I was in band and orchestra when I was in high school, but sadly, no one I know ever played the helicopter, the cucumberphone or their own hands. Oh well. Here are five instruments that might have you rethinking your own musical aspirations.
The Vegetable Orchestra.
Technically, it’s called Das erste Wiener Gemüseorchester. I’m going to stick with The Vegetable Orchestra. And it’s exactly what it sounds like – everyone in the orchestra plays instruments made out of fresh vegetables. They invented the instruments themselves – the orchestra includes carrot recorders, pepper trumpets and cucumberphones, among other things. They’re always developing new instruments, so you never know what you’re going to experience when you go to one of their concerts. Every concert takes about 90 pounds of vegetables, but they don’t go to waste – afterward, some of the veggies are made into soup (“always different, but always delicious”). Some instruments go to the audience, and some of it is simply turned into organic waste. By all means enjoy their music, but don’t ask them if they’re vegetarians. Their answer, according to their website: “No we are not. Don’t ask again. We’ve heard this question three million times.” Pictures via the Vegetable Orchestra
You might think this is a euphemism for some instrument, but no: it’s literally four helicopters being used as musical instruments. The Helikopter-Streichquartett (the Helicopter String Quartet), written by Karlheinz Stockhausen, was first performed in Amsterdam in 1995. Here’s how it works: there’s a normal string quartet, and then there are four helicopters used as sort of the background instrument. The sound of the blades beating against the air create a backdrop. It’s very specific – the helicopters have to circle at a radius of six kilmeters (not quite 3.75 miles) from wherever the string quartet is playing, typically inside of an auditorium. The helicopters have to change altitudes so the song has the right rhythm. While the helicopters circle, the string quartet walks (or are driven) closer to the helicopter to get the desired sound. The song winds down as the helicopters descend and land while the string quartet walks back to the performance venue.
It sounds a little dirty, but anyone who grew up with brothers is no doubt familiar with manualism – it’s basically making fart noises with your hands by making an air pocket between your palms and squeezing it out. Except some people are better at it than your little brother – a lot better at it. Varying amounts of pressure create different notes. The most famous manualist is probably John Twomey, who was on the Tonight Show in 1974 where he performed the Stars and Stripes Forever. He may have even invented the term “manualist” – it doesn’t seem as if the word existed before he used it on the show.
The Sea Organ.
Next time you’re in Zadar, Croatia, be sure to check this amazing instrument out. Hidden underneath marble steps that go down into the sea is a system of tubes and a large cavity that makes musical tones when the waves interact with them. Similarly, there’s a wave organ in San Francisco…
The Wave Organ
On the San Francisco Bay, you’ll find a big jumble of concrete pieces. But it’s much more than that – it’s one of the largest instruments in the world. The Wave Organ was co-created by the San Francisco Exploratorium’s artist-in-residence, Peter Richards. An old cemetery in the area was demolished to make way for new development, so the columns, stones and other leftover pieces were brought in to create the organ. The different pieces, combined with PVC pipes under the surface, act the same way the Sea Organ in Croatia does – when the waves and the water pass over the pipes, unique sounds are created. One visitor said it sounded like the “world’s largest seashell… punctuated by the cries of gulls and the barks of sea lions.” Photo via Wikipedia user Atlant