5 Bizarre Instruments
Musicians are constantly striving to push the envelope to create new and expressive works. And to that end, they often come up with bizarre ways to make music. Here's a look at five of these fairly strange instruments.
1. The Glass Harmonica
Ever dabbed your finger in wine and danced it around the edge of your goblet? That's the concept behind a grouping of instruments called glass harmonicas. While variations of this instrument existed for years, inventor extraordinaire Benjamin Franklin took this concept to new heights when he mounted 37 bowls of increasing size on an iron rod and called it a Glass Armonica. By pumping a foot pedal, a musician could play up to 10 bowls at once with moistened, resin-laced fingers.
More recently, gravelly toned singer Tom Waits (who appeared as a piano-playing Captain Hook in Shrek 2) used it extensively when he composed the music for The Black Rider: The Casting of the Magic Bullets, a 1993 "music fable" based on a German folk-tale.
2. The Nanoguitar
1997 was a strange year in music. The top 5 Billboard singles included a pair of tribute songs ("I'll Be Missing You" by Puff Daddy & Faith Evans, and Elton's John's "Candle In The Wind") followed by "Barbie Girl," "Don't Speak" and "Mmmbop." Is it any wonder someone sought to tone down pop a bit?
Enter Dustin Carr, who holds the notable distinction of creating the world's smallest guitar. Dubbed the Nanoguitar, it sits at only 10 microns (1 micron = 1 millionth of a meter) from top to bottom. Just as a point of comparison, the diameter of a human hair is 20 times larger. Carr used an atomic force microscope to pluck the strings, which are only 100 atoms wide.
3. The Didgeridoo
While there is some debate concerning the timeline of the didgeridoo, it is considered by many to be the oldest woodwind instrument. Usually formed from Eucalyptus trees that have been hollowed out by termites, this musical device has a long history intimately linked with Australia's aboriginal population, who would play the device to invoke the Rainbow Serpent, a mythical animal who brought rain to their crops.
For a more modern take, check out Xavier Rudd's "Yirra Curl." Â Or simply flip on your TV and wait six minutes for the next Outback Steakhouse commercial.
Oh, and by the way, if you're thinking of taking up the instrument yourself, a 2005 study found that playing the didgeridoo strengthened breathing and airway muscles, which helps to reduce snoring and sleep apnea.
4. The Keytar
In a band, everyone wants to be the frontman. No one practices singing in the shower in the vain hope of appearing as a backup vocalist on a Sufjan Stevens track. But this desire left piano players in a bit of a jam. Lead guitarists and lead singers could roam the stage, interact with the audience and generally rock out. What was a tickler of the ivories, firmly entrenched and attached to an upright baby grand or electric keyboard, to do?
Enter the keytar, a combination keyboard and guitar. Popularized by the band Devo (among other new wave acts), this instrument has controls for vibrato, pitch and sustain along the neck and often had additional synthesizer effects. Finally, all those painstaking lessons endured by children everywhere didn't relegate them to the shadows of the stage.
5. Das erste Wiener GemÃ¼seorchester (The First Vienna Vegetable Orchestra)
The First Vienna Vegetable Orchestra is an Austrian music group who plays instruments made entirely of vegetables. Comprised of 10 musicians, one cook and one sound engineer, their various music-making culinary contrivances are made one hour before every show to insure quality and freshness. While it's a little like Veggie Tales meets Stomp, it's also as awesome as you would imagine. Check out the clip below: