What the F… is that?!?!

What the F… is that?!?!

One of the other discussions started out as a nice wee chat about how to throw folk out of sessions that you didn’t like the look of, or more to the point, the sound of, & very entertaining it turned out to be, However it’s degenerated into a discussion on strange instruments at sessions. No doubt this has been aired, in the past, but for this new kid, anybody got any unusual, funky or downright stupid ones to tell of.

We have already had, Shakey Eggs, Triangles & Saxaphones.

We have a lad who comes to one of our sessions, who plays Bodhran, OK, but he lays a Tambourine on the floor & constantly taps it, on & on & on & on - no variation. I think he played drums in a rock & roll outfit one time. Anyway, I eventually had to take him to one side & suggest that if he didn’t stop playing it along with every tune, I wouldn’t be responsible for the outcome, & it wouldn’t be pretty. Fortunately he took the hint. I must have been tactful cause he still come to the session, minus the Tamb.

Have you had any unusual instruments appear at your sessions. We have also had a Dobro Guitar, which to be honest didn’t sound too bad, oh yes & that Australian bloke who played a bit of plastic downpipe as a didge, & once we had one of them big Djembe jobs boinging along in the background - different.

Come on you guys, I’m sure you’ve all seen much more unusual things than these!

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Hey Dick, you must have a wealth of notions in your head! We were playing down at the Fiddler’s Green festival in Rostrevor a few weeks ago. A grand few tunes. As ever there were a few Scots friends over and one in particular is a percussion nut. You name it he hits or bangs away at it. This one tho’ caught us all out. It was made of a clay baked material, very hard and shaped like one of those pots you pee in in hospital. We weren’t sure if you used it for cooking or playing but he hit it a rap and a lovely loopy watery sound came out. Never seen the likes of it before or since, seemingly its African in origin.

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Anyone who’s been to the Willie Clancy Week must have seen the busker with the East Asian instrument - similar to that which the Chinese call ‘sheng’ and the Japanese call ‘sho’. I think his one is from Laos or Vietnam (I don’t know what name they have for it there). It’s a free reed instrument, consisting of several bamboo or cane pipes, each with its own finger hole, and a single mouthpiece - it is said to be the ancient ancestor of all the free reed instruments (harmonica, concertina, accordion etc.). Anyway, this gentleman is very deft at playing jigs and reels on it. A friend of mine, a flute player, met him a few weeks ago in Pepper’s pub, Feakle, during a lull in the music. So, they started up their own session, sheng and flute - which apparently worked very well.

I have a friend living in West Cork who backs very nicely on glockenspiel, but so far she hasn’t had the courage to take it along to a session.

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Divilthebit, that sounds like an UDU, and
David, I know in Thailand those are called (what sounds like) CAN - I don’t know how you’d spell it.
Not my ideas of session instruments!…..
Colleen

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This is not at a session but a festival. There was a band that was basically Chinese but with a couple western instruments too. The woman who was the leader played some sort of Chinese string instrumnent with a pick. They played some Chinese stuff then she said she liked to play with Irish musicians when she had the chance. She said she’d play some jigs and reels. "Ha, sure" I thought but she really ripped into them. Great work with the pick including lightning fast triplets. Steve

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I used to play in a session which had a guy who played the Tea-chest bass. Although this isn’t too unusual as an instrument, he didn’t know how to change the pitch (not that difficult - I know) so he played a slightly out of tune D in EVERY tune - always at the same speed as well.

Does this count, or should it be in Asking people to leave?

Imagine throwing one of those down the hill

Dan

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Tea-chest bass? What the heck is that, Dan? Never heard of it!

Zina

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tea chest bass is basically the same as washtub bass as far as I know, with the tea chest or washtub being the resonator, to which a broomstick (to which a single string is attached) that, when pulled towards you or pushed away, alters the pitch; you can also use it like a guitar and push the string down in certain places.

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tea-chest basses and similar
there is a guy who occasionally invades my local session with his own variant on the tea-chest bass - and it’s not a pretty sound. it seems to produce all kinds of weird subsonics and sometimes makes the hair on the back of your neck "crawl". whilst i have enjoyed playing at sessions with a really sensitive string bass or cello player, i have never thought that a bass line is totally appropriate to ITM and i sure can’t cope with out-of tune random bass thumpings. i think they definitely belong on the "asking to leave" thread!

