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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 ...