Imagine an eerie mansion during a thunderstorm, the echoing of manic laughter and the terrified tones of a nubile heroine screaming “It’s alive!”
It’s the classic dramatic setting for those out-of-the-box scientific and engineering breakthroughs, right before unholy things are unleashed and later chased by people with torches and pitchforks.
Still from: Wintergatan – Marble Machine
However, not all inventions born in this setting need to be hunted down! Some can be used to delight the ears (rather than eat them), like the following five very unusual musical instruments…
5. Hyperbass Flute
For those flautists who need to crank it up to eleven and drop the bass like an anvil, there’s the hyperbass flute. With 50 feet (15 meters) of tubing length, this behemoth is a mighty four octaves below your average concert flute.
4. The Great Stalacpipe Organ
When Pentagon computer programmer Leland W. Sprinkle visited the Luray Caverns in Virginia in the ‘50s, he noticed something peculiar when his son bumped his head against one of the giant stalactites. It wasn’t the sound of his crying son echoing through the caves, but rather the sound the stalactite made. He spent the following years finding and shaving appropriate stalactites in the cave to produce specific notes. He then wired a mallet up to each stalactite, which is activated by pressing the correct key on the instrument’s keyboard.
The Oomphalapompatronium (not to be confused with Oompa Loompas from Willy Wonka), is made from a wheel, pottery, tin cans, and water bottles. Made by mad genius Len Solomon who’s been making weird instruments for 25 years, this instrument actually doesn’t sound anything like the cacaphonic disaster the name implies.
Named after the Greek god of lightning, this is basically a singing Tesla coil. Not the car, but that ominous rod with lightning sparks featured in many a Frankenstein movie and Command & Conquer: Red Alert. This scary instrument has been modified to produce musical tones by modulating its spark output. The resulting pitch is a low fidelity square wave that sounds a lot like an analog synthesizer and you can even play simple, yet dangerous chords.
1. Wintergatan Marble Machine
Built by Swedish musician Martin Molin, the Wintergatan (named after his own folktronica band) is a handmade music box that powers a kick drum, bass, vibraphone and other instruments using a hand crank and 2,000 marbles. It took 14 months to complete, and it’s essentially a beautifully decorated analog MIDI machine. Its central wheel is a 32 bar loop, and the key of the song can be adjusted while playing.