One of the rarest categories of Flutes is the Percussion Flute. This type of instrument is one in which the air is driven to the voicing edge, usually via a duct, by being struck, rather than by being blown by a player’s lungs. The striker can be a player’s finger on a miniature drum or on a bag filled with horsehair or other material to hold it open so that is air-filled. An example of this is the Quail Lure, the subject of an article among the Downloads on that page on this site.
Another example is one that I met in Israel, although I encountered another similar example more recently (made in China) at the St Giles Fair here in Oxford. These are plastic hammers, the two sides of the hammer-head being the bellows, with a duct on each side and a short tube (one longer than the other so as to produce two different pitches) where the head meets the handle. In Israel, on festive occasions such as Independence Day, these are sold in the streets and children run about banging unwary people on the head with these hammers. The shaft of the hammer also includes a normal duct whistle so that the child can also make obstreperous noises by blowing it when no passing heads are available.
So far as I know the percussion flute is unknown in the organological literature, other than these quail lures and plastic toys, and it would be interesting to know whether anyone can produce any other examples of a whistle where the air is driven to a duct by percussion.
So far as Classification is concerned, they would come under the head of Implosive Aerophones, where air is driven into a tube, in contrast with Explosive Aerophones where air is driven suddenly out of a tube – a pop-gun is an example of that.
A very different example of an Implosive Aerophone is the West African shantu, a long narrow gourd, open at each end, which is struck against the player’s thigh or with the palm of the hand. These are used by women in polygamous households to ‘talk’ from hut to hut within a compound, by shading the distal end of the gourd with the other hand to obtain the different pitches of drum-language. They differ from the quail lures and hammers in that they do not have a duct; the air is simply driven into the tube between the thigh or the hand to produce a sort of pitched plopping sound. And because air is driven in in this way, they are quite different from stamping tubes, whose sound is generated by striking the closed end of a tube on the ground. They are thus also Percussion Aerophones but, like the shantu, they are not Percussion Flutes.
© Jeremy Montagu, 2018