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Pyrophonia: Music on Fire

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"Flaming" and "on fire" are words used all the time for musicians who are "burning it up," or playing with talent and fervor. The phrases are usually not meant to be taken literally. But the universal human fascination with fire and music is sometimes combined into instruments that are literally on fire. And they come in all shapes and sizes, like these ten. Warning: these projects are dangerous, and should be left to professionals.

1. Flamebone or Frankenhorn

Jonathon Crawford (who goes by the handle Pyro) added fire to his trombone, with what appears to be an acetylene torch. Scott was inspired to make his own "Flamebone" (pictured) by connecting a torch and an air compressor to his horn.

It has a 21 foot range with the fireball, and a concussion wave of 150 feet. It can be difficult to play since it has a recoil.

Does it need to be said that this can be dangerous, and should never be tried inside?

2. Tubatron

Animator David Silverman is best known as the director of The Simpsons Movie and many episodes of the TV show. But he is also a musician. He plays the Tubatron, or flaming Sousaphone. The instrument is rigged with a propane tank that feeds flames Silverman can control. You can see him perform every year at Burning Man, or at YouTube.

3. Flaming Tuba

The Sousaphone is not alone as far as fire-belching bass horns go. This gentleman plays a flaming tuba on the street in Bratislava, Slovakia. I haven't found any information on him, but he's been recorded on video many times.

4. Pyrophone

The word pyrophone literally means "fire sound." The instrument is a series of pipes like an organ or calliope, but the sound is made by applying combustion to the pipes, usually with propane or gasoline. The pyrophone is, essentially, the dangerous opposite of the hydraulophone. Early pyrophones of the 18th and 19th centuries resembled pipe organs, although they worked like steam calliopes powered by internal combustion generators. Modern pyrophones are more likely to be homemade experiments in explosion technology, as you can see in this video performance. Nathan Stodola designed the pyrophone pictured here, which he named the Thermoacoustic Organ, or Fire Organ. The heat is provided by propane, and the pipes are cooled with liquid nitrogen. The cooling allows the pipes to be played and then replayed sooner than other pyrophones. Watch Stodola's Fire Organ in action in this video.

5. The Pyrophone Juggernaut

The Pyrophone Juggernaut is a fire organ played by directing the flames of a blowtorch into the various pipes. See a performance on video. Image by Flickr user John Goodridge.

6. L'Orgue à Feu

French sculptor Michel Moglia built the L'Orgue à Feu in 1989. This fire organ is 7 meters long and 9 meters high! It plays on 200 stainless steel tubes of different sizes. You can witness a performance of this instrument at YouTube. Image by Thierry Nava.

7. Fire Horn

Ariel Schlesinger noticed that a can of butane to refill lighters was cheaper than a can of compressed air. That gave him the idea to fuel an air horn with a butane canister to produce a Fire Horn. Not only is it an economical way to power the horn, but also have a pyrotechnic show to go along with it. Does that sound dangerous to you? Schlesinger has a video of the flaming horn at his site.

8. Ruben's Tube

The Ruben's Tube, or standing wave flame tube, began as an experiment to show the relationship between sound and pressure. A tube with holes is filled with flammable gas, and a speaker is attached. The pressure from sound waves causes the flames to spike. The Ruben's Tube was invented in 1904 by German physicist Heinrich Rubens. While physics students learn from the experiment, most of us think "Light show!" You can see how music affects the flames in this video. If you'd like to make your own Ruben's Tube, instructions are available online.

9. Syzygryd

Syzygryd is a collaborative musical instrument made for Burning Man 2010. The three musicians use computerized controls set equidistant around a 60-foot diameter circle. They can see each other, but they are too far apart to talk -however, they can monitor each other's input on a screen. The music they play controls a sculpture in the center of the circle, "a huge metal tornado of cubes," which displays lights synchronized with the music and shoots out flames. Syzygryd can also play preprogrammed music without live musicians. Image by Flickr user Michael Broxton.

Syzygryd proved to be very popular at Burning Man, with many participants wanting to take a turn playing it. Even non-musicians can make music, as the instrument is tuned to create working chords no matter what data is fed into it, but the controllers do produce unique melodies.

10. Musical Flamethrower

As a final note, here's a musical instrument made from a collection of flamethrowers of differing lengths. I don't know who made it, but this demonstration was recorded at the Preston Riversway Festival in Preston, Lancashire, England this past July.

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Pop Culture
5 Killer Pieces of Rock History Up for Auction Now (Including Prince’s Guitar)
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Karrah Kobus/NPG Records via Getty Images

If you’ve ever wanted to own a piece of rock history, now is the time. A whole host of cool music memorabilia from the 20th century is going up for sale through Julien’s Auctions in Los Angeles as part of its “Icons and Idols” sale. If you’ve got the dough, you can nab everything from leather chairs from Graceland to a shirt worn by Jimi Hendrix to never-before-available prints that Joni Mitchell signed and gave to her friends. Here are five highlights from the auction:

1. ELVIS’S NUNCHUCKS

Elvis’s nunchucks
Courtesy Julien's Auctions

Elvis’s karate skills sometimes get a bad rap, but the King earned his first black belt in 1960, and went on to become a seventh-degree black belt before opening his own studio in 1974. You can cherish a piece of his martial arts legacy in the form of his nunchaku. One was broken during his training, but the other is still in ready-to-use shape. (But please don’t use it.) It seems Elvis wasn’t super convinced of his own karate skills, though, because he also supposedly carried a police baton (which you can also buy) for his personal protection.

