Sunday, March 2, 2008

"I'll be there with bells on..."

I'm now the proud owner of an oceanharp, also known as a poor man's waterphone, the sound of which is famous from sci-fi and horror movies everywhere. Even if you never knew what it looked like, you've probably heard it. I've always wanted one, but with no real reason to make such a frivolous purchase, it remained a fond wish, and nothing more. However, my orchestra piece Of aspens, hills and shattered dreams has a prominent part for waterphone in the final section, and the Helsinki Philharmonic was understandably not all that enthused about buying an otherwise useless instrument, what with a tiny, tiny handful of pieces calling for it. The sound can be replicated (badly) with a bowed cymbal, but the waterphone's entry is really the cherry on top of Aspens as far as I'm concerned, so I gleefully pulled out my credit card. It's a silly thing to have, really, what with its uses being limited mainly to 1) sound source for electronic music, and 2) sitting exotically on my office shelf and making my students think I'm cool.

While prepping last week's lecture on Mahler's Symphony no. 2, though, I was pleased to discover that I'm in rather exalted company, if not quite in the same league, in buying odd instruments for a single performance. It seems Mahler didn't like any of the commonly available orchestral bell sounds, and actually went out and bought a set of church bells for the final moments of the 2nd.

I bet the shipping charges were brutal.


Hannah said...

I want to hear it! It looks cool!

Matthew Whittall said...

Check out the waterphone home page I linked to, there are a few samples to be had.