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

2018-09-05
Krautrock Documentary Seeks Funding – The next installment of the Progressive Warriors documentary series will focus on the vast body of music that falls under the banner of "krautrock." As most of our readers will know, previous films have tackled RIO and the Canterbury scene, as well as what we might call "mainstream" prog rock. » Read more

2018-07-31
Tomasz Stańko RIP – Tomasz Stańko, one of the greats of Eastern European jazz, has died at the age of 76. Stańko's career started in Krzysztof Komeda's quintet, where he contributed trumpet from 1963-1967, when he formed his own group. He worked extensively with Edward Vesala, Don Cherry, Zbigniew Seifert, Chico Freeman, Howard Johnson, Cecil Taylor, and many others. Many of his recordings have been released by ECM, an association that began in the mid-70s. » Read more

2018-07-09
Soft Machine Set to Release New Music – It's been 50 years since The Soft Machine changed the face of music with their first album. Their blend of psychedelic rock and jazz was unique, and while the band went through many changes before disbanding in 1981 — by which time there were no original members remaining — they remained an innovative force with a style all their own. » Read more

2018-07-01
7d Surfaces Happy Rhodes Back Catalog – We've covered singer Happy Rhodes before, both for her solo work and recently with The Security Project, but her 11 albums have been hard to track down. Until now. 7d features high-quality downloads of all her releases, and several of them are also available on CD. » Read more

2018-06-25
Fred Chalenor RIP – We have news of another sad passing in the world of creative music. Bassist Fred Chalenor, whose creativity featured on albums by Tone Dogs, Caveman Shoestore, and many more, died on June 23, 2018 after a long battle with Alzheimer's. Tributes have poured in from the many musicians and fans whose lives he touched. » Read more


Previously in Exposé...

The Pineapple Thief - Someone Here Is Missing – The Pineapple Thief have always had an affinity for indie rock that’s put them at the forefront of the new generation of British prog bands. They push the envelope even further here, with a modern...  (2011) » Read more



Listen & discover

Premier of New Echo Us Video

From the press release:

To Wake a Dream in Moving Water takes from Echo Us' past and spins it into a whole new direction, one closer to traditional acoustic Celtic music than ever before.

To Wake a Dream in Moving Water was composed and recorded during the first few months of 2017. Although Celtic influenced and comprised of a number of re-workings of Irish folk tunes and Breton aires, the album is still in large part new and original Echo Us music that fits right in the Echo Us ‘canon’. “Wake” is a natural progression from “A Priori Memoriae”, which was released to critical acclaim in Europe in 2014.

To Wake a Dream in Moving Water is Echo Us’ ‘Celtic’ album that was planned for a long time but never executed because of the work on the trilogy that came before it. The album title is a typical ‘Echo Us’ play on words which one can find their own meaning.

“It is also both evocative of the Oregon rain, which I am told is not too unlike the rain in Ireland.”(Matthews)

To Wake a Dream in Moving Water is also a comment on conception- which was unintentional when the lyric was written. Matthews surprised himself a few months after writing it, realizing that the song was actually about the nitty gritty, biological workings of what happens when a child is conceived. The folk song it derives from musically describes a courting ritual, one that even today we can all relate to in our own way.

“Come With Me Over the Mountain" in acapella was the musical inspiration for the song, and came into my consciousness after the lyrics were written a few months prior. “ (Matthews)

As with all Echo Us recordings, a number of seeming coincidences resulted in connections being drawn where prior there were none. Another experience of similar capacity was found in oboe samples from A Priori Memoriae that echoed the traditional “May Morning Dew’, also reworked for guitar on the new album.



Print issues