July 31, 2019 by Don Russo
by Pedro LopezDeVictoria
In honor of Uncommon Instrument Day, we’d like to take you through a quick tour of some of the strangest, most beautiful instruments one might come across. Note: Freeway Music is willing to offer you lessons on any of these (though we might have to find them first!)
The king of spooky sounds, you may know this instrument’s sound as a sound effect for UFO’s dangling on fishing wire in old B-movies and sci-fi flicks. However, not until Brian Wilson famously used one in Good Vibrations (listen for it during the chorus) did the theremin receive any regard as a mainstream instrument. Now, you can hear it’s singular whine in many songs. My favorite use was for the Guiness World Record-Busting theremin orchestra, Matryomin, performing Amazing Grace in Japan (with 273 players!)
While at first glance, this instrument looks like the kind of thing a corny sideshow performer would play alongside a dancing monkey, the power this instrument holds goes beyond its innate novelty. Famous musicians, such as French artist Guilhelm Desq, have elevated this instrument to a higher plane. Definitely take the time out of your day to listen to this madman do his thing.
The Great Stalacpipe Organ
Located deep within Luray Caverns, this grand and bizarre organ was built over three years by Leland W. Sprinkle in 1956. According to its keepers, “Each key is wired to a solenoid-actuated rubber mallet that is connected to one of 37 different stalactites scattered around 3.5 acres of the caverns. When a key is pressed, the mallet strikes the stalactite.” The result is a beautiful sound that takes full advantage of the unique acoustic properties of a cave, with a sound likened to that of a xylophone or a lithophone. The best thing? It can be heard all the way across the 64 acres of caverns. No pressure.
The Hydraulophone is technically a tonal acoustic instrument, but it is 100% powered by, as you can guess by the name, water. Not only does it produce a ghostly, sweet tone, it is even used as a sensory exploration device for low-vision individuals. Essentially, the players’ fingers will block the water from coming through certain holes, which causes a change in flow and pressure, producing a different note. As an added thought, while water is usually the liquid of choice, it technically could work with chocolate milk. Just saying.
This one is just fun. The Vegetable Orchestra is an Austrian musical group who use instruments made entirely from fresh vegetables. That is the headline, and I don’t think I need to say anymore. Just watch the video.