Coffee-Table CD

Spoon Harps & Bellowphones - Experimentnal Musical Instruments (ellipsis arts. . .)

By Tim Roberts

You have seen, or probably even own, coffee-table books: those impractical, oversized volumes - with pictures of cars, horses, swords or rusted farm machinery in New England - that cannot possibly fit on a bookshelf, so they spend their time on a flat surface (either a coffee table or the bottom of a box when you get tired of looking at them). But here's a coffee-table CD: Orbitones: Spoon Harps & Bellowtones, Experimental Musical Instruments, consisting of a disc and a hardbound book the size of a regular CD jewel case. It's better than a coffee-table book because: 1) it takes up much less space, 2) it's a lot more interesting than pictures of rusted farm machinery in New England and 3) if you get tired of it being on your coffee table, you can always put it in your CD rack.

The recording itself is a fascinating, educational collection of original songs performed on experimental instruments, such as the huaca (a large, gourd-shaped vessel flute), the gamelan (a collection of tuned gongs and chimes), the bellowphone (organ pipes and tubes played with squeeze bulbs) feather flutes, squeaking doors, and, actually, everything.

Performers include the instruments' creators, along with selections performed by well-known artists like Tom Waits, John Cage and the cast of the Broadway smash Stomp, which showcases the "rhythm of everyday things," including pushbrooms, trash-can lids and PVC piping.

The book, written by musical folklorist Bart Hopkin, who also produced the CD, describes each featured instrument and performer. It also contains an introduction by Robert Moog, whose creation has become an integral part of music for the last thirty-five years. If you don't know what it is, here's a specific hint: listen to anything performed Kraftwerk.

Full of pictures and interesting stories about each piece, Orbitones is essential for anyone in music education since it spreads the concept of music over a decidedly broader range of instruments.

So make room on your coffee table, and make room in your head, for Orbitones.