Microtonal Glass Organ

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Glass Organ

The glass organ is a set of wine glasses, brandy snifters, and trifle bowls tuned to various pitches and arranged on a stand so that they can be played without tipping over. Sometimes this instrument is called the Singing Glasses. Generally the rims of the glasses are rubbed with a wet finger producing a clear singing tone. The glasses can also be bowed or struck (lightly!) with small sticks. I almost exclusively play them with wet fingers. The Glass Harmonicon is a different but similar instrument.

I have been working with this instrument in one form or another since 1992 when a friend of mine (Matt Samolis) asked if I would play a wine glass while he played flute at a performance. I was bored stiff. I actually told him that I would do this only once for him as kind of a favor but he shouldn't ever ask me to do it again.

A month after the performance, I borrowed a copy of Divisions of the Tetrachord from Matt and was greatly inspired by it. I wanted to hear the different microtonal chords outlined in the book, so I took 5 wine glasses and a miniature fish bowl, and tuned them to the different tunings in the book as an experiment. I loved the sound of several glasses together but was somewhat baffled by the microtonal tunings.

After reading a number of books on tuning and experimenting with Just intonation tuning systems, I generated the basis of the microtonal scale I now use for the glass organ. When I purchased 25 glasses for under ten dollars at a yard sale, my simple instrument grew into a full scale organ! I made a stand to hold all the glasses and strapped them to the stand with rubber bands.


Design of the organ

Tuning Part 1

Layout of the notes

Tuning Part 2

Constructing the organs (with Pictures)

Sound Samples

I have deleted the sound samples in favor of whole pieces!

Further Study

Experimental Musical Instruments has produced tapes and articles about an enormous variety of unusual instruments.  They also have 2 book and CD sets for sale which I recommend highly.

Suggested Listening

Dennis James' GLASS MUSIC - Volume One - Dennis James is an excellent musician who is daring enough to perform serious classical music for glass organ.

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