Tutti Fluti

<< Percussion Flutes

Suction Flutes

Like Percussion Flutes these are also very rare – I can think only of two examples and both are whistles, rather than flutes on which one could play anything very elaborate.

The first example is the Twirl-a-Tube, a child’s toy which was popular a while ago and I think still exists. It is a corrugated plastic tube about two and a half to three feet long; legend has it that the origin was a vacuum cleaner’s tube. It is simply whirled round in the air and, depending on its speed through the air, it produces overtones of its fundamental pitch, up to about the 4th harmonic. It was initially thought that the voicing edge was at the far end, the air catching on the open end of the tube as it whirled, but experiment showed that the voicing edge was the end that was in the hand and that the air was sucked out of the tube by centrifugal force.

This experiment was not mine but, if memory serves aright, it came to me from John Burton many years ago.

I used them in lectures to demonstrate that overtones are sounded by the increase of airspeed; using such things as examples helps to imprint a fact on a student’s memory.

The other example is both suction and blowing: those very small whistles, often called Labial Whistles, small containers with a hole on each side, held between the lips and the teeth and both blown and sucked. Children make them out of apricot stones and similar fruit, as Laurence Picken said in his Folk Musical Instruments of Turkey, rubbing each side on a stone to make a hole and then picking out the seed. Commercial ones are made of two tinplate discs placed hollow to hollow and fixed together with, as I said, a hole in the centre of the face on each side. They are used often to imitate bird calls (Widgeon Whistle is another name), the pitch depending on the airspeed.

I can’t think of any other examples among flutes, but sucked trumpets are quite well-known, such as the nolkin and the byrgy. And among free-reed instruments the American organ is an obvious example, as also are concertinas, some forms of accordion, and also those harmonicas which have reeds for both blow and draw.

Can anybody produce examples of double or single reeds which are sucked? I have been unable to think of any.

© Jeremy Montagu, 2018

<< Percussion Flutes