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You’re no doubt familiar with the concept of songwriters and composers using nature as inspiration for their work, whether it’s Justin Vernon’s now very famous winter trip to his family’s small cabin in rural Wisconsin, or Gustav Holst’s masterwork “The Planets”, or Erik Ian Walker’s music for climate change.
But what you might not know is that human beings have crafted some pretty incredible musical instruments made from nature itself, using everything from physical materials to natural occurrences such as waves.
Now of course, most instruments are made from natural materials, like wood, ivory, and animal skins or hair, but these six gorgeous, creative, nature-built instruments will give you an appreciation you might never have thought was possible for the environment’s role in music creation throughout history.
Let’s start with one of the oldest instruments in the history of mankind. These ancient instruments are typically crafted from the horns of rams and are used in Jewish religious ceremonies. Since the Shofar obviously doesn’t feature the valves and pads that are typically found in brass and woodwind instruments, players control the pitch exclusively through embouchure, or by manipulating the lips, facial muscles, tongue, and teeth. Some shofars are painted or feature ornate carvings, while others boast a more natural look (such as the one in the above video).
Ice isn’t a material the vast, vast majority of human beings are able to create with. However, ice sculptor Tim Linhart isn’t like most human beings. According to Linhart, he built his first musical instrument out of ice in the late ’90s, and had a vision for creating a concert exclusively using similar instruments. In 2017, he somehow pulled it off using stringed and melodic percussion instruments all made from ice, with a temperature and humidity controlled room that he himself designed to perform them in.
A hollowed-out coconut can also stand in as the body for a stringed instrument, as can in fact many resonant objects found in nature such as gourds and even hardened spider egg sacks. Everything is beautiful about this instrument, from the slow, careful process it took to create it, to the sound and look of the instrument. You can’t really claim this single-stringed instrument is versatile, but it’s gorgeous and came straight from the bounty of Mother Nature herself.
+ Read more on Flypaper: “4 Enormous Instruments Taking Music to New Lows.”
These fascinating instruments are played through direct contact with water. If you’ve got a few minutes to kill, it’s well worth your time checking out the various iterations of this bizarre and delightful instrument, which feature everything from spinning disks to complex valve assemblies. Hydraulophones are not only intriguing, but they also serve as sensory exploration devices for those with poor vision.
The glass harmonica (invented in 1761) is a similar instrument, which uses wetted fingers making contact with spinning glass discs to produce a wide range of tones and timbres.
Another ancient instrument on this list, the didgeridoo, is thought to have originated thousands of years ago, and its ties to the natural world include not only the material it’s made from, but its construction process as well. Traditional didgeridoos, which are usually made out of hardwoods, aren’t even built by man but are found in nature. Trees hollowed out by termites are harvested before being adapted into instruments, and this process demands special knowledge of the landscape and termite behavioral patterns; which indigenous communities possess.
Zadar Sea Organ
Installed in Zadar, Croatia, this Sea Organ — built originally by two architects in the “Old City” — is a fascinating experimental musical instrument that draws on the natural force of oceanic waves to generate sounds. Created during an effort to rebuild the city’s coastline after World War II, the “architectural sound art object” consists of a network of polyethylene tubes and a resonating cavity located under marble steps that lead down to the sea. The music produced by the Zadar Sea Organ is random yet harmonious, with a somewhat distorted but deep, gorgeous sound.
From instruments carved out of ice to a massive organ powered by waves, it’s fascinating to see how humans have been able to transform nature into music.
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