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Category Archives: Freakin' Fantastic

These guys may be weird, but they are real full-fledged instruments that have found their place in bands and orchestras. And they are totally cool.

10. Contrabass Sax

Anthony Braxton on contrabass sax

Anthony Braxton on contrabass sax

It’s the largest in the saxophone family, and you don’t see much of it. It’s the lowest pitched sax one octave below the baritone saxophone. It’s tuned to Eb and is very large. Did I say it is very large?

Here is Anthony Braxton playing the contrabass sax in Iridium. Free jazz!  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=n1VuZbfGsHQ

9. Armonica

Glass Armonica

Glass Armonica

Benjamin Franklin invented this one. It’s a rotating spindle with glass bowls arranged in tune like a piano. It is played with moist hands and makes a very glassy, dreamy tune. The instrument was inspired by the glass harmonica, which is playing wine glasses filled with water. It’s said that the Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairies called for a “glass harmonica” but it really called for  a kind of  glass xylophone. But here’s a performance of the piece with an armonica: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eQemvyyJ–g

8. Contrabass Flute

Maria Ramey on contrabass flute

Maria Ramey on contrabass flute

This is the largest in the flute family, and you won’t see much of it just because not many people need it. But when they do, it is available and it becomes a one instrument show. It’s so big someone can play it like a percussion instrument. Here is Tilmann Dehnhard with  Flight Delayed played on the contrabass flute and a loop station http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BiqPn3d_dKM

7. Drumitar

Futureman and the Drumitar

Futureman and the Drumitar

Futureman brings to us the future today! Futureman of the jazz band Bela Fleck and the Flecktones invented a drum synthesizer that is similar to a keytar, but is pressure sensitive. This instrument makes it possible for the Flecktones to tour without bringing a drumset. The drumitar is so logical a company made an instrument similar to it, called the Zendrum. Here’s Futureman talking about the drumitar while playing it http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_BPpy1lLvys

6. Theremin

Lydia Kavina and her theremin

Lydia Kavina and her theremin

One of the most popular sounds in the world comes from one of the kind-of obscure names in the world of musical instruments. You know the creepy movie sound? That’s probably from the theremin. It sounds exactly like that. It works by determining the position of your hand relative to the two metal rods – it will look like youre playing on air! Perhaps the most famous song to have this sound is Michael Jackson’s Thriller, though I’m not quite sure it’s from a real theremin. Lydia Kavina plays Claire de Lune, it’s quite amazing http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Xn4TgYkqdi8

5. Korg Kaoss

The Korg Kaoss

The Korg Kaoss

Anyone who has been listening to the Pedicab band has heard the Kaoss. It works like a theremin, but it is touch driven and samples different sounds and noises. It can even play in a certain key you want it to. The Kaoss can do many cool things but one word can sum it up: psychedelic. Check Pedicab’s video of Ang Pusa Mo, it’s the little white box at 0:56 – it’s the smaller version of the Kaoss called the Kaossilator http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T2YE5IdGkJM

4. Chapman Stick

Greg Howard and the 12-string Stick

Greg Howard and the 12-string Stick

There’s a guitar and bass playing technique called tapping where one taps the strings against the fretboard to sound notes. The Chapman Stick takes it to the next level. It’s basically a huge fretboard with lots of strings, and it is played by tapping. A prominent player is Greg Howard; he can be heard in Dave Matthews Band’s song The Dreaming Tree. Here’s some guy named Hettory playing the 12 string model http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OfSTsWZa5fc

3. Haken Continuum

Haken Continuum

Haken Continuum

There’s something about world-famous bands and eccentric instruments. One such case is Dream Theater and the Haken Continuum. Played by the band’s keyboardist Jordan Rudess, the Continuum is basically a board of continuous red neoprene that is sounded by touching it. The x, y and z axis positions of your finger on the board translates to pitch, timbre and amplitude. Jordan demonstrates his then-new Continuum here http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Mrmp2EaVChI

2. Hydraulophone

Ryan Janzen on the hydraulophone with the Hart House Symphonic Band

Ryan Janzen on the hydraulophone with the Hart House Symphonic Band

When you see it for the first time, you’d think it’s just a fountain. Then when you find out it’s an instrument, you’d never believe it will make a sound. But it makes a beautiful and eerie sound that is unlike any other. It’s so cool they even wrote pieces for it. Here’s Ryan Janzen playing the hydraulophone in concert http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tnJb9WyhCUc

1. Xaphoon

The Xaphoon invented by Brian Wittman

The Xaphoon invented by Brian Wittman

The Pocket Sax, a plastic version of the Xaphoon

The Pocket Sax, a plastic version of the Xaphoon

So there’s this guy named Brian who got bored in Hawaii and tried to make a flute out of bamboo, for the kids. He figured out that he can use a reed, like that of the saxophone and clarinet, instead of a fipple. What happened is that he invented a bamboo saxophone/clarinet and it is awesome. He still makes it by hand, and there is also a cheaper plastic version. People claim it’s hard to tell the difference between the original bamboo and plastic. Here’s some guy improvising on some song http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Eh5nBb1H38c&feature=related

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