8 Unusually Large Musical Instruments

Michael via Flickr // CC BY-NC-SA 2.0
Michael via Flickr // CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Sometimes bigger is better, as in a box of chocolates. But with musical instruments, bigger is just different. The biggest instruments can provide rich, full, low notes, but those often come at the expense of portability. So if you get a chance to listen to music made by one of these instruments, don’t pass it up.

1. DOUBLE CONTRABASS AND SUBCONTRABASS FLUTE

Maria Ramey via Wikimedia Commons and Eva Kingma via Wikimedia Commons // CC-BY-3.0

Flutes are usually thought of as small, higher-pitched instruments, but there are other types of flutes that are larger and produce lower notes. The subcontrabass flute plays a fourth below the contrabass flute, and the pipe is over 15 feet long. You can hear what the subcontrabass flute sounds like in this video, and see it in the image above on the right. On the left is a double contrabass flute; both instruments are played by flutist Maria Ramey.

2. ZEUSAPHONE/THOREMIN/TESLA COILS

Dracoswinsauer via Wikimedia Commons // CC BY 3.0 us

A zeusaphone is what you get when you create music with Tesla coils, although some call this instrument a thoremin. Both names are puns made by applying mythological gods' names to earlier instruments (sousaphone and theremin, respectively). The term "zeusaphone" is trademarked by a company that sells and rents singing Tesla coils.

The best-known Tesla coil band is ArcAttack. The group uses two homemade Tesla coils to send arcs up to 12 feet long between them, and they sometimes include humans wearing Faraday suits (to protect them from electricity) in their performances. You can hear a variety of their tunes at the band's YouTube page.

3. HYDRAULOPHONE

Steve via Flickr // CC BY-SA 2.0

A hydraulophone is an organ powered by water. When a hydraulophone is not being played, it serves as a water fountain. The music starts when you cover one or more of the water jets, which forces the water through a calibrated pipe. Many such fountains are part of civic fountain installations. Shown here is the FUNtain, a hydraulophone that is part of the Teluscape at the Ontario Science Center. You can hear music played on the Teluscape's water organ in this video

4. OCTOBASS

Erwin Schoonderwaldt via Flickr // CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

The octobass is the largest of all stringed instruments. It was invented in 1850 by luthier Jean­-Baptiste Vuillaume. It is essentially a 12-foot tall fiddle, which produces sounds deeper than the lowest double bass. In most cases, it takes two people to play the octobass: one to draw the bow and the other to fret the three strings.  

5. THE GREAT STALACPIPE ORGAN

Stan Mouser via Wikimedia Commons // CC BY 2.0

The Great Stalacpipe Organ is billed as the world's largest musical instrument, located deep underground in Luray Caverns in Virginia. Rubber-tipped mallets tap the caves' natural stalactites and produce musical tones. The stalactites used cover 3.5 acres! Listen to the music the Stalacpipe makes here.

6. THE WAVE ORGAN

The Wave Organ, part of the Exploratorium in San Francisco, is a seaside sculpture that includes 25 organ pipes. The pipes are activated by the action of the waves splashing against them. Built by Peter Richards and George Gonzalez and completed in 1986, the Wave Organ covers several levels of a seaside jetty in order to work with both high and low tides, although the sound is best at high tide. The Zadar Sea Organ in Croatia is a similar project.

7. BOARDWALK HALL AUDITORIUM ORGAN

Michael via Flickr // CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

The Boardwalk Hall Auditorium Organ in Atlantic City, New Jersey, is the largest pipe organ ever built, based on the number of pipes. When the hall opened in 1929, the seating capacity was 42,000 people. To fill that huge space, the organ uses over 33,000 pipes! The console has seven keyboards and more than 1200 stops. 

8. TELHARMONIUM

Finnianhughes101 via Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

In 1893, Thaddeus Cahill conceived what may have been the first significant electronic musical instrument, by harnessing the tones created by telephone transmission. His telharmonium transmitted live music over telephone lines to any number of people who wanted to hear it, giving us the first long-distance live concert. But what really stands out about the telharmonium—and eventually spelled its downfall—was its size.

