ca - 500 BC __ Æolian harp
‣ Comment : Greeks invented the first automatic composition machine with the Greek Æolian harp. This may be considered the first automatic instrument. It was named for Aeolus, the Greek god of the wind. The instrument had two bridges over which the strrings passed. The instrument was placed in a window where air current would pass, and the strings were activated by the wind current. Rather than being of different lengths, the strings were all the same length and tuned to the same pitch, but because of different string thicknesses, varying pitches could be produced. (Ramakrishnan Subramanian, Theorizer - a tool that abstracts fundamental concepts in music theory and can be used in a procedural music composition environment, 2006) — The traditional æolian harp is essentially a wooden box including a sounding board, with strings stretched lengthwise across two bridges. It is placed in a slightly opened window where the wind can blow across the strings to produce sounds. The strings can be made of different materials (or thicknesses) and all be tuned to the same pitch, or identical strings can be tuned to different pitches. The sound is random, depending on the strength of the wind passing over the strings, and can range from a barely audible hum to a loud scream. If the strings are tuned to different notes, sometimes only one tone is heard and sometimes chords. The harp is driven by “von Karman vortex street” effect (Theodore von Kármán (1881-1963)). The motion of the wind across a string causes perioding vortex downstream and this alternating vortex causes the string to vibrate. Lord Rayleigh (1842-1919) first solved the mystery of the æolian harp in a paper published in the Philosophy Magazine (“Æolian Tones”, Philosophical Magazine, series 6, 1915). The effect can sometimes be observed in overhead utility lines, fast enough to be heard or slow enough to be seen. A stiff rod will perform; a non-telescoping automobile radio antenna can be a dramatic exhibitor. And of course the effect can happen in other media; in the anchor line of a ship in a river, for example. Æolian harps are featured in at least two Romantic-era poems, "The Æolian Harp" and "Dejection, an Ode", both by Samuel Taylor Coleridge (1772-1834). In William Heinesen's novel “The Lost Musicians” (1900-1991) set in Tórshavn (Faroe Islands), Kornelius Isaksen takes his three sons to a little church where, in the tower, they sit listening to the « capriciously varying sounds of an Æolian harp », which leads the boys into a lifelong passion for music. Æolian harps are mentioned in Vladimir Nabokov's classic “Lolita” (1955). A lyre is mentioned in Percy Bysshe Shelley's "Ode to the West Wind" (1819) which is another name for an Æolian Harp. An æolian harp is featured in Ian Fleming's 1964 children's novel “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang” (1964) to make a cave seem haunted. Henry Cowell's “Æolian Harp” (1923) was one of the first piano pieces ever to feature extended techniques on the piano which included plucking and sweeping the pianist's hands directly across the strings of the piano. The “Etude in A flat major” for piano (1836) by Frédéric Chopin (Étude Op. 25, No. 1) is sometimes called the "Æolian Harp" etude, a nickname given it by Robert Schumann. The piece features a delicate, tender, and flowing melody in the fifth finger of the pianist's right hand, over a background of rapid pedaled arpeggios. One of Sergei Lyapunov's “12 études d'exécution transcendante”, Op.11 No.9, is named by the author "Harpes éoliennes" (æolian harps) (1859-1924). In this virtuoso piece, written between 1897 and 1905, the tremolo accompaniment seems to imitate the sounding of the instrument. In 1972, Chuck Hancock and Harry Bee recorded a giant 30 foot tall Æolian harp designed and built by 22 year-old Thomas Ward McCain on a hilltop in Chelsea, Vermont. United released their double LP entitled “The Wind Harp - Song From The Hill”. (An excerpt of this recording appears in the movie “The Exorcist”). In the spirit of this, in 2003 an Æolian harp was constructed at Burning Man. Australian artist, composer and sound sculptor Alan Lamb has created and recorded several very large scale æolian harps. On his album “Dis” (1976), Jazz saxophonist Jan Garbarek used recordings of an Æolian harp which was situated at a Norwegian fjord as a background