Exploring Unusual Musical Instruments

Leonardo da Vinci's viola organista has been making the rounds throughout various social networks. Polish pianist Slawomir Zubrzycki brought da Vinci's conceptual drawings to life, constructing this harpsichord/cello to life and delivering the world premiere performance last month:

After showing my students some of the footage a few weeks ago, I began to wonder what other strange and unusual musical instruments existed. This is a short list of six unusual musical instruments that I came across in my travels:

Unusual Instrument #1: Theremin Cello

Also known as the "Fingerboard Theremin", the Theremin Cello is comprised of a plastic film fingerboard. When you press upon said fingerboard, a sound is generated:

The Theremin Cello was invented by Russian physicist Leon Theremin. He's best known for another strange (more famous) instrument that is named after him: the Theremin.

Unusual Musical Instrument #2: The Otomatone

When I first learned about the Theremin Cello, I was struck by how similar the sound production was to the Otomatone. This is a video I showed my students during the Music and Technology group class last year:

The otomatone hit the market in 2009. This strange instrument was developed by CubeWorks Company of Japan.

Unusual Musical Instrument #3: Singing Stones

These sound eerie! According to Odd Music, Singing Stones is made up of 100 river rocks. These are hung from a sound box with music wire.

To play the singing stones, the strings are manipulated by hand. The musicians wear rosin-covered gloves.

Unusual Musical Instrument #4: Pikaso

It took lutenist Linda Manzer  two years to make the Pikaso for guitarist Paul Metheny. This strange musical instrument has four guitar necks, 42 strings and two access doors:

Unusual Musical Instrument #5: Xaphoon

Call it a mini or portable sax. At any rate, I want one.

Originally made of bamboo, the Xaphoon was created by Brian Wittman of Maui. Now, there are injection-molded versions which retail for approximately $120 USD:

Unusual Musical Instrument #6: LEGO Harpsichord

My inner geek is intrigued by the idea of having a functional musical instrument comprised of LEGO. This version, designed by Henry Lim uses wire strings. It really sounds like a toy piano. Please visit Mr. Lim's website for photos and an audio sample.

There are countless more unusual musical instruments. You can find out about some of them at Odd Music