2. PRINCE’S GUITAR

A blue guitar used by Prince
Courtesy Julien's Auctions

Prince’s blue Cloud guitar, estimated to be worth between $60,000 and $80,000, appeared on stage with him in the late ’80s and early ’90s. The custom guitar was made just for Prince by Cloud’s luthier (as in, guitar maker) Andy Beech. The artist first sold it at a 1994 auction to benefit relief efforts for the L.A. area’s devastating Northridge earthquake.

3. KURT COBAIN’S CHEERLEADER OUTFIT

Kurt Cobain wearing a cheerleader outfit in the pages of Rolling Stone
Courtesy Julien's Auctions

The Nirvana frontman wore the bright-yellow cheerleader’s uniform from his alma mater, J.M. Weatherwax High School in Aberdeen, Washington, during a photo shoot for a January 1994 issue of Rolling Stone, released just a few months before his death.

4. MICHAEL JACKSON’S WHITE GLOVE

A white glove covered in rhinestones
Courtesy Julien's Auctions

A young Michael Jackson wore this bejeweled right-hand glove on his 1981 Triumph Tour, one of the first of many single gloves he would don over the course of his career. Unlike later incarnations, this one isn’t a custom-made glove with hand-sewn crystals, but a regular glove topped with a layer of rhinestones cut into the shape of the glove and sewn on top.

The auction house is also selling a pair of jeans the star wore to his 2003 birthday party, as well as other clothes he wore for music videos and performances.

5. WOOD FROM ABBEY ROAD STUDIOS

A piece of wood in a frame under a picture of The Beatles
Courtesy Julien's Auctions

You can’t walk the halls of Abbey Road Studios, but you can pretend. First sold in 1986, the piece of wood in this frame reportedly came from Studio Two, a recording space that hosted not only The Beatles (pictured), but Pink Floyd, Stevie Wonder, Eric Clapton, and others.

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Pop Culture
How Jimmy Buffett Turned 'Margaritaville' Into a Way of Life
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Ethan Miller/Getty Images

Few songs have proven as lucrative as “Margaritaville,” a modest 1977 hit by singer and songwriter Jimmy Buffett that became an anthem for an entire life philosophy. The track was the springboard for Buffett’s business empire—restaurants, apparel, kitchen appliances, and more—marketing the taking-it-easy message of its tropical print lyrics.

After just a few years of expanding that notion into other ventures, the “Parrot Heads” of Buffett’s fandom began to account for $40 million in annual revenue—and that was before the vacation resorts began popping up.

Jimmy Buffett performs for a crowd
Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

“Margaritaville,” which turned 40 this year, was never intended to inspire this kind of devotion. It was written after Buffett, as an aspiring musician toiling in Nashville, found himself in Key West, Florida, following a cancelled booking in Miami and marveling at the sea of tourists clogging the beaches.

Like the other songs on his album, Changes in Latitudes, Changes in Attitudes, it didn’t receive a lot of radio play. Instead, Buffett began to develop his following by opening up for The Eagles. Even at 30, Buffett was something less than hip—a flip-flopped performer with a genial stage presence that seemed to invite an easygoing vibe among crowds. “Margaritaville,” an anthem to that kind of breezy attitude, peaked at number eight on the Billboard charts in 1977. While that’s impressive for any single, its legacy would quickly evolve beyond the music industry's method for gauging success.

What Buffett realized as he continued to perform and tour throughout the early 1980s is that “Margaritaville” had the ability to sedate audiences. Like a hypnotist, the singer could immediately conjure a specific time and place that listeners wanted to revisit. The lyrics painted a scene of serenity that became a kind of existential vacation for Buffett's fans:

Nibblin' on sponge cake,
Watchin' the sun bake;
All of those tourists covered with oil.
Strummin' my six string on my front porch swing.
Smell those shrimp —
They're beginnin' to boil.

By 1985, Buffett was ready to capitalize on that goodwill. In Key West, he opened a Margaritaville store, which sold hats, shirts, and other ephemera to residents and tourists looking to broadcast their allegiance to his sand-in-toes fantasy. (A portion of the proceeds went to Save the Manatees, a nonprofit organization devoted to animal conservation.) The store also sold the Coconut Telegraph, a kind of propaganda newsletter about all things Buffett and his chill perspective.

When Buffett realized patrons were coming in expecting a bar or food—the song was named after a mixed drink, after all—he opened a cafe adjacent to the store in late 1987. The configuration was ideal, and through the 1990s, Buffett and business partner John Cohlan began erecting Margaritaville locations in Florida, New Orleans, and eventually Las Vegas and New York. All told, more than 21 million people visit a Buffett-inspired hospitality destination every year.

A parrot at Margaritaville welcomes guests
Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

Margaritaville-branded tequila followed. So, too, did a line of retail foods like hummus, a book of short stories, massive resorts, a Sirius radio channel, and drink blenders. Buffett even wrote a 242-page script for a Margaritaville movie that he had hoped to film in the 1980s. It’s one of the very few Margaritaville projects that has yet to have come to fruition, but it might be hard for Buffett to complain much. In 2015, his entire empire took in $1.5 billion in sales.

As of late, Buffett has signed off on an Orlando resort due to open in 2018, offering “casual luxury” near the boundaries of Walt Disney World. (One in Hollywood, Florida, is already a hit, boasting a 93 percent occupancy rate.) Even for guests that aren’t particularly familiar with his music, “Jimmy Buffett” has become synonymous with comfort and relaxation just as surely as Walt Disney has with family entertainment. The association bodes well for a business that will eventually have to move beyond Buffett’s concert-going loyalists.

Not that he's looking to leave them behind. The 70-year-old Buffett is planning on a series of Margaritaville-themed retirement communities, with the first due to open in Daytona Beach in 2018. More than 10,000 Parrot Heads have already registered, eager to watch the sun set while idling in a frame of mind that Buffett has slowly but surely turned into a reality.

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