Have you ever seen something and thought 'Christ, I wonder what type of sexual deviant uses that toy?' only to see someone pick it up, put a strap over their shoulder, and either blow/pluck/press/wave their hands about randomly (delete as appropriate), and for a musical sound to come out of it? For me personally, most of these instances have occurred while watching 'Later...with Jools Holland', when it comes to the obligatory 'world music' section (you know, where he features some tribal shaman from Yemen or something who has just signed a deal with EMI...). So, in homage to the ever-inventive nature of the human condition, here are a collection of some of the most impressive, confusingly named, bizarrely constructed or just plain fucked up instruments that REALLY EXIST.
-Sounding like some unfeasible African mammal, the Aquaggaswack is a relatively recent invention on the musical instrument scene. Conceieved in 1996, the first version featured a number of cooking pot lids attached to a tubular frame. A later modified version two years later included a higher number of pot lids (29 in total, giving the majority of notes in an octave, and some quarter-tones, because, you know, you NEED those when playing pot lids). The general sound is that of bells or gongs, and some additional features for the instrument include cymbals, jingle bells and/or a cowbell.
LIKELIHOOD THAT MIKE OLDFIELD HAS ONE: 6/10 (It all seems a bit primitive and homemade for our Michael).
Not sounding like some unfeasible African mammal, but rather something they might have made in a Blue Peter 'home-make' segment, this is an experimental instrument (aren't they all?) that the maker, a certain Mr. Iner Souster, constructs using refrigerator grates. The rest of the instrument is made of an old speaker, a cake tin, a metal salad bowl, some some random pieces of scrap metal. To assist with 'resonance', there are 36 strings attached to it. Super!
LIKELIHOOD THAT MIKE OLDFIELD HAS ONE: 5/10 (It's even more homemade looking than the Aquaggaswack!)
A mental mashing up of the digeridoo and the bass, this creation looks quite sleek and professional compared to the sort of things people make from hunting in scrapyards, coming up with items that resemble something they'd play at some post-apocalyptic knees up in 'Mad Max' or something. It has a hollow aluminium body, and uses 'internal baffles' to 'fold the air flow' and direct it out of holes at the front. This gives the instrument the abilities of a full-size digeridoo in a 24 inch portable item. An internal microphone picks up the digeridoo sounds, while an electric pickup amplifies the bass strings. The sound is actually quite impressive - yes it's just a digeridoo with bass, but it's certainly different.
LIKELIHOOD THAT MIKE OLDFIELD HAS ONE: 8/10 (Probably saving it for use on that Aborigine-themed album he has planned...)
Quite a twee name, no? It's actually a globutubular horn with a goat-skin resonator, but you knew that already just from looking at the photo, didn't you! The tubular section is made ffrom the neck and fingerboard of a fiddle, and the goat-skin membrane works as the soundboard. It can feature either one or two 'gut strings' (don't ask, it's probably safer).
LIKELIHOOD THAT MIKE OLDFIELD HAS ONE: 2/10 (Instruments are one thing, but when you start skinning goats to make them, you can count me, and Mr. Oldfield, out)
The 'Former' Guitar
Former, as in, 'used to be a guitar'? Well, you'd be pretty much correct. Much like the 'ex-parrot' from the infamous Monty Python sketch, this appears to be a guitar that has passed on and screeched it's last feedback, and now exists as a sort of zombie instrument. They have two strings which share tension through a head that pivots under a long 'whammy arm'. This makes one string tighten as the other loosens. They also have a moveable bridge that can achieve 'hammer-on' sounds and other techniques. And do they sound like actual guitars? Well, finding a reliable audio sample was quite hard, but one would assume so...
LIKELIHOOD THAT MIKE OLDFIELD HAS ONE: 9/10 (It seems rather counter-productive making one of these if the sound is rather similar to a normal guitar, but hey, at least he'll know he's using one!)
Resembling a piece of modern art that might win the Turner Prize or something, the Harp-Kora carries a rather obvious clue as to how you play it in the name. Created by Dennis Havlena, it is in essence a double-sided harp (because one-sided harps are like, reaaaaaally shit) and is played like a Kora (and everyone knows how to play those). There are 10 strings on the right hand side, and 11 on the other. Standing just over 31 inches tall, its tone is apparently 'decidedly resonant and beautiful with good volume'. If you really want to, you can make a Harp-Kora by checking out http://www.cmich.edu/Pages/default.aspx, which appears to be the website for the Central Michigan University site. But hey, that makes it just as random as this instrument!
LIKELIHOOD THAT MIKE OLDFIELD HAS ONE: 7/10 (And if he for some reason doesn't, his next-door neighbour does)
The LEGO Harpsichord
If there's one improvement that can be made to practically anything in life, its to make it out of LEGO. Except perhaps cuddly toys, they don't really work. Instruments however, certainly can be not only recreated in LEGO, but used as a viable means of making sound. The borderline-insane Henry Lim created this, and the only other material used apart from a certain brand of Danish coloured plastic bricks were a few wire strings. With a 61-note range, the instrument stands an impressive 6 x 3ft, weighs about 150lbs and was made using around 100,000 bricks. With concerns about the overall durability of the instrument, not only from everyday playing, but the possibility of a Pete Townshend post-gig attack, several prototypes were built. After finally deciding on the design (a process that took two years) Lim was done. Rumours that he was starting on a LEGO guitar were greatly exaggerated.
LIKELIHOOD THAT MIKE OLDFIELD HAS ONE: 0/10 (Do you know ANYONE with LEGO instruments? Exactly!)
