Tutti Reedi

<< Free Reeds
Musical Diaphragms >>

Ribbon Reeds and Reed Hooters

Most of these seem to have been developed as imitations of animal cries, either for ritual reasons and/or as hunting lures.

The ribbon reeds are a strip of flexible material such as a strip of bark, or today an elastic band, in a holder so that it can be blown across the side, not across the flat face like a free reed. The holder must be close to the ribbon, though not as close as a free reed or jews harp tongue, just close enough that not too much air is wasted, more like an aeolian harp. The pitch varies according to the tension of the ribbon, controlled by compressing the holder, which stretches the reed slightly, and by the air speed. One of mine, with a plastic frame and a rubber band, was marketed as a fox call.

I also have one from Thailand, but whether this, too, was an animal imitation or a musical instrument, I do not know. No doubt with the same skill as with a carp scale in Romania, or a piece of bark in the mouth (or a credit card that I have heard played), distinct pitches could be obtained and thus music performed.

I am including reed hooters in this paper because although they use double and single reeds rather than ribbons, they can also be used as animal imitators, as well as for the old-fashioned bulb-operated motor horns. The motor horns use a single reed, much like an organ reed, and produce only one note, so that one needs four French-style taxi horns to play Gershwin’s An American in Paris.

I have not studied the anthropological literature sufficiently to be sure whether the large wooden reed horns of the Haida and other Northwest-Coast peoples of Canada were ritual instruments, made to produce the sound of the animal representing each clan, or whether they were more simply hunting lures, but I have a strong suspicion that initially they were for ritual. These were carved from wood with a short resonating tube – regrettably I have only seen these in museum showcases and therefore have no measurement details. By eye most are around a foot long. They are made by splitting the wood, shaving down the upper end of one half to form a single reed, or shaving the upper ends of each half to make a double reed, and then hollowing the rest of the tube and reuniting the two halves. What I do have is a number of plastic animal lures, shorter, only about three or four inches long, with plastic reeds, but otherwise identical with the Haida instruments. Each is designed for hunters to imitate the call of a different animal and so to lure it into range.

© Jeremy Montagu, 2018

<< Free Reeds
Musical Diaphragms >>