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Article

Buzzers  

Jeremy Montagu

Vibrating elements added to instruments to ‘sweeten’, distort, amplify, enrich, or extend their sound. These accessories take many forms. For example, a buzzing membrane, usually made of the internal skin of a bamboo stem, covers an extra hole between the embouchure and the fingerholes of many Chinese and southeast Asian flutes. Some Chinese notched flutes have holes covered by a vibrating membrane in the almost-closed upper end. A vibrating membrane covers a hole in the side of resonators of many African and Latin American xylophones. Some drums, especially in Central Africa, have a hole in the side of the body in which is inserted a short section of gourd with a membrane covering the outer end. A vibrating membrane over one end or over a hole in the side of a tube that is sung into is widely used to disguise a singer’s voice, in some cultures turning it into the voice of a spirit or a god. Artificial membrane materials used nowadays include cigarette papers and scraps of plastic bags....

Article

Byrgy  

Timo Leisiö

Manchu-Tungusic word used in various forms (purgu, abyrga, syynpyrgyzy, amyrga) by several Turkic populations for a lip-vibrated aerophone played by inhalation. Three forms are known: a tube of alder or willow or a long hollow stalk of a vascular plant or bamboo; a coiled roll of bark; and a length of tree trunk or branch, split, hollowed, and reunited like an alphorn. Whereas with blown trumpets the lips of a player vibrate outward, with the byrgy the lips vibrate inward, producing a relatively quiet sound. Both the Khanty wooden byrgy from West Siberia and the similar Karagas-Turkic wooden byrgy from Central Siberia have an integral carved mouthpiece. These examples are about 80 cm long and 4 to 6 cm in maximum diameter, average among the wooden byrgys. The origins of the byrgy are unknown, but it might have been used since antiquity by Ugric, Turkic, Tungusic, and Mongolian hunters to lure big game (elk, deer, etc.), and might have been brought west from Manchuria mainly by Turkic peoples, eventually reaching the Komis and the Udmurts in Russia. Types found in the Americas could have originated independently. The coiled bark form was used by Canadian Cree hunters. Instruments made of a vascular plant stalk were also used by shamans in central Mexico, by the Chiriguanos of Paraguay, and by the Mapuches of Chile, who added a cow-horn bell to theirs...

Article

The systematic study of bells (Lat. campana), especially large hanging bells. The field embraces bell design, manufacture and tuning, hanging and methods of sounding, performance and repertoire, and the history and traditions of bells in their many functions as signal and apotropaic devices, ritual implements, musical instruments (individually and grouped as chimes, carillons, etc.), symbols, and other aspects. In a more limited sense, campanology denotes the study of bell ringing....

Article

Laurence Libin

Practice of design to optimize safety, comfort, and efficiency in the interaction between player and instrument. Many instruments are physically awkward to play and place unusual demands on the human body. Long periods of practising and performing under pressure exacerbate physical problems caused by unnatural postures, repetitive stresses on joints, extreme muscle tension, and displacement of fingers, shoulders, neck, and spine. As a result, especially when poorly trained, players of certain instruments can develop calluses, bruises, misaligned teeth, tendonitis, carpal tunnel syndrome, and more serious injuries that, over time, impair health and performance ability.

To address this risk, innovative designers strive to improve instruments by, among other ways, reshaping them to refine their balance, bring parts within easier reach, and reduce muscle strain. For example, the distance between the mouthpiece and bell of an orchestral horn, and the position of the bell in relation to the player, were optimized with the establishment of hand technique—the practice of inserting the right hand into the bell to correct intonation and manipulate pitch. Grouping the piano’s pedals under the centre of the keyboard rather than employing knee levers or long pedals hinged to the piano’s legs (as was common before ...

Article

Sally Sanford

Technique of body percussion. A one-hand snap is produced when the pad of the middle finger with a stiffened distal interphalangeal joint is pressed firmly against the tip of the thumb and the thumb is then suddenly moved outwards, causing the pressing finger to snap against the ball of the thumb (the thenar eminence). In two-handed snapping, the thumb and third finger of one hand grasp the top and bottom of the tip of an inwardly pressing finger of the other hand and then suddenly pull away, causing the released finger to snap downwards. The loudest finger snap has been measured at 108 dB. Rhythmic finger snapping occurs in many genres including folk, theatrical, rock, jazz, modern, and non-Western musics, often to accompany singing or dancing. Bernstein called for finger snapping in ...

