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

2019-04-24
Help MoonJune Bring Great Music to Life – Like many music lovers around the world, we’ve been thrilled and amazed to hear the recordings that have been released by MoonJune from sessions at La Casa Murada in Spain. Such label stalwarts as Mark Wingfield, Markus Reuter, Asaf Sirkis, Tony Levin, Dusan Jevtovic, Vasil Hadzimanov, and many more have gathered in various combinations at the studio to produce some of the most creative music in recent years. Now, label head Leonardo Pavkovic is offering a compilation, La Casa Murada - MoonJune Sessions, Volume One, as a fundraiser for upcoming sessions. » Read more

2019-04-10
The Pineapple Thief to Tour North America – November and December of 2019 will see The Pineapple Thief bringing their music to Canada, Mexico, and the US, and famed drummer Gavin Harrison will be on board. The band has been touring extensively in Europe, but North America will be new territory for them. » Read more

2019-03-25
Scott Walker RIP – Noel Scott Engel, better known as Scott Walker, was one of the most intriguing and enigmatic musical figures in the second half of the 20th Century. His strange career started with The Walker Brothers, an American pop group that featured no one named Walker and no brothers. After moving to England in 1965, they had a series of hit singles. Scott's solo work started with Scott in 1967. Starting in the 80s, his work took an increasingly avant-garde turn. » Read more

2019-03-20
Freedom to Spend Unearths June Chikuma's Archives – Jun (June) Chikuma is well known for her video game and anime soundtracks, but she also released an album of experimental electronic music back in 1986 called Divertimento where she indulged the kind of spontaneity that wouldn't work in a soundtrack. RVNG Int'l label Freedom to Spend is bringing this overlooked item to broader attention with a deluxe reissue. » Read more

2019-03-03
Seaprog 2019 Lineup Almost Complete – The Seaprog festival in Seattle is scheduled for June 7-9 this year, and they've announced their lineup of performers. The revitalized Trettioåriga Kriget will cap Friday night, perennial favorites Marbin are on Saturday, and District 97 will finish off the fest on Sunday night. In support, they've booked a stellar variety of artists from the Northwest and around the world, including EchoTest, Markus Reuter and Trey Gunn, and the live debut of the amazing Troot project. » Read more


Previously in Exposé...

PTS - Tides – Take your typical 80s pop band (Mr.Mister, Tears for Fears, Simple Minds or any of a thousand others I've since willingly forgotten), give the keyboards more of a major role and you'll have half an...  (1994) » Read more



Listen & discover



Print issues