Elemental instruments


Time for some project research…

So the more unusual cases are water and fire, I guess, since wind instruments are so common and all instruments are made of earth. which sorta fits my intuition to make earth the ‘ground’.

I’m especially interested in fire, especially this notion of a fireharp that keeps entering my thoughts, wondering how I could realize such a thing. Here is what immediately comes to mind (water and fire):




(also not forgetting Annea Lockwood – burning piano :wink: ):

so, anyone aware of more contemporary examples (especially one-off art projects) or even more traditional examples, or examples from non-Western cultures?

I keep thinking of the virtually all-encompassing dichotomy between impulsively vs. continuously excited instruments (the Levitin-McAdams model; cf. https://www.mcgill.ca/mpcl/files/mpcl/levitin_2002_orgsound.pdf) and am curious how different “elemental instruments” can provide ways of challenging this dichotomy and rethinking the idea of musical “control”.

[Also, on a parallel/cosmological plane, I’m well aware of Inayat Khan’s “elemental associations” and to a certain extent the uses of these in composition. These ideas are explained here: https://wahiduddin.net/mv2/II/II_1.htm ]

but my interest for this project is actual, physical processes… only then can I explore correspondences.

I know there are some excellent musicologists on here – thanks for any pointers!


For water, Tomoko Sauvage comes to mind:

I really enjoyed her LP ‘Musique Hydromantique’ from last year:


But maybe this doesn’t fit your definition of instrument?


I’ve heard of these amazing instruments called “WIND” instruments. A crazy connotation I know.


The Large Hot Pipe Organ

Water Drumming

Ice Music Festival


Of course this does – this is fascinating! Such a great artist too, I never heard of before. electronics are just fine… definitions wide open!!!


yep, I think we’ve got air covered… hence the focus on fire and water :wink:


Maybe not exactly what you’re looking for, but this guy builds a lot of custom instruments that use solar panels to power signal generators, among other things.



Glass: https://www.bohemiancristalinstrument.com/


The Wave Organ:



I have a lot of thoughts about fire instruments! I’m working on a percussion sequencer. Melodic instruments are harder. It’s essentially the same problem space as wind instruments, just a bit messier and more constrained. I’ve seen a lot of fire organs, Lucy Hosking’s “Satan’s Calliope” is my favorite.

Rubens’ tubes are more visualization and reinforcement than “instrument” but let me self-promote: here’s a Kaossikator Pro through a six-tube array with crossover:

And here’s a full band through it:


did not know there was more than one (apparently, there are 3)

the sea organ


Just popping in to say thanks… this response has been beyond anything i could expect… so many new ideas and avenues to hybridize all this stuff together. I’ll post updates if/when i get this project off the ground.


All instruments might be made out of earth in an indirect, abstract sense, but there are a few rather nice examples of literal “lithophones”:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Txalaparta (most of the pictures are wood, but stone txalapartas exist too. I love how it’s not described as an instrument but as a “musical device” :confused:

This one also occurred to me as an instrument which evokes the idea of fire (as we all learned from Avatar, lightning is pretty much fire anyway :wink: )