Article

Laurence Libin

Trademarked name for a novel tangent piano, introduced in 2009, that allows microtonal tuning before and during performance. It was conceived and patented by the British composer and hammer dulcimer player Geoff Smith and developed and built by Christopher J. Barlow in Somerset, England. The prototype resembles structurally an early 19th-century Viennese wood-framed grand piano with straight bichord stringing and a conventional keyboard encompassing five octaves and a 3rd (F′–a‴). Essentially the innovation is a separate movable plastic nut (coloured white or black corresponding to the keys) for each bichord; by sliding a nut manually forwards or backwards in a groove on the wrestplank, those strings’ sounding length, strike-point ratio and pitch are changed. Adjustment of as much as a half-step above and below ordinary pitch is possible (the instrument is normally tuned in equal temperament at a′ = 440Hz) during performance, as are glissandos. Treble and bass dampers can be operated separately or together and a moderator provides additional tonal variety. Two additional pedals for a second player standing at the curve of the bentside control dampers for a separate three-octave set of sympathetic strings (which can also be microtonally tuned and directly struck or plucked) and operate the regular treble dampers. Touted as ‘multicultural’ because it accommodates intervals and pitch inflections used in non-Western musics, the Fluid Piano also has inspired new composition. The University of Surrey as an educational partner of the Fluid Tuning Organization has commissioned works for the instrument and promotes its use. The Fluid Piano was preceded by a Fluid Dulcimer. See ...

Article

Laurence Libin

Term used loosely for a sound-producing or sound-modifying implement made of something either occurring in nature or originally fashioned for another purpose. For a primate example, orangutans in Borneo hold bunches of leaves before their lips to lower the pitch of warning calls. Tool-using hominids no doubt deliberately made or altered sounds with natural objects such as hollow tree trunks, canes and bones, empty shells and sonorous stones, either in their as-found state or minimally crafted. Echoic caves might have been exploited as resonators just as modern street musicians select acoustically advantageous locations. Motivated by curiosity or poverty, human adults and children have always made ingenious instruments from discarded containers, cooking utensils, cracked bones, and other refuse as well as from handy animal and plant materials such as conches, turtle shells, dry gourds, horns, and bamboo and woody tubes; thus local environments influence artificial sound production at a basic level. For example, the Spanish ...

Article

Edmond T. Johnson

(b Memphis, TN, 17 June 1957). American artist, composer, performer, and instrument inventor best known for inventing the Long String Instrument. Originally interested in visual and performance art, Fullman attended the Kansas City Art Institute where she began to incorporate sound into her works, at first through the manipulation of magnetic tape. Her first major work was the Metal Skirt Sound Sculpture (1980), an assemblage consisting of amplified guitar strings stretched between the artist’s shoes and a pleated metal skirt. Indirectly influenced by Alvin Lucier’s Music on a Long Thin Wire (1977), Fullman began experimenting with extended lengths of wire in 1980 and gave the first public performance on a prototype of the Long String Instrument at the Walker Art Gallery in Minneapolis in November 1981.The design of the Long String Instrument has varied significantly over time and in different installations. It generally consists of several dozen stainless steel, phosphor bronze, or brass wires that are arranged in groups stretched horizontally at about waist height. Depending on the specific installation, the wires span from about 15 to 90 metres. At one end the strings are affixed perpendicularly to the soundboards of securely anchored wooden box resonators (designed in cooperation with the instrument maker Stephen Wise). The strings extend to blocks where they are fastened to tuning pins and tensioned just below their breaking point in order to maximize resonance. A brass capo of unique design (originally a C-clamp) on each string determines its vibrating length. Because the sound arises from longitudinal rather than transverse vibrations, string material (density) and length alone determine pitch, not tension (about 18 kg per string) or thickness. Consequently, the strings sound at a much higher pitch than might be expected from their length. Once tensioned, the strings are tuned by means of the capos in a flexible system of just intonation and typically encompass a range of three octaves down from ...

Article

Haptics  

Anne Beetem Acker, Laurence Libin and Alan G. Woolley

Scientific study of perception and manipulation of objects through touch and proprioception, usually for control purposes. As it relates to musical instruments, haptics considers the sensory and mechanical interaction between performers and acoustic, digital, or virtual instruments. Skilled instrumentalists demonstrate significantly greater tactile sensitivity and faster response time than members of the general population. Vibrations, acoustic response, and feedback forces inform players about an instrument’s state, speeding learning and improving control. Researchers try to measure feedback forces and determine which can be perceived and which are important to a player’s sense of control and expressivity. Haptics considers the complete circuit from the moment a player engages an activating component of an instrument until the interaction ceases. This consideration extends to a sequence of such events as the instrument’s mechanisms and player repeatedly respond to each other. These interactions can be termed ‘gestures’ and the input device (such as a keyboard) the ‘gesture controller.’...

Article

Hybrid  

Laurence Libin

[duplex]

Instrument that combines in one unit essential features of two or more different instruments. Produced since the Renaissance if not earlier, hybrids can offer unusual performance capabilities, although many have been created only for novelty purposes, for reasons of economy and convenience, or to demonstrate their makers’ ingenuity. Modern examples include the unique Bassoforte (incorporating parts of an electric bass guitar and a piano) and Experibass (assembled from parts of various bowed instruments) built by the composer Diego Stocco for his own use.

Combining unlike instruments can require structural compromises that impair sonority. For example, the 18th-century marriage of violin and post horn (Salzburg) did acoustical justice to neither; the violin’s body encloses narrow, tightly bent tubing blown through a mouthpiece protruding from the back of the violin’s scroll. But the lira organizzata, a hurdy-gurdy containing a tiny pipe organ, was a vehicle for charming compositions by Haydn and Pleyel. Earlier, guitars had been ‘organized’; in ...