sound. Builders of pipe organs have included stops intended to imitate the sound and timbre of the æolian harp. German builders were the first to include such a stop from the 1820s. The Æolian Harp stop is not a harp- it is simply a rank of pipes using a low wind pressure and voiced to imitate the sound of the real instrument. It is therefore classified as a 'string' stop. These stops are amongst the softest found on pipe organs. (Compiled from various sources) — Berlioz, “The Æolian Harp”, from Lélio ou le retour à la vie (H 55) : The sequel to the “Symphonie Fantastique”, first called “Le retour à la vie”, then on its publication in a revised version in 1855 “Lélio ou le retour à la vie”, was composed by Berlioz during his compulsory stay in Italy in 1831 as winner of the Prix de Rome of 1830. The music, however, was entirely derived from earlier works. Thus the movement entitled “The Æolian Harp” is first known as the final section of Berlioz’s unsuccessful entry for the Prix de Rome of 1827, the cantata “La Mort d’Orphée” (H 25). The version of this piece in “Lélio” is substantially that of the earlier cantata, except for some elaboration of the string parts, and the music has also been transposed up a semitone, from A flat to A major. Berlioz had an evident fondness for this evocative piece, which he quotes in full in his “Treatise on orchestration” in the section on the clarinet (cf. also “Memoirs” ch. 19 on its rehearsal in May 1828). The instrumental end of the preceding movement, the “Song of bliss” (for tenor and orchestra), has also been included here to illustrate the adaptation of the melody in this movement. (Michel Austin)
‣ French comment : « La harpe éolienne pourrait être considérée comme le plus ancien des instruments de musique automatiques. Athanasius Kircher (1601-1680) la décrit comme produisant "d'étranges cris et gémissements". Autrement dit, le son émis par le premier des automatophones tend à la vocalité. Et il en résulte une musique "de tristesse et de plaintes", c'est-à-dire une mélancolie constitutive de son automation (ainsi que d'une certaine délocalisation, d'un certain défaut d'origine qui en sont inséparables): "Ceux qui l'entendent de loin," écrit Kircher, "sans savoir comment ni où sont produits les sons, n'arrivent pas à [en] imaginer l'origine". ». (Peter Szendy)
‣ Original excerpt : « Winter. — Jan. 28, 1852. — No music from the telegraph harp on the causeway, where the wind is trong, but in the Cut this cold day I hear memorable strains. What must the birds and beasts think where it passes through the woods, who heard only the squeaking of the trees before ? I should think that these strains would get into their music at last. Will not the mockingbird be heard one day inserting this strain in his medley ! It intoxicates me. Orpheus is still alive. All poetry and mythology revive. The spirits of all bards sweep the strings. I hear the clearest silver, lyre-like tones, Tyrtœan tones. I think of Menander and the rest. It is the most glorious music I ever heard. All those bards revive and flourish again in that five minutes in the Deep Cut. The breeeze came through an oak still wearing its dry leaves. The very fine clear tones seemed to come from the very core and pith of this telegraph-pole. I know not but it is my own chords that tremble so divinely. There are barytones and high sharp tones, etc. Some come sweepingly from further along the wire. The latent music of the earth had found here a vent. Music Æolian. There were two strings, in fact, on each side. I do not know but this will make me read the Greek poets. Thus, as ever, the finest uses of things are accidental. Mr. Morse did not invent this music. [...] There are some whose ears help so that my things have a rare significance when I read to them. It is almost too good a hearing, so that for the time I regard my own writing from too favorable a point of view. [...] — St. Dunstan’s harp upon the wall Fast by a pin did hang a, Without man’s help, with lie and all, And by itself did twang. — And the babe, when he leaped from the immortal knees of his mother, lay not long in the sacred cradle, but sped forth to seek the cattle of Apollo, crossing the threshold of the high-roofed cave. There found he a tortoise and one endless delight, for lo ! it was Hermes that first made of the tortoise a minstrel. The creature met him at the