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You have to be very broad minded to class it as an instrument, but it’s pretty strange; sitting by a bloke in a session last year playing a saw with a fiddle bow.
Nice…

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Our friend plays the English bohran - wondering what it is - it’s basically a sample bottle hit with a bodhran beater - he changes the pitch of it by adding his cider then gradually drinking it - he also plays an old bone somewhat like a tuba! Yeah - you’re right he’s a bit mad - but he’s a morris man so that can’t be helped!
It’s ood for a laugh and makes the tunes we play every month a bit more interesting - you couldn’t ask him to stop - everyone enjoys his sense of humour too much and he doesn’ play anything else - an hey - if he’s enjoying himself an we don’t mind who cares!

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Yeh - but just on a D and only one beat!?!

Dan

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At the Kaustinen Festival, Finland, in 1997, I came across a Norwegian playing the saw in a session. He wasn’t playing the Blue Danube Waltz and such like, as one usually hears (the saw is not that uncommon an instrument in Northeastern Europe), but fast, furious Bulgarian dance tunes, in 11/16 and 19/32, complete with accidentals and modulations.

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David, I met your man on the thai thingy this year at willie clancy, not my idea of a trad instrument but no doubt he is very, very good! Ok, weird instruments, the saw with the bow (scary) But I think all aussies will know this one - the bloody largerphone!!!!! And i assume you probably all hate it as much as me, its horrid!

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Lagerphone

I looked it up. Despite being made out of beer caps (thence the name!), it doesn’t look like something i’d like to play against. 🙂

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Trust me glauber its just plain horrible! And there are loads of bush music people in australia who play them and insist on playing them in sessions at festivals!

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I have had a session in the back room of Nancy’s in Ardara where we were regaled to jigs and reels on the clarinet. On a similar vein there is a guy around this part of Co Down who plays a mean saxe - it’s ok for a VERY LOUD session and he can handle it well but, thankfully, he only joins in a few judicious tunes.

Also once had a session on the boat to France with a Germanguy who played an instrument called (I think) a cromhornwhich he assured me was some sort of ancient european instrument. Sounded like across between a recorder and a tuba!!

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Haha; crumhorn, absolutely horrible! it’s a double reeded instrument and sounds ok by itself, but terrible with other instruments.

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Hi there, just home from a weekend playing at Portumna Castle, Galway, (a Wig & tights job! ) where we had a guy join us ( Fiddle, Harp & Pipes ) on a C17th Side Drum, & to be honest it sounded pretty bloody good along with Marches, but then we were playing on the Castle lawn. No way, could you have someone beating the sh.. out of that thing in the corner of a pub!

Oh, & I thought of another variation on the shakey eggs. You can now buy shakey fruit & shakey veg, yes apples, carrots, pears & cucumbers etc.

Andy, I wasn’t sure about Bass lines in ITM until I saw Coolfin live. Wow, I’m not sure if you would still call it ITM, perhaps it’s more like some kind of trad / rock fusion, but that rythm section of Lunny, bass drums & percussion, fronted by Nollaig, Sharon & McSherry sounded absolutely fantastic to me. It was brilliant music, played by real craftsmen, & to enjoy them, perhaps you need to take your trad hat off. Obviously it’s not East Clare music, but It’s not trying to be - anyway, old fogey or not, I just loved it, & long may folk experiment with the music.

There are times when I think a saw might come in handy at a session! No names!

You can keep your Largerphone, & eegits knocking out rythms on feckin bottles with feckin coins, but I’d quite like to hear the Crumhorn & the Glockenspiel, oh & the loopy watery soundy thingy. Perhaps not as permanent features in our sessions, but just to hear. I wonder which of these Cooney will use on the next CD he produces.

We need to keep an open mind, if we hadn’t we’d probably still be just bashing sticks on rocks in caves & going waaaaaaaaaaagh waaaaaaaaaagh for entertainment.
Funny, seems to me I heard that last week on TOTPs.

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TOTPs?

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Top of the Pops, maybe?

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When I was a teenager, I wanted to learn to play some Bach on the recorder, so I got together briefly with a group of musicains who played Medieval, Renaissance, and Boroque music on instruments such as recorders, crumhorns, rackets, and the hurdi-gurdi. The hurdi-gurdi has a wheel you crank which constantly rubs against a string like an infinite fiddle bow. Buttons are pressed to get individual notes. It’s like the stringed instrument counterpart to the bagpipe. The racket and crumhorn together made quite a noise.

