What constitutes an unusual and strange instrument? For Swedes, a nyckelharpa is presumably no more unusual than surströmming, lightly salted and fermented-for-at-least-6-months Baltic Sea herring that is reputed to be one of the most putrid-smelling foods in the world. The hammered dulcimer is an ancient instrument, still in use in many countries.
Similarly, if you are a fan of Blue Man Group or an avid follower of The Music Man, then you have encountered pvc-pipe xylophones. While the instruments on the video compilation below may not all be strictly strange and unusual, some of them certainly are. Take the Factory Fan Bass, where the blade of a fan is replaced by a disc with holes in it.
A light is placed behind the fan. A handheld receiver picks up the glints of light and converts them to electric signals that are fed through a bass amp. The sound is varied by moving the receiver as different arrangements of holes and different rotation speeds change the pitch (the disc moves faster the further away from the center it is). Flicking the power switch produces further variation and can make the fan roar. Wilbur Hylpa comments: “The fan bass is DEFINITELY industrial rock material”.
Another strange and unusual interlude in the video is when HotAcid uses Gummy Bears connected to two Arduino interface boards as capacitive touch sensors to produce midi signals. Appropriately, he plays the Gummy Bear Song. As you might deduce, and as Hot Acid demonstrates on his YouTube channel, almost any conductive matter can act as the sensor. Here is another video of “weird instruments from around the world”. Again, some of the instruments are folk instruments, and others really take the carrot.
The PVC vibraphone, or thongophone, features again. It is followed by a stone xylophone. Known as a lithophone, this instrument comes in many variations and its use can be traced back to prehistoric times. Next up is the Mbira, a thumb-nail piano common in Zimbabwe and which underpins the music of the Zimbabwean star Thomas Mapfumo.
Amongst the gongs and other world music instruments, there are some fascinating innovations. Take the one-man band percussionist who lobs rubber mallets at a drum and metal-resonator setup and catches the mallets on the rebound. Now that’s a gimmick! Another odd instrument is the spherical objects in pots of water – an extreme version of filling bottles with water to get different tones, perhaps, with the added variable of the different responses of the assorted objects.
For your pleasure, there is also a potato flute, a set of carrot flutes, an impressive little bagpipe rigged up out of a surgical glove and plastic straws, a PVC sax that would surely have tempted Ornette Coleman, who had a fondness for plastic saxophones, and a man attacking some sort of complex, bells and whistles player piano, or pianolo, with gusto.
My favourite section of the video is when a man plays a section of component safety railing by blowing through a hole and using holes further down the length as finger holes. He gets a jolly little jig going. It’s a weird, strange, unusual and impressive instrument.