Perfect Sound Forever


Bart Hopkin (March 1997)

A few weeks ago Jason Gross, editor of Perfect Sound Forever, suggested to me that we select something from among the recent issues of Experimental Musical Instruments to put up here at this site. After some discussion, we settled on the article that follows: Mitchell Clark's discussion of conch shell trumpets. This brief article comes complete with instructions for the making of shell trumpets, a bit of shell trumpet history and geography, some speculative etymology concerning the names by which they're called, and a shell trumpet discography. I liked the idea of using this article, because it represents nicely what Experimental Musical Instruments is about. I'm the editor of EMI, I should mention, and so the idea of letting people know about it always seems like a good idea to me.

So what is Experimental Musical Instruments about? EMI is a quarterly journal (printed on paper; not disseminated over the Internet) devoted to interesting and unusual musical instruments of all sorts. We also make available a variety of other resources -- books, recordings and more -- for people interested in the construction and the use of invented instruments and similar oddities. For more information, check our website.

Most musical instruments are made to replicate, in their essential features, other pre-existing musical instruments. The great majority of cellos, or instance, are made to be dimensionally identical to pre-existing cello models, and the same is more or less true of other common musical instrument types. There are many good reasons for this to be so. But there's also a world of sound to be explored beyond and between the standard instruments. I am particularly enamored of the idea of one-of-a-kind instruments, and the thought that each such instrument will have its own distinctive musical personality and inclinations.

Different instruments want to play different sorts of music. I like the idea of following an instruments into and through its own territory, rather than trying to master it and dictate musical forms to it. Such an approach often enough leads to unique and enjoyable music; beyond that, it leads to increasingly liberated ways of thinking about music and hearing sounds. The instruments in question may be simple in conception and construction, and rather limited in what they can do musically. This does not diminish the effect but only narrows the focus in connection with any particular instrument. The sound of a conch shell trumpet, after all, is a world unto itself. So we follow here with Mitchell Clark's article, and an invitation to explore further by checking out Experimental Musical Instruments at the web site mentioned above.


Also see our review of the Experimental Musical Instruments showcase at the Knitting Factory.