Hydraulophones at the ROM – Making Water Sing!

Posted: August 4, 2011 - 10:00 , by Patti McCabe

The golden days of summer just wouldn’t be the same without water – going to the pool, eating popsicles, making a slip’n’slide across the back yard with a sprinkler and a plastic tarp – but have you ever used water to make MUSIC?

Steve Mann, a Torontonian who studied at MIT, has made it his life’s work to invent many types of hydraulophones – sculptural musical instruments that use water, instead of air, to create sounds that are somewhat like pipe organs, or woodwinds, yet distinctly aquatic. In a hydraulophone, water flows gently through metal pipes that have holes placed in them at specific intervals. When a player blocks one of these holes or water jets with their finger, even partially, a musical note resonates in the water flow.

Several of Mann’s hydraulophones, which come in all sorts of shapes and sizes, are installed in public places. They are designed to be accessible to anyone – children and adults are welcome to play and experiment to create different sounds, or try to play their favourite piece of music – as long as they don’t mind getting a bit wet!

The portable Water Hammer hydraulophone will be installed outside the ROM this weekend, August 6-7, for our free Family Fun Water Weekend. You can try your hand at Beethoven’s 9th, or make up your own tune – playing music on a hot summer’s day has never been so refreshing! If you can’t make it to the ROM this weekend, one of Mann’s larger hydraulophones, named the FUNtain, is permanently installed outside the Ontario Science Centre.

Ryan Janzen performing on a hydraulophone in the Rotunda of the ROM during the first Family Fun Water Weekend.

While hydraulophones are fun to play, they are also serious musical instruments that provide an unusual family of sounds and notes for composers, such as Ryan Janzen, to work with. On Sunday, August 7, Janzen will be performing two concerts of pieces he has written specifically for the hydraulophone, accompanied by a trio of other instruments, in the Rotunda of the ROM as part of Family Fun Water Weekend.

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