
Above, a harpsichord in the Flemish style that includes the inscription; below, an instrumental work inspired by the original four-line poem.
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.