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20 Unique and Weird Musical Instruments3

By B.Z.

Everyone has an obsession. Some people love foreign films, others love porn (or satirical adult web series, and there are even a few oddballs who think that the key to happiness lies in a diverse and creative diet of hamburgers. But perhaps one of the most understandable “obsessions” in today’s world of complex technology and non-stop networking is music. After all, music has a unique way of getting down to the basics, stripping an emotion, a thought, a relationship, even a story down to a melody. Something we can tap our feet to. As Shakespeare scripted in Twelfth Night, “If music be the food of love, play on.”

At KoldCast, we can’t help but agree with Shakespeare, and we bet that if he were still alive he’d be a big fan of our series “The Craft”. It may not feature Shakespearian language or archetypes, but it is a nuanced display of musicians from across the world. And, as a companion piece to “The Craft”, below we’ve compiled some of the most unique (and weirdest-looking) instruments known to man. Thou should take a look, and let us know thy thoughts in the comment section.

1. Shamisen (Japan)

The Shamisen is a three-string instrument resembling a banjo with a slimmer neck and smaller base. Its name derives from the Sanshin (three-string) musical instrument from the 16th century Ryukyu Kingdom. Today, it remains a popular folk instrument throughout Japan, where street buskers are commonly seen rocking out with their shamisens out. Popular musicians like the Yoshida Brothers play the shamisen in unison with the electric guitar.

2. Danso (Korea)

The Korean danso is a vertical wind instrument with four finger holes and a thumb node at the back. It is often used as an educational tool in Korean grade schools. Traditional dansos are made of bamboo, but some modern versions of the instrument are built from plastic.

3. Duduk (Armenia)

This double-reed wind instrument is common in Eastern Europe and the Middle East. Unlike other reed instruments, the duduk has ample girth, which produces a hearty sound. Though still in use today, the duduk has been around the block for some 3,000 years.

4. Langeleik (Norway)

This Norwegian string instrument resembles the Appalachian dulcimer, except it is played flat on the ground, not upright. The langeleik has one melody string in addition to eight drone strings.

5. Sitar (India)

Musician Ravi Shankar made this instrument popular in the West, but it is most prevalent in India. When played, the sitar is balanced against the musician’s left foot and right knee. The Beatles featured it in their song “Norwegian Wood (This Bird has Flown)” after guitarist George Harrison took lessons from Shankar. The Rolling Stones also feature the sitar in “Paint It Black.”

6. Balalaika (Russia)

The balalaika comes in multiple sizes, ranging from the tiny piccolo to the contrabass, which can measure as wide and as tall as a human. Although the balalaika is Russian in origin, six-string versions are also popular in the Ukraine.

7. Sea Organ (Croatia)

More a piece of architecture than a musical instrument, the Sea Organ of Zadar looks like a manmade walkway by the ocean. That is, until a breeze passes through it. Quite literally, the Sea Organ is a wind instrument that plays music in reaction to the ocean waves. A series of tubes and passageways beneath its marble steps create a random and eerily harmonic tune.

8. Eigenharp (UK)

The Eigenharp is a rather recent invention. Created in Britain in 2009, the Eigenharp possesses a wind controller and a series of percussion keys that control its harmonic delivery. Due to these features, it’s difficult to fully classify the Eigenharp beyond the broad label of “electronic music instrument.” This novelty instrument goes for up to £3,995 British pounds.

9. Tenori-On (Japan)

At first glance, the Tenori-On looks more like a video game than a musical instrument. Developed by Toshio Iwai, designer for the Nintendo DS game, “Electroplankton”, the Tenori-On possesses a 16×16 grid of LED switches that enable musicians to create a constantly evolving sound.

10. Ocarina

Old school gamers might be familiar with the ocarina through the Legend of Zelda Nintendo series, but it may still come as a surprise that it is an actual instrument. Different versions of the ocarina have sprung up throughout Latin America, China, and Italy, so it is difficult to assign it to a specific region. However, it was first discovered in Latin America as many as 12,000 years ago, and in the 19th century, Italian designers devised a toy version of it for children.

11. Aeolian Wind Harp (Greece)

Much like the Croatian Sea Organ, the Aeolian Wind Harp relies on nature to produce music. The name derives from Aeolyus, the ancient Greek god of wind. It’s essentially a box with strings attached across two narrow bridges. Musicians place it near an open window where the wind can caress the strings and create an invariably pleasant melody.

12. Glass Armonica (America)

The glass armonica produces a sound when rubbing a wet finger around the rim of a glass goblet. Even though its use was once commonplace around Europe, Benjamin Franklin crafted his own mechanical version in America. With his design, it was possible to simultaneously play ten glasses at once. Mozart loved the instrument so much that he reportedly wrote two compositions for it. However, its long-term popularity didn’t last due to rumors that it caused both its musicians and audiences to go mad.

13. Tsabouna (Greece)

The Tsabouna dates back over 2,000 years. Made from goatskin, this inflatable instrument features a long reed mouthpiece and clearly resembles a bagpipe. It can play a total of six notes.

14. Bonang (Java)

This Javanese instrument consists of a series of brass gongs strung together on a wooden frame. The musician strikes its brass heads with padded sticks to create the desired effect. The flattened heads produce a lower pitch, while the more arched ones produce a higher pitch.

15. Hang (Switzerland)

The Hang is the youngest non-electric instrument on our list. It was developed in Switzerland by Felix Rohner and Sabina Scharer in 2000. Since then, it has undergone five major updates. To play the instrument, the musician holds it in his/her lap, rubbing and tapping it.

16. Oud (Middle East)

The Oud is a pear shaped instrument originating in the Middle-East. It served as precursor for the lute, and was once played by trubadours across Europe. These musicians sang of chivalry and courtly love, much like Michael Bolton or Sting.

17. Kaval

This instrument is prevalent in many nations. The peoples of Azerbaijan, Turkey, Bulgaria, Macedonia, southern Serbia, Northern Greece, Romania, and Armenia have been known to use the Kaval for its musical prowess. In a nutshell, the kaval is an open-ended flute that played by blowing on the sharper edge of one end.

18. Erhu (China)

One of the most visually interesting instruments on this list, Erbu roughly translates to “southern fiddle”. It resembles a Chinese violin with a more oblong base. At the bottom of the instrument is a small sound box that is covered with python (yes, python!) skin.

19. Didgeridoo (Australia)

Originating over 1,500 years ago, the didgeridoo still remains in widespread use. Known for its peculiar hum, most people label it a wooden trumpet or drone pipe, but musicologists classify it as an aerophone. The Didgridoo is made from eucalpyptus wood that’s hollowed out by termites.

20. Kora (West Africa)

The Kora is a staggering 21-string harp lute from West Africa. Some 20th century models even tack an additional four strings onto the original design. The Kora is arguably harder to tune than it is to play, which leaves many tourists in Africa not only enraptured by its music but by the skill of the musician.

A Music Recommendation from KoldCast TV

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Must Reads 9/17/2014