Michael via Flickr // CC BY-NC-SA 2.0
Michael via Flickr // CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

8 Unusually Large Musical Instruments

Michael via Flickr // CC BY-NC-SA 2.0
Michael via Flickr // CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Sometimes bigger is better, as in a box of chocolates. But with musical instruments, bigger is just different. The biggest instruments can provide rich, full, low notes, but those often come at the expense of portability. So if you get a chance to listen to music made by one of these instruments, don’t pass it up.


Maria Ramey via Wikimedia Commons and Eva Kingma via Wikimedia Commons // CC-BY-3.0

Flutes are usually thought of as small, higher-pitched instruments, but there are other types of flutes that are larger and produce lower notes. The subcontrabass flute plays a fourth below the contrabass flute, and the pipe is over 15 feet long. You can hear what the subcontrabass flute sounds like in this video, and see it in the image above on the right. On the left is a double contrabass flute; both instruments are played by flutist Maria Ramey.


Dracoswinsauer via Wikimedia Commons // CC BY 3.0 us

A zeusaphone is what you get when you create music with Tesla coils, although some call this instrument a thoremin. Both names are puns made by applying mythological gods' names to earlier instruments (sousaphone and theremin, respectively). The term "zeusaphone" is trademarked by a company that sells and rents singing Tesla coils.

The best-known Tesla coil band is ArcAttack. The group uses two homemade Tesla coils to send arcs up to 12 feet long between them, and they sometimes include humans wearing Faraday suits (to protect them from electricity) in their performances. You can hear a variety of their tunes at the band's YouTube page.


Steve via Flickr // CC BY-SA 2.0

A hydraulophone is an organ powered by water. When a hydraulophone is not being played, it serves as a water fountain. The music starts when you cover one or more of the water jets, which forces the water through a calibrated pipe. Many such fountains are part of civic fountain installations. Shown here is the FUNtain, a hydraulophone that is part of the Teluscape at the Ontario Science Center. You can hear music played on the Teluscape's water organ in this video


Erwin Schoonderwaldt via Flickr // CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

The octobass is the largest of all stringed instruments. It was invented in 1850 by luthier Jean­-Baptiste Vuillaume. It is essentially a 12-foot tall fiddle, which produces sounds deeper than the lowest double bass. In most cases, it takes two people to play the octobass: one to draw the bow and the other to fret the three strings.  


Stan Mouser via Wikimedia Commons // CC BY 2.0

The Great Stalacpipe Organ is billed as the world's largest musical instrument, located deep underground in Luray Caverns in Virginia. Rubber-tipped mallets tap the caves' natural stalactites and produce musical tones. The stalactites used cover 3.5 acres! Listen to the music the Stalacpipe makes here.


The Wave Organ, part of the Exploratorium in San Francisco, is a seaside sculpture that includes 25 organ pipes. The pipes are activated by the action of the waves splashing against them. Built by Peter Richards and George Gonzalez and completed in 1986, the Wave Organ covers several levels of a seaside jetty in order to work with both high and low tides, although the sound is best at high tide. The Zadar Sea Organ in Croatia is a similar project.


Michael via Flickr // CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

The Boardwalk Hall Auditorium Organ in Atlantic City, New Jersey, is the largest pipe organ ever built, based on the number of pipes. When the hall opened in 1929, the seating capacity was 42,000 people. To fill that huge space, the organ uses over 33,000 pipes! The console has seven keyboards and more than 1200 stops. 


Finnianhughes101 via Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

In 1893, Thaddeus Cahill conceived what may have been the first significant electronic musical instrument, by harnessing the tones created by telephone transmission. His telharmonium transmitted live music over telephone lines to any number of people who wanted to hear it, giving us the first long-distance live concert. But what really stands out about the telharmonium—and eventually spelled its downfall—was its size.

To generate enough power to play music, the instrument included a huge electric motor, 12 dynamos, 145 tone wheels to recreate various notes and instruments, and a two-person keyboard to control it. Cahill’s first telharmonium required 12 railroad cars for transport. He eventually built three models, each bigger and more expensive than the last, and they cost a lot more than they earned. Cahill stopped played telharmonium concerts over phone lines in 1916, and unfortunately neither the instrument nor any recording of its music survive today.     

University of York
Stones, Bones, and Wrecks
UK Archaeologists Have Found One of the World’s Oldest 'Crayons'
University of York
University of York

A prehistoric chunk of pigment found near an ancient lake in England may be one of the world's oldest crayons, Colossal reports. The small object made of red ochre was discovered during an archaeological excavation near Lake Flixton, a prehistoric lake that has since become a peat wetland but was once occupied by Mesolithic hunter-gatherers. Though it’s hard to date the crayon itself, it was found in a layer of earth dating back to the 7th millennium BCE, according to a recent study by University of York archaeologists.

Measuring less than an inch long, the piece of pigment is sharpened at one end, and its shape indicates that it was modified by a person and used extensively as a tool, not shaped by nature. The piece "looks exactly like a crayon," study author Andy Needham of the University of York said in a press release.

A pebble of red ochre thought to be a prehistoric crayon
University of York

The fine grooves and striations on the crayon suggest that it was used as a drawing tool, and indicate that it might have been rubbed against a granular surface (like a rock). Other research has found that ochre was collected and used widely by prehistoric hunter-gatherers like the ones who lived near Lake Flixton, bolstering the theory that it was used as a tool.

The researchers also found another, pebble-shaped fragment of red ochre at a nearby site, which was scraped so heavily that it became concave, indicating that it might have been used to extract the pigment as a red powder.

"The pebble and crayon were located in an area already rich in art," Needham said. "It is possible there could have been an artistic use for these objects, perhaps for coloring animal skins or for use in decorative artwork."

[h/t Colossal]

Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images
Tour the National Museum of Scotland From Home With Google Street View
Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images
Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images

Google's Street View technology can be used to view some amazing art, whether it's behind the walls of the Palace of Versailles in France or the Guggenheim Museum in New York. As the BBC reports, the National Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh is the latest institution to receive the virtual treatment.

The museum contains items tracing the history of the world and humanity. In the Natural World galleries, visitors will find a hulking Tyrannosaurus rex skeleton and a panorama of wildlife. In the World Cultures galleries, there are centuries' worth of art and innovation to see. The museum's permanent galleries and the 20,000 objects on display can all be viewed from home thanks to the new online experience.

Users can navigate the virtual museum as they would a regular location on Street View. Just click the area you wish to explore and drag your cursor for full 365-degree views. If there's a particular piece that catches your interest, you may be able to learn more about it from Google Arts & Culture. The site has added 1000 items from the National Museum of Scotland to its database, complete with high-resolution photos and detailed descriptions.

The Street View tour is a convenient option for art lovers outside the UK, but the museum is also worth visiting in person: Like its virtual counterpart, admission to the institution is free.

[h/t BBC]