Wind Harps and Black Pigs

Yesterday morning Brendon and some friends set up a wind harp on Rondebosch common:

A wind harp is a long, long wire, stretched taut in the wind, and attached to some kind of resonating surface.  The wind blows across the length of the wire and sets up a pattern of vibrations.  These are amplified by the resonator so that a human ear can hear them more easily.

It’s quite magical. The harp itself is so simple and yet when it sings it connects you to a world of vibration and energy that is usually imperceptible.  It’s like a small hole in reality with sounds leaking through from the other side 🙂

It really is simple.  Choose a windy day. Find a big piece of empty land.   Take a length of builders line – about 50 meters long, and tie one end to your car.

Tie the other end to a handle, and a strap that you can pass around your waist and  lean backwards to pull the line tight.

Attach a resonating surface to the line – this could be a bucket or plastic container simply hanging from the line.  The vibrations that the wind creates in the line will pass into the resonator, and become more audible.  We also used a drum, which worked very well.

The wind harp is mesmerizing.  It creates a subtle singing sound, rising and falling, and changing in response to how much tension you put on the line.  If you pluck it, the “pok” of sound echoes back and forth up and down the line, setting up complex cross rhythms.   We also tried “bowing” the line as though it was a fiddle string.

Dropping small objects on the resonating surface adds to the sound, as they bounce, vibrate and add rattles and hums to the streams of wind sound.  Here is a bangle rattling along on top of the drum:

The wind harp morning was quite trippy.  This feeling of unreality was enhanced by the arrival of a friendly but determined visitor:

A young black pig being taken for a walk.  She headed for our recording equipment:

And was headed of with a strategic apple:

Niklas Zimmer made a recording, and here is a small snippet.  While you listen to it, imagine you are lying on your back under the blue autumn sky, on the crisp dry grass of the common.  Just above  you is the resonating drum, humming and whining in response to the wind:

Wind Harp Recording:

You can read more about wind harps on the Ciel Libre site.


10 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. dean
    Apr 12, 2010 @ 18:52:27

    Extremely interesting.

  2. mashadutoit
    Apr 12, 2010 @ 19:56:19

    Hey Dean! How are you? Surviving?

  3. Ellen
    Apr 13, 2010 @ 20:06:34

    Found your blog a month through the post on Marina Bychkova’s dolls. I love it so much, especially your book reviews and illustrations.

    I’m want to make a wind harp with my friends for sure. We’ve been playing around with contact microphones in the woods, on radiators and on cellos but this is the next level. Thank you for sharing.

  4. mashadutoit
    Apr 14, 2010 @ 07:39:04

    Hi Ellen Thanks for your kind comment. My husband – Brendon – has been doing a lot of experimenting with contact mikes too. His been recording metal staircases and fences and so on. Amazin sounds.

    Your blog looks fascinating too – but there seems to be something wrong with the link in your signature here? It should be and there is an extra “www” in there that sends it wrong.

  5. Ellen
    Apr 14, 2010 @ 15:08:21

    It’s a link to the blog I work on at my job. Thanks for correcting it! We’re a small specialty toy shop and site in the United States.

  6. Ramon
    Apr 15, 2010 @ 12:43:20

    Great post Masha! Really nice sounding. Did you guys try stretch a second rope/harp to see how the two separate notes might interact?

  7. mashadutoit
    Apr 16, 2010 @ 08:19:26

    Hi Ramon – That’s the next step. I’ve been wondering about that too. It looks like this Sunday is going to be another wind harp day on the common, so lets hope its a windy day 🙂

  8. Mark van Wyk
    Jun 07, 2010 @ 13:01:19

    Very interesting article. Nice pictures. Fascinating. Also really great to be able to hear what a wind harp actually sounds like without needing to leave the comfort of my laptop.

    Good luck with your exciting endeavours.


  9. mashadutoit
    Jun 07, 2010 @ 18:04:23

    …have to wait for the rainy weather to calm down before we do any more of this. Or maybe there’s a way to do a rain-harp version. Not sure if I should give Brendon that idea, though 🙂

    Masha du Toit My profiles Google WordPress

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