Category Archives: my music

Harmonic Flute

the following is the rant that i’m going to put in the liner notes of the CD… which is why it will probably change at some point in the future.


the harmonic flute is a very simple instrument that makes very, very complex sounds. it was made from a piece of 1-inch PVC tubing that i rescued from a construction site dumpster. i have been playing it for about 35 years. i have taken to calling it a “didjeri-flute” because when people see me playing it, one of the comments i hear most frequently is “didjeridu”… which is not correct (and, at this point, i find it somewhat annoying): it’s a harmonic or “overtone” flute, hornbostel-sachs number 421.111.11:

4 – aerophones
42 – non-free aerophones
421 – edge-blown aerophones
421.1 – flutes without a fipple
421.11 – end-blown flutes
421.111 – individual end-blown flutes
421.111.1 – open, single, end-blown flutes
421.111.11 – without fingerholes

a didjeridu is another very simple instrument, but to make a sound on a didjeridu, you use your lips to buzz into the open end, which causes the vibration in the tube, and use your breath, tongue and voice to modify the vibration. on a harmonic flute, you blow into the open end, which is modified by having a notch carved in it, with a leading edge that has been sharpened, to make the tube vibrate. without question, it is an instrument that requires very precise breath control, but that’s it: there’s no buzzing, and no tongue or voice involved at all. in this recording, the sound of the harmonic flute was fed through a boss digital delay, and a roland cube amplifier. the recording also features a brass temple bell.

the harmonic flute makes different notes based on the harmonic sequence: the first note, or “fundamental” is quiet enough, and hard enough to produce, that i don’t use it on this recording, but i can play it. sometimes it i can play it loud enough that other people can hear it as well. the second note, or “second partial” is an octave higher than the fundamental, and it is heard fairly frequently in this recording. the “third partial” is a perfect fifth above the second partial, the fourth partial is an octave above the second partial, or a perfect fourth above the third partial, and it continues along a known and predictable path from there. there are no holes in the walls of the flute, or “finger holes”, the harmonic flute has two holes, one at either end. the only way to control what note you are playing is to be able to control your breath.

other, similar flutes include the fujara, which is a fipple flute with an air-pipe and fingerholes, the quena, which is shorter, and has fingerholes, and the shakuhachi, which also is shorter, and has fingerholes.

the recording was made in an empty room with solid concrete walls about 1 foot thick, about 20 feet wide by 50 feet long by 15 feet high, with an open door at either end. the entire room, and the surrounding hallways on either end, are completely underground, and buried by 25 feet or so of earth, with bushes and trees on top. the room was one of the gunpowder storage rooms for one of the mortar bunkers at fort worden — (insert historical information about ft. worden here) — now that it is no longer being used for destructive purposes, it has absolutely fantastic accoustics, and i have wanted to record there for many years.

that’s more like it…

this is an “incomplete” track: it has the front and rear stereo pairs from my recording device, which was right in front of me, but it doesn’t have the front and rear stereo pairs from thaddeus’ device, which was about 10 feet away from me, facing the wall of the room…

however, this is pretty much exactly what i was looking for, and there’s around an hour’s worth of new tracks with which i can play around… 😎