This group has a web site at http://www.la.unm.edu/~davies/MAA/MAA-home.html

I wonder when I’ll see these instruments again…

-Dirk

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Many thanks for the link Dirk.
I’m very interested in that music & those old instruments, & there are certainly more odd instruments on that site than you could shake a stick at!
Wouldn’t fancy them all turning up to my regular session, although one a week would be fine.
The Hurdy Gurdy is a beauty. Andy Irvine of course plays one, & has played it on record, but most of the rest are still waiting in the wings. I guess some of them have a hell of a wait in front of them.
My favourite name is the ‘Racket’, I’m sure we’ve all heard someone make a racket at a session, but to actually play one.
Wouldn’t you just love to turn up at a session, with a strange shaped case, just waiting for someone to ask you - ‘What’s in the case?’ Oh it’s just a racket, you reply innocently!
Why don’t - At the Racket’ - use one I wonder?
I need a cup of Coffee!

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There’s a sweet old bid in our session who plays the bodhran not too bad and quiet.
But Oh.
When she hits that queen scallop shell with her bodhran stick. Aaaaaarrrrghh. What a racket

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Weird old instruments

Here’s a fun site that has all sort of weird old instruments:
Ancestral Instruments - http://www.ancestral.co.uk/
It’s fun to try to imagine which ones might have been used to play the precursors of ITM (hornpipes? bladderhorns?). Also, check out what the fiddle looked like in the Middle Ages.

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Hi Glauber, that’s a great site! I thiink if someone were to show up at our session with a bladderpipe, it would be great for a few laughs, but I think it would quickly drown everybody out. I think most people would have the sense not to keep showing up with an instrument like that. And thank God that these instruments are RARE. Maybe we can have a session rule that non-traditional instruments are only allowed occasionally, and only if they actually can blend in and contribute to the music insteatd of merely making a racket. (I bet that’s where the phrase came from.)

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I once made an album called "Glorious Racket"
And it was

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Michael, do you go to the session at sandy b’s?Cos i think ive met that woman with the shell, i thought it was kinda cool, although only in small proportions. Theres sometimes a guy at a session i go to who plays the bassoon, which is a wee bit random. He also has a wash board which he plays by hitting it with thimbles.Me and some friends on a music course managed to make a full octave bottle piano (with semi tones), so in a session you could pick the appropriate notes and do a drone. The whole thing became rather lethal when we needed bigger bottles to create another octave and had to drink economy sized bottles of vodka to make it work, about this point the session deteriorated!

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Yeah, Sandy Bell’s. The old wifey is Audry. I’ve known here for yonks and I love her to bits … but, Oh that shell

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Don’t forget the Sackbutt!

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Last time I was over in Sandy Bell’s, Audry was telling me she had ordered a really expensive Bodhran from a maker in Glasgow.
Any of you guys know if she ever got it?
Long live the Audrys of this world.

‘Go well, Go Shell’ - no, your all too young to remember that advert.
I think that one only ever appeared on black & white TVs - aaaaah them were the days!

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Yeah she got it. Sounds no different

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The SACKBUTT! I alomost forgot! What a flashback! Ouch!
-Dirk

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What the h… is a sackbutt?

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Sean Smyth playing a Krumhorn!

Back to the topic of strange instruments… There are some great photos of the Lunasa members posing with various medieval instruments on their site, including Sean posing with a giant bass Krumhorn: http://www.lunasa.ie/news.htm
(They were just here in Boulder last week and hosted some great workshops!)

-Dirk

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It’s just a trombone, no big deal.
Unless you play sixth viola in an orchestra and have to sit in front of it

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Well, it’s somewhat of a trombone. Sackbuttes aren’t in Bb, ever, like modern trombones are. They’re in typical alto, tenor, and bass tones (G, C, and Eb [I think]) like recorders and shawms. The other difference would be the shape of the bell. The bell of a trombone is a huge flared thing, while the sackbutte (saguebutte, sakbutt, etc… 50 ways to spell it) has a very narrow bell end. Gives it a darker tonal quality, mutes the sound slightly. They’re rather pleasant instruments and work quite well with shawms (renaissance oboes).

If you’re interested in that sort of music, however, I recommend an ensemble out of Philadelphia called "Piffaro". They use all the classic renaissance ensemble instruments (viols, hurdy gurdies, sackbuttes, crumhorms, cornamusen, shawms, cornettos, side drums, and such) and use Praetorian medieval bagpipes (in the key of G, single drone in A or G) as well as French Musettes, and Hummelchen smallpipes. Fascinating ensemble, very friendly and easy to get in touch with, and the BEST renaissance ensemble I’ve ever heard.

Where was I going with this? Uhhh… Oh, that’s right, had a fellow use a small virginal at an Irish/Scottish session at a renaissance faire, a soprano shawm (which just totally drowned everything else out), a side drum, and a treble cornetto. Talk about wierd! We had to eventually beg the shawm player to stop, as nobody else could hear a thing and he couldn’t get the melodies quite right due to the limited range.