outer door, as she fed on the rich grass in front of the dwelling, waddling along, at sight whereof the luck-bringing son of Zeus laughed, and straightway spoke, saying: 'Lo, a lucky omen for me, not by me to be mocked! Hail, darling and dancer, friend of the feast, welcome art thou! Whence gatst thou the gay garment, a speckled shell, thou, a mountain-dwelling tortoise? Nay, I will carry thee within. Living shalt thou be a spell against all witchery, and dead, then a right sweet music-maker.' So spake he, and raising in both hands the tortoise went back within the dwelling, bearing the glad treasure. Then he choked the creature, and with a gouge of grey iron he scooped out the marrow of the hill-tortoise. He cut to measure stalks of reed and fixed them in through holes bored in the stony shell of the tortoise, and he fitted the bridge, and stretched seven harmonious cords of sheep-gut. Then took he his treasure and touched the strings with the plektron, and wondrously it sounded under his hand, and fair sang the god to its notes. — The harp was suspended above David's bed (Lam. R. 2:22), facing the windows (Jer.Ber. 1:1)". The open window above his bed faced north. The north wind would come through this window and pluck at the harp strings [similar to wind chimes] so that the harp played by itself (Shocher Tov 22). When David heard that sound, he would awaken and study Torah (Lam. R. 2:22). Then all his disciples would occupy themselves in Torah diligently, warding off sleep until dawn. — Man is an instrument over which a series of external and internal impressions are driven, like the alternations of an ever-changing wind over an Æolian lyre, which move it by their motion to ever-changing melody. But there is a principle within the human being, and perhaps within all sentient beings, which acts otherwise than in the lyre, and produces not melody alone, but harmony, by an internal adjustment of the sounds or motions thus excited to the impressions which excite them. It is as if the lyre could accommodate its chords to the motions of that which strikes them, in a determined proportion of sound; even as the musician can accommodate his voice to the sound of the lyre. A child at play by itself will express its delight by its voice and motions; and every inflexion of tone and every gesture will bear exact relation to a corresponding antitype in the pleasurable impressions which awakened it; it will be the reflected image of that impression; and as the lyre trembles and sounds after the wind has died away; so the child seeks, by prolonging in its voice and motions the duration of the effect, to prolong also a consciousness of the cause. In relation to the objects which delight a child these expressions are what poetry is to higher objects. » (Percy Bysshe Shelley, "A Defence of Poetry" 1821, In "Essays: letters from abroad, translations and fragments", Volume 1, Edited by Mrs. Shelley, p.2, London : Edward Moxon, 1840)
‣ Source : Szendy, Peter (1996), "De la Harpe Éolienne à la "toile" : fragments d'une généalogie portative", in Lire l'Ircam (n° spécial des Cahiers de l'Ircam),1996, pp. 40-72; also In Tr@verses n° 1, juillet 1996.
‣ Source : Hankins, Thomas L. & Silverman, Robert J. (1995) "The Æolian Harp and the Romantic Quest of Nature", In 'Instruments and the Imagination' pp. 86-112, Second printing 1999, Princeton (NJ) : Princeton University Press.
‣ Urls : http://www.uni-ulm.de/uploads/media/windharfe.m3u (last visited ) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UsLA2Mz6PJ8 (last visited ) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gDQ7IKXBKAE (last visited ) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NbRR_2j0qQQ (last visited ) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-4xUMiT4RPM (last visited ) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3QVGvMBpspM (last visited ) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JmETWjOU-do (last visited ) http://www.hberlioz.com/Scores/saeolian.htm (last visited ) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2u-C7NeUfQA (last visited ) http://articles.ircam.fr/textes/Szendy96d/ (last visited ) http://www.archive.org/stream/winterfromjourn00blakgoog/winterfromjourn00blakgoog_djvu.txt (last visited ) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UVHQ5wSgUkI (last visited )
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