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Laurence Libin

Vehicle for exploring and expressing musical ideas and feelings through sound. Practically anything that is used to make sound can be employed in music, so the concept of a musical instrument embraces a very broad range of things, including, for purposes of this dictionary, the human body. Conventionally the term refers to implements specially designed for producing sound, but this definition is inadequate because unaltered natural objects as well as utensils meant for other tasks (nowadays including electronic communication devices) have been put to musical use since prehistoric times. It can be difficult to distinguish an ‘instrument’ from a practice of music-making; for example, on some islands in the north of Vanuatu and south of the Solomons, women standing in water hit the surface with their hands in various ways to produce different sounds and rhythms, a practice called seritit (‘water music’). The composer Tan Dun similarly employs large bowls of water whose surfaces are beaten, flicked, and slapped by percussionists in his ...


Hugh Davies

Environmental sound sculpture devised in 1973 by the American pianist and composer David Tudor. It was based on the concept of the ‘instrumental loudspeaker’, which Tudor developed in 1966 and used in all four works in the Rainforest series, starting in 1968. The first instrumental loudspeakers consisted of containers into one end of which electronic or other sounds were fed through small loudspeakers. The sounds were picked up by microphones at the other end and passed to a conventional sound system. The containers in these early examples were metal boxes into which various materials were introduced to filter the signals acoustically as they passed between loudspeaker and microphone. In Rainforest IV the boxes are replaced by a great variety of objects, many of them in everyday use or scrap materials, to which loudspeaker-like transducers are attached; together these create an elaborate sound environment, which is operated by members of the group Composers Inside Electronics (founded by Tudor)....


Desmond Shawe-Taylor

For a long while successive periods in the history of the gramophone (or phonograph) tended to follow one another at approximately 25-year intervals. The invention itself dates from 1877, the year in which the Frenchman Charles Cros (1842–88) deposited with the Académie des Sciences a paper containing proposals for the reproduction of sound, without putting his theories to a practical test, and in which an American, Thomas Edison (1847–1931), independently began to study sound recording and reproduction as part of his wider researches into telegraphy, and was soon able to recite Mary had a Little Lamb into a crude recording horn and to hear his words immediately and recognizably played back.

Thereafter, nothing very momentous happened until the last decade of the century. The early death of Cros and Edison’s lack of interest in the musical possibilities of his invention left the field open for a while to the apparently extensive and important but somewhat shadowy achievements of an Italian cavalry officer, Lt Gianni Bettini, who indulged in activities of considerable scope and value, and actually recorded the voice of Pope Leo XIII in his 93rd year. With the exception of an undoubtedly genuine recording of the great Polish soprano, Marcella Sembrich, which was romantically discovered in the attic of a New Zealand hotel, scrupulously dubbed and made generally available in ...


Eric Peterson and Anne Beetem Acker

(Fr. le bois de lutherieGer. tonholz)

Informal and commercial term for any species of wood believed to affect acoustic properties in musical instrument making. It typically refers to wood components of chordophones including the violin family, guitars, mandolins, ukuleles, harps, and acoustic and hybrid keyboards such as pianos, harpsichords, and clavichords; struck idiophones such as the marimba; woodwind aerophones including clarinets, oboes, piccolos, and bassoons; and various folk instruments.

The acoustic characteristics of types of wood are related to their physical and mechanical properties. The most important metrics of those properties for tonewoods are the elastic modulus (also known as coefficient of elasticity – the ratio of applied stress to change in shape), in-plane shear modulus (modulus of rigidity in a planar direction), and Poisson’s ratios (deformation perpendicular to direction of an applied force). Other commonly used metrics include density, specific gravity (relative density), Young’s modulus (how easily an elastic material stretches and deforms), Janka hardness (resistance to denting and wear), and tensile strength....