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

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

2018-10-17
Eurock Documentary Seeks Funding – We've been fans and fellow travelers with Archie Patterson and his Eurock project on the journey to discover great music. After many years of promoting and trying to spread the word,a new phase is beginning: a documentary film. Things like this don't just happen, and money does not magically appear to make it happen, so it's up to the fans to get it done. » Read more

2018-09-29
Marty Balin RIP – One of the architects of the 60s psychedelic sound of San Francisco has died at the age of 76. Marty Balin was a singer, songwriter, and guitarist who was one of the founders of Jefferson Airplane. After the split of the original Airplane, Balin went on to form the highly successful Jefferson Starship. » Read more

2018-09-25
Help the Psychic Equalizer Avoid Extinction – Last year we reviewed the debut album by Psychic Equalizer, a musical project of Hugo Selles. He's now working on the ambitious follow-up to that release, and is seeking funding from listeners around the world. » Read more


Previously in Exposé...

Radiohead - OK Computer – We can all think of examples of a progressive band over time starting to play music more in the mainstream (Genesis, Yes, pick your example), but how many times have we seen a mainstream band, as...  (1998) » Read more



Listen & discover



Print issues