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.     

The Getty Center, Surrounded By Wildfires, Will Leave Its Art Where It Is

The wildfires sweeping through California have left countless homeowners and businesses scrambling as the blazes continue to grow out of control in various locations throughout the state. While art lovers worried when they heard that Los Angeles's Getty Center would be closing its doors this week, as the fires closed part of the 405 Freeway, there was a bit of good news. According to museum officials, the priceless works housed inside the famed Getty Center are said to be perfectly secure and won't need to be evacuated from the facility.

“The safest place for the art is right here at the Getty,” Ron Hartwig, the Getty’s vice president of communications, told the Los Angeles Times. According to its website, the museum was closed on December 5 and December 6 “to protect the collections from smoke from fires in the region,” but as of now, the art inside is staying put.

Though every museum has its own way of protecting the priceless works inside it, the Los Angeles Times notes that the Getty Center was constructed in such a way as to protect its contents from the very kind of emergency it's currently facing. The air throughout the gallery is filtered by a system that forces it out, rather than a filtration method which would bring air in. This system will keep the smoke and air pollutants from getting into the facility, and by closing the museum this week, the Getty is preventing the harmful air from entering the building through any open doors.

There is also a water tank at the facility that holds 1 million gallons in reserve for just such an occasion, and any brush on the property is routinely cleared away to prevent the likelihood of a fire spreading. The Getty Villa, a separate campus located in the Pacific Palisades off the Pacific Coast Highway, was also closed out of concern for air quality this week.

The museum is currently working with the police and fire departments in the area to determine the need for future closures and the evacuation of any personnel. So far, the fires have claimed more than 83,000 acres of land, leading to the evacuation of thousands of people and the temporary closure of I-405, which runs right alongside the Getty near Los Angeles’s Bel-Air neighborhood.

This 77-Year-Old Artist Saves Money on Art Supplies by 'Painting' in Microsoft Excel

It takes a lot of creativity to turn a blank canvas into an inspired work of art. Japanese artist Tatsuo Horiuchi makes his pictures out of something that’s even more dull than a white page: an empty spreadsheet in Microsoft Excel.

When he retired, the 77-year-old Horiuchi, whose work was recently spotlighted by Great Big Story, decided he wanted to get into art. At the time, he was hesitant to spend money on painting supplies or even computer software, though, so he began experimenting with one of the programs that was already at his disposal.

Horiuchi's unique “painting” method shows that in the right hands, Excel’s graph-building features can be used to bring colorful landscapes to life. The tranquil ponds, dense forests, and blossoming flowers in his art are made by drawing shapes with the software's line tool, then adding shading with the bucket tool.

Since picking up the hobby in the 2000s, Horiuchi has been awarded multiple prizes for his creative work with Excel. Let that be inspiration for Microsoft loyalists who are still broken up about the death of Paint.

You can get a behind-the-scenes look at the artist's process in the video below.

[h/t Great Big Story]