Exposé Online banner

Bart Hopkin — Gravikords, Whirlies & Pyrophones: Experimental Musical Instruments
(Ellipsis Arts, 1996, TPB+CD)

by Peter Thelen, Published 1997-02-01

Gravikords, Whirlies & Pyrophones: Experimental Musical Instruments Cover art

If you've ever had an interest in experimental and in some cases unique musical instruments, then this beautifully illustrated (with many full color photos) volume by Bart Hopkin, with a forward by Tom Waits, should be a good enough introduction. In fact, Hopkin is the editor of the quarterly publication Experimental Musical Instruments, which may be your next step if this volume piques your interest. Waits' forward recounts his own experiences with found sounds and sonic experimentation, as well as a description of his "dumpster harp," his Chamberlin, and his collection of megaphones and bullhorns. This is followed by a two page introduction by Hopkin himself, a bit more of a technical and historical introduction.

The bulk of the 96 pages contains numerous articles, each devoted to a particular instrument-maker and his instruments. This section begins with Michel Moglia and his "Orgue a Feu" (fire-organ, or pyrophone), which creates its sound via controlled explosions within large metal tubes of varying length. Harry Partch's 43 note just-intonation scale and several of the many instruments he had to create in order to realize it are featured here with plenty of background information — it's not the definitive article (for that you'll need to snag some early issues of Surface Noise) but it's definitely a good introduction, and plenty of bibliographic references are included for those who want to explore further. An essay on Leon Theremin and his eponymous instrument, of Richard Waters and his "Waterphone," of Barry Hall and his numerous handmade ceramic instruments, and Robert Grawi and his "Gravikord" (sort of a hybrid between an African "kora" harp and a kalimba) are all featured prominently, as well as numerous others. Also included are some instruments built around everyday odds and ends like the various guitars and such in Ken Butler's "Object Opera" (one illustration shows his "bicycle wheel guitar"), and Wendy Chambers' "Car Horn Organ."

Indeed, this is a book that's interesting from beginning to end, not too burdened with technical details, but instead focusing on the lives and the history surrounding each of the included instruments. The accompanying CD has eighteen tracks featuring many of the instruments mentioned in the book, in many cases with performances by the creators. Certainly Wendy Chambers' "New York, New York" played on a bank of car horns is a standout, but so are many of the other pieces. Sadly, Moglia's "Orgue a Feu" is not included, but most are. In all, this is a book and CD that serves a good introduction to the relatively unknown world of innovative musical inventions. Highly recommended for all.


Filed under: New releases, Issue 11, 1996 releases

Related artist(s): Bart Hopkin

Latest news

2019-01-11
Jazz Composer Mark Lomax, II Releases Epic 12CD Set – In addition to being a fine jazz drummer, Dr. Mark Lomax, II is a composer in residence at Ohio State University, where he has been very busy on the compositional front. The year 2019 is the 400th anniversary of the arrival of the first ship bringing African slaves to North America, and in commemoration of this, Lomax has produced 400: An Afrikan Epic, a 12 volume set of CDs featuring a variety of different musical ensembles. » Read more

2019-01-02
Chicago-Based Surabhi Ensemble Tours the World in January – Surabhi Ensemble was formed more than a decade ago in Chicago with the aim of bringing together musicians from varying traditions to make music. Saraswathi Ranganathan, who plays veena, assembled a cast that includes Arabic oud, Spanish guitar, and percussion from Africa and India. This month, the group will be sharing their sounds with concert-goers in Southeast Asia, Europe, and Africa. » Read more

2018-12-23
Seaprog Festival Seeks Donations – Seaprog is a small festival in Seattle that highlights creative music from many genres with artists from around the world. It's also a US non-profit organization. They're seeking donations to help keep the ball rolling. Starting in 2013, the organization has been growing, and has featured such artists as Free Salamander Exhibit, Jack o' the Clock, Nik Turner, Cabezas de Cera, Miriodor, Thinking Plague, and many more. » Read more

2018-11-16
The Seventeenth Dream of Dr Sardonicus Festival Tickets Now Available – Fruits de Mer Records and their merry crew of psychedelic explorers are getting set to present the next The Seventeenth Dream of Dr. Sardonicus Festival. The dates are set for August 2-4, 2019 at The Cellar Bar in Cardigan, Wales. They've also announced that the legendary Groundhogs will top the bill. » Read more

2018-11-02
Charles O'Meara (C.W. Vrtacek) RIP – A true musical original has left us. Charles O'Meara, who recorded under the name C.W. Vrtacek, was a wild-card musical talent, ranging from complex progressive rock to introspective modern compositions, with stops at many places inbetween. » Read more


Previously in Exposé...

Various Artists - Psychedelic Phinland: Finnish Hippie & Underground Music 1967-1974 – This archival collection presents the music of 24 Finnish bands, most unknown to Western ears. Disc One contains 19 psychedelic/progressive rock songs and Disc Two contains ten experimental/avant...  (2008) » Read more



Listen & discover



Print issues