The Madame Chiouque
OK, this one just sounds like a high-class prostitute. One who charges LOADS. You'll be delighted to find out though, that it's actually a six stringed, electric pickup-equipped 'electronic wood instrument'. It was designed by an Ohio-based band called The Gongs, and the electric element comes from twelve loops of electricity running through carbon plastic and copper, which are operated by 'disc hoppers' (no, me neither). One person who played this apparently said: "It feels like plucking a string instrument, but this string instrument is a pure sine wave!". This person then spontaneously combusted. Probably.
LIKELIHOOD THAT MIKE OLDFIELD HAS ONE: 7/10 (I can see Mr. Oldfield having one, or perhaps two, of these in his loft)
The Riday T-91 Midi Controller
Invented, as the name suggests, by Rick Riday, this is a 'Midi controller' that used a unified keyboard design. Looking like something from the bridge controls of the Starship Enterprise, it allows for 'identical fingering patterns' (oo-er missus!) and twelve scales, for when eleven just ISN'T ENOUGH. Riday has said that the instrument will be available sometime in the future, but apart from Jean-Michel Jarre, I can't really see a market for this one.
LIKELIHOOD THAT MIKE OLDFIELD HAS ONE: 2/10 (Oldfield isn't a wide user of keyboards and shit, and this just looks a bit 80s, like those keytar guitar/synth hybrids people like Herbie Hancock had)
The Sequential Resonation Machine
Yay, I was wondering when one of these might come along. Have a look at that photo. It looks like something they used to torture people with. Although in a very appealing 'Antiques Roadshow' kind of way. This bitch 'routes any amplified sound source through a twelve position switch on top of the unit'. Well of course it does, and why not? Powered by a DC motor, the user can 'patch switched signals into any one of the pipe jack multiples' (erm...) From the outer jacks, the signal is sent to speakers under each of the twelve pipes - like a very simple sequencer (ah, that's alright then). Unfortunately, this sounds appalling - like a randomly sequenced pattern of animals farting at various speeds. Another clip resembled what a group of pissed off spirits coming from the afterlife through some Hell Gate might sound like, and the final clip I found was a bit like someone burping in reverse. Not much chance of this being used on One Direction's next single, then.
LIKELIHOOD THAT MIKE OLDFIELD HAS ONE: 0/10 (It's shit. Cool name though)
Rather worryingly described as 'four necks, two holes' - I'm sure that was the tag-line on an adult movie I saw once - the Pikasso just looks over-complicated. Look at it! It's like a guitar with multiple personality disorder. Imagine trying to re-string this bastard, it'd be impossible. This is reflected in the construction time - 2 years, or roughly 1000hrs. When the Pikasso is fully stringed, it carries around 1000lbs of pressure, and weighs about 6.5kgs. Apparently this was made for Pat Metheny, who used it to connect to his Synclavier computer system for reasons that are too mind-boggling to comprehend. The body of the instrument is tapered so the side closest to the player is thinner. It's said this makes it more comfortable to use, despite the fact the average user would need a manual the size of the Bible and avoid having a complete mental collapse while trying figuring it out.
LIKELIHOOD THAT MIKE OLDFIELD HAS ONE: 10/10 (This has to be a certain shoe-in for inclusion at one of his studios)
The Singing Stones
Perhaps the only instrument you'll ever see made of rocks, this is made out of around 100 rocks retrieved from a river, and suspended by musical wire from a wing-shaped sound box in a steep arch. The strings release sounds as the user dances and 'caresses and tugs the strings with rosin-covered gloves' (sounds kinky). Apparently you can't use any old fucking rocks, either. No. You need 'resonant slate' from either the Cascade mountains, the Pacific Ocean, or the Applegate River to create this beast. The sound is rather tinny, which I wasn't expecting, but I don't think I could sit through a whole performance of this - its like listening to really high-pitched building work taking place.
LIKELIHOOD THAT MIKE OLDFIELD HAS ONE: 1/10 (It's all a bit hippy, more likely to be found at Glastonbury, one would think)
Perhaps the instrument in this list you've most likely heard of, the theramin is one of the earliest electronic instruments and is played without even touching it. With the use of two antennas, the operator is the link in an 'electro-static coupling' with the electrodes on the housing. When the user's hands move, changes in pitch and volume take place. The left side is the volume control, the right side the pitch. Invented in the 1920s by Lev Termen, it became a popular instrument for eerie sound effects, and was used on many sci-fi film soundtracks. Bands such as Led Zeppelin, Radiohead and Nine Inch Nails have been known to use it and while finding a very early model is practically impossible, more modern versions are still manufactured. Synthesiser pioneer Robert Moog created a version of the theramin called the Etherwave, before he moved onto the synthesiser later in his career.
LIKELIHOOD THAT MIKE OLDFIELD HAS ONE: 9/10 (I imagine he probably has one in his bathroom for when he's on the loo)
The Weather Harp
This is a wind operated harp made from marine ply, goat-skin, steel and other media. 21 strings start in the middle of the instrument and extend to the outside, creating 42 different notes in total. There are 'wind cups' attached that power the instrument, and play a rhythm melody on the treble strings with the use of a bamboo 'plucking arm' (fnaaar!!). Interestingly, this instrument is another that is technically played without touch - more often that not, it is mounted on a wall (hyuck! hyuck!) with wind or breeze enabling it to make sounds. Some have a line attached to it that enable a user to activate the arm from ground level, too!
LIKELIHOOD THAT MIKE OLDFIELD HAS ONE: 1/10 (There's not really much call for these around Oldfield's home)
Pete Muscutt is currently busy constructing his own musical instrument from 50,000 discarded Muller 'Corner' yoghurt pots, a plank of wood entirely covered with elastic bands and the skin of a small porcupine stretched over a metal dustbin lid.