To generate enough power to play music, the instrument included a huge electric motor, 12 dynamos, 145 tone wheels to recreate various notes and instruments, and a two-person keyboard to control it. Cahill’s first telharmonium required 12 railroad cars for transport. He eventually built three models, each bigger and more expensive than the last, and they cost a lot more than they earned. Cahill stopped played telharmonium concerts over phone lines in 1916, and unfortunately neither the instrument nor any recording of its music survive today.     

Kids Can Join Children's Book Author Mo Willems for Daily "Lunch Doodles" on YouTube

Screenshot via YouTube
Screenshot via YouTube

For children interested in taking drawing lessons, there are few better teachers than Mo Willems. The bestselling author and illustrator has been charming young readers for years with his Pigeon picture book series. Now, from the Kennedy Center, where he's currently the artist-in-residence, Willems is hosting daily "Lunch Doodles" videos that viewers can take part in wherever they are. New lessons are posted to the Kennedy Center's YouTube channel each weekday at 1:00 p.m. EST.

With the novel coronavirus outbreak closing schools across the country, many kids are now expected to continue their education from home. For the next several weeks, Willems will be sharing his time and talents with bored kids (and their overworked parents) in the form of "Lunch Doodles" episodes that last anywhere from 15 to 30 minutes. In the videos, Willems demonstrates drawing techniques, shares insights into his process, and encourages kids to come up with stories to go along with their creations.

"With millions of learners attempting to grow and educate themselves in new circumstances, I have decided to invite everyone into my studio once a day for the next few weeks," Willems writes for the center's blog. "Grab some paper and pencils, pens, or crayons. We are going to doodle together and explore ways of writing and making."

If kids don't want to doodle during lunch, the videos will remain on YouTube for them to tune in at any time. The Kennedy Center is also publishing downloadable activity pages to go with each episode on its website [PDF]. For more ways to entertain children in quarantine or isolation, check out these livestreams from zoos, cultural institutions, and celebrities.

Dreaming of Your Favorite City? This Website Will Create a Personalized Haiku Poem About It for You

OpenStreetMap Haiku will capture the colorful character of your hometown in a few (possibly silly) phrases.
OpenStreetMap Haiku will capture the colorful character of your hometown in a few (possibly silly) phrases.
vladystock/iStock via Getty Images

You no longer need to spend all your free time struggling to capture the vibe of your favorite city in a few carefully chosen syllables—OpenStreetMap Haiku will do it for you.

The site, developed by Satellite Studio, uses the information from crowdsourced global map OpenStreetMap to create a haiku that describes any location in the world. According to Travel + Leisure, the poems are based on data points like supermarkets, shops, local air quality, weather, time of day, and more.

“Looking at every aspect of the surroundings of a point, we can generate a poem about any place in the world,” the developers wrote in a blog post. “The result is sometimes fun, often weird, most of the time pretty terrible. Also probably horrifying for haiku purists (sorry).”

The results are also often waggishly accurate. For example, here’s a haiku describing Washington, D.C.:

“The same pot of coffee
Fresh coffee from Starbucks
The desk clerk.”

In other words, it seems like the city runs on compulsive coffee refills and paperwork. And if you thought life in Brooklyn, New York, was a combination of alcohol-fueled outings to basement bars and traffic-filled trips into the city, this poem probably confirms your suspicions:

“Getting drunk at The Nest
Today in New York
Green. Red. Green. Red.”

The website’s creators were inspired by Naho Matsuda’s Every Thing Every Time, a 2018 art installation outside Theatre Royal in Newcastle, England, that used data points to generate an ever-changing poem about the city.

Wondering what OpenStreetMap Haiku has to say about your hometown? Explore the map here.

[h/t Travel